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Found Family Stories Can Reflect Christ’s Redemption in Reality and Fiction

Found family tropes have their flaws, yet speak to readers’ need for connection, love, and self-sacrifice in a lonely world.
on Apr 28, 2022 · 4 comments

Found family tropes stir something within me.

A band of scrappy heroes comes together to fight against unimaginable odds. Perhaps they fight among themselves, heads knocking as their personalities and perspectives clash, but when the giant monsters (or insert climactic sequence of choice) hit the ground, they form an unstoppable team, a Found Family.1

A lot of potential influences have made me love this trope. I could blame the 1990s animated series Chip ’n Dale Rescue Rangers (I wanted to be Gadget), or the Fellowship of the Ring, or Batman and Robin. But I could have also just seen my real-life grandparents over the years bring various people into their home out of Christian love. (Or it’s probably Batman. It’s always Batman.)

If you could point out one value I have brought into all of my novels, it’s that of family and human connections, both biological and chosen. To me, those are perhaps the most beautiful, godly gifts we’ve been given as human beings. Without them, life is as flat as that day-old soda my daughter swore she’d drink later if I let her bring it home from Dairy Queen. (Spoiler alert, she didn’t.)

Found Family stories can be so much fun!

We know the dynamics of multiple characters, the conflicts of people learning to mesh and connect. Then in the end we get that amazing assemble/go team moment when it all comes together, or a nice group hug, or maybe both. (I prefer both.)

Some of my favorite examples of Found Family include the Weasleys making sure Harry has Christmas presents, Shazam! (2019) with its amazing foster home, the delightful Fey and Violinist combination of Naomi P. Cohen’s the Fey of Castle Garden, and the various incarnations of the Doctor with their attempts to create a family during centuries of lonely space-and-time traveling.

Found Family is ‘fun’ and ‘heartwarming,’ but is it good?

Yeah, it is.

While God calls us all to love each other as members of the body of Christ, and all men as God’s creations, the Bible praises bonds that go beyond the norm (John 15:13, Proverbs 18:24). The Bible features Found Family prominently not just in words but in action—notably, Paul and Timothy’s father/son relationship and John’s closeness to Christ to the point where he, rather than Mary’s other biological children, was given the charge of her care after Jesus’s death.

The Bible also makes a case that we as believers may not always be able to depend on our biological family. Our faith may turn family against us, as much as any other person of the world (Matthew 10:35), and Scripture specifically mentions the care of orphans as a virtue (James 1:27). God not only allows us to find family outside of our original, biological framework, but encourages us to see people who share our faith as brothers and sisters. In many ways, the church itself is a found family.

But what about when Found Family goes bad?

Of course, like any trope, Found Family can be used poorly or cheaply. Some fiction slaps the label onto non-existent character development without doing the groundwork of showing self-sacrifice and love. This is the equivalent of having the guy kiss the girl at the end of the adventure—because “romance now!”—when the story has not established any chemistry or affection. The existence of a poor version of a thing, however, doesn’t negate the true version.

When Found Family is good, it’s really good

In fiction, these acts of love, bringing others into your care and trust, can fulfill longings we may have for more heightened versions of these relationships. One reason I love fictional romance is that this genre can take relationships and put them to an extreme test drive. Do I believe my husband loves me as Christ loves the church and would give his own body up for me? Yes. Do I hope he ever gets a chance to do so? H—heck no. (Nice save, Heidi. This is a PG article.)

That being said, I love the pathos of characters surrendering themselves for those they love. This act is beautiful, it’s grand, and it speaks to the best versions of us.

Similarly, in Found Family fiction, we see heroes accepting other people—often broken, hurt people who have been rejected by others who should’ve given them needed love. We see strangers become a fellowship, and yes, a family. We see John 15:13 played out over and over again. This is beautiful. It evokes the innate longing for true, God-given love in the same way as seeing Jonathan weep with David as he warns him against his murderous father.

While all my work touches on family in some way, I throw the most heart into my young adult series. I love taking characters dealing with real hurt and abandonment and giving them what they need through solid mentors and friendship.

In an ideal world, would Found Family even be necessary?

If God gave us living, loving biological families to support and care for us, wouldn’t that gift be enough? Isn’t the trope therefore a symptom of the fallen world?

First, questioning whether anything would exist in a non-fallen world is a purely academic discussion because we do live in a fallen world. Many charitable actions would not be necessary in a fully redeemed, painless and deathless world, but that does not negate the virtue of those charities.

Second and more importantly, however, I do believe Found Family—not the trope but the connections of its true-world form—is a virtue that will extend into Heaven as we reunite with loved ones and bond with fellow believers beyond the grave.

People who have whole families can still receive amazing gifts such as a newborn sibling, dear friend, or added child via mentorship. I am grateful for these gifts both in real life and in fiction. Either way, Found Family stories fill up my emotional tank with a longing for good things and wholesome connections. To us readers, this trope may mirror the connections we have or the connections we long for. None of us want to stand alone, and Found Family tells us we don’t have to.

Why do we love Found Family? Maybe because in Christ, we’re supposed to be one.

  1. For fun and readability, we’ll capitalize the trope name throughout this article.
H. L. Burke is the author of multiple fantasy novels including the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project Series, the Realm Award winning Ultimate Nyssa Glass, the Spellsmith & Carver Steampunk series, and Spice Bringer. She currently resides in Oregon with her retired Marine husband, two supervillains in training who are her daughters, and a rather spoiled cat. She is an admirer of the whimsical, a follower of the Light, and a believer in happily ever after.
  1. Betty says:

    Love this article! Very well-stated with excellent examples. Thanks for sharing this and for sharing some wonderful Found Families with us in your books.

  2. sustained applause

    “This is the equivalent of having the guy kiss the girl at the end of the adventure—because ‘romance now!’—when the story has not established any chemistry or affection. The existence of a poor version of a thing, however, doesn’t negate the true version.” <<< oooh, sick burn. I approve.

  3. Ticia says:

    This is why I like Found Family tropes because it gives us a hint of how broken things can be fixed. And Found Family doens’t HAVE to mean your biological family is broken (as an example, the SVR series, Prism has a pretty awesome family, but still builds a great found family in her team.

  4. Excellent article!
    The Found Family trope isn’t one of my favorites, in the sense that I don’t actively seek it out nor do I get that happy-thrill when I find it, but it is still beautiful and well worth exploring through good fiction.

What say you?