Orphan's Plot Trinket

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Gift from my prince...

"I know these don't mean anything to you, but they're everything to me. They're proof I got parents."
Annie, Annie (1999)

Orphans get a disproportionate amount of attention from the plot of any given story, and is it any wonder why? Orphanhood is a plot gold mine.

Right up there with a propensity to stare wistfully out windows, orphans collect an alarming number of plot-relevant knick-knacks. They will usually be a necklace or locket, and generally be a clue to the orphan's family, though they may have some other plot purpose, but they will always be inherited from the family in question. Mysterious swords and the like are very common. If the trinket saves the orphan's life by blocking an attack, it's also a Pocket Protector. If it wards off evil, it's a Protective Charm. If it grants powers, it's a Magical Accessory.

Why living families are so lacking in portrait lockets and the like may forever remain a mystery.

Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • In the Golden Age Captain Marvel stories, Billy gets a Deathbed Confession from his childhood nurse, Sarah Primm, explaining that he has a twin sister, and is given half of a locket. He soon realizes that he recently met a girl, Mary Bromfield, who was wearing the other half. Unlike Billy, Mary was adopted by a nice, rich family who wind up taking him in too.
  • In Marvel Comics, Kevin and Parnival Plunder were each given half of a silver medal while they were young. Kevin would soon after go missing. As adults, they met again as Ka-Zar and the Plunderer, realizing their identities after putting the two halves together. It turns out it's actually the a chunk of vibranium, the first of its kind, and that anyone who possesses it can make more and virtually rule the world. I.e., it's also a prime MacGuffin.
  • Superman's spaceship can serve as this, as it often has significant information programmed in (including messages from his birth parents). Also, in some modern versions, his cape is actually made from his baby blanket, which is a super-strong Kryptonian material that won't suffer Clothing Damage.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Anastasia, there's the title character's "Together in Paris" necklace, which also functions as a Plot Coupon.
  • In Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Aladdin's only real heirloom is a dagger his Disappeared Dad Cassim left with his mother before leaving to seek a fortune for the family. Said dagger is what proves he is who he says he is when he meets his dad again.
  • Titan A.E.. is made of this trope, since the worthless ring the hero wears as his only parting gift from his father before the Destruction Of Earth turns out to be the key to unlocking the Titan world-creation device, verbal instructions from his dad, and a genetically encoded star-map rolled into one.
  • In The Land Before Time, Littlefoot is given a Treestar (star shaped leaf) by his mother before she dies. The significance is that there is almost no food in the area and the little there is is dying. This one leaf was still very green. However half way through the movie, Littlefoot is forced to leave it behind when the Big Bad attacks and it gets crushed.
  • Robyn Starling from Tom and Jerry: The Movie had one. And, as an exception to the opening paragraph above, hers is actually a locket with a photo of her Indiana Jones-esque dad. Who turns out to be alive in the end.
  • Even Winnie-the-Pooh gets in on this action in The Tigger Movie, in which Tigger is suddenly revealed to own an empty locket that supposedly connects him to his long-lost family. They turn out not to exist. We never find out where the locket came from.
  • Barbie as Rapunzel: Rapunzel finds a hairbrush that has a blessing from her parents, and a painting of the evil lady she's been living with dancing with someone at a ball. It doesn't make sense to her since she's always been told by the lady that she was abandoned when she was a few days old. She then heads to town and gives the brush to blacksmith, who says that it was made by his brother, who lives in another kingdom that the kingdom she's living in now is feuding with. Turns out that Rapunzel herself is part of the reason there's a feud: the lady kidnapped her as a baby because she was spurned by the other person in the painting; now he's the king of the other kingdom, who's been accusing the other king of kidnapping Rapunzel herself.
  • In An American Tail, Fievel's hat serves as one, which is a family heirloom that he inherits shortly before becoming separated from his family.
  • Storks: Tulip has a part of the homing beacon that would have guided her home if the stork that was supposed to deliver her hadn't accidentally destroyed it. Said stork Jasper spent years looking for the parts of the beacon so that he can bring Tulip to her family and finally complete the delivery. Tulip's piece is the last one needed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • "Professor Yana" in the Doctor Who episode Utopia has a very significant pocket watch he was found with as an "orphan in the storm." Significant because he was never actually found with it - once he opens it, he discovers that he is actually the Doctor's longtime Arch-Enemy: The Master.
  • Power Rangers
    • Near the end of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Tommy is given half an arrowhead. In Power Rangers Zeo, his long lost brother has the other half.
    • Andros' and Karone/ Astromena's matching lockets in Power Rangers in Space.
    • Also, Dillon's locket from Power Rangers RPM, which can play a song when a key is inserted into it. Once he finds the other key (which belongs to his missing sister) to it and figures out how it's supposed to go in, it plays "The Farmer in the Dell''...the same song Tenaya 7 is always whistling.
    • Inverted with Power Rangers S.P.D. and Z's necklace, which was only relevant for the single episode that it was returned in.
    • For non-locket examples, look no further than Cole's ripped photograph and Nick's baby blanket.
  • GoGo Sentai Boukenger has Natsuki's bracelet, which is the only thing she retained from before her Laser-Guided Amnesia.
    • Played with in Mirai Sentai Timeranger, where Yuuri was promised her father's bracelet, but his murderer stole it when she was a child. And thanks to that, she easily identifies him as an adult and gets it back.
    • Juken Sentai Gekiranger has Jan find his mother's necklace towards the end of the series.
  • Friends: Chandler invokes this trope when he suggests that he and Monica give up one of their adopted children (which were unexpectedly twins). Naturally, Monica refuses.
    Chandler: We could give each of them half a medallion. And then years later, they'll find each other and be reunited. I mean, that's a great day for everybody.
    • Chandler clearly watches much too much television.
  • A Zig-Zagging Trope in Tin Man. DG does have a locket, with a picture of Hank and Em. She loses it upon arriving in Oz (pardon me...The Outer Zone). Turns out they weren't her parents at all, and the locket tips off the Big Bad. The REAL Orphan's Plot Trinket comes in at Milltown where Father Vu puts a magic sigil on DG's hand (an homage to the protection spell cast on Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), the sigil activating her long-repressed magic abilities.
  • The Separated at Birth twins from The Gemini Factor had yin-yang rings.
  • Emma's baby blanket on Once Upon a Time
  • The Legend Of William Tell Subverted and played straight. Will is an orphan, and he wears a significant necklace, but it didn't come from his parents; Kalem gave it to him to keep him on track. Vara, though, carries around a necklace her father gave her, which immediately identifies her as a princess to anyone who sees it. No matter how far from the Citadel they are.
  • Hetty finds the token her mother left for her in Hetty Feather. Leaving tokens with children given to the Foundling Hospital was common as explained in Real Life below.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Call of Cthulhu board game Arkham Horror, the character Wendy Adams, the Orphan, starts with an Elder Sign. The Elder Sign is a powerful item capable of permanently sealing gates to the other worlds and having six in play wins the game.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition includes the "Backgrounds" mechanic, in which what you were before you started adventuring grants you skills and equipment. The equipment granted by the "Urchin" background includes "a token to remember your parents by".

    Theater 
  • Oliver! is an adaptation of Oliver Twist, so naturally this trope occurs in the musical.
  • Likewise Annie's locket.
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has the gaggle-of-geese rings Erronius gave to his children before pirates kidnapped them as children. This comes from the Plautus and Terence plays A Funny Thing was based on, and they got it from the works of Menander and other Hellenistic comedies.
  • Joanna insists on bringing her reticule with her when she an Antony plan to run away during the song "Kiss Me" in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He tells her he'll buy her a new one but she tells him it was "the only thing my mother gave me".
  • Older Than Feudalism: In Euripides' play Ion, the orphan Ion was raised in a temple after his mother abandoned him, and the only clue to his true identity is the basket he was found in. His mother conveniently recognizes this basket just in time to prevent him from killing her, after she tried to assassinate him.
  • The handbag in The Importance of Being Earnest. Also presumably in the film versions.

    Web Comics 
  • Agatha's locket in the webcomic Girl Genius has pictures of her missing parents, and also suppresses her hereditarily strong mad scientist abilities which would otherwise bring unwanted attention to her.
    • More recently, the locket serves to suppress the mind control abilities of her not-so-dead mother, Lucrezia Mongfish. You have to wonder if that wasn't really what it was made for in the first place, and the other thing just a side effect.
  • Parodied in Guttersnipe, wherein Lil' Ragamuffin, the proud street urchin, admits to her pet rat that she wishes she could find her parents one day, and produces a locket with their pictures in it: her only clue to finding them. Rat then informs her that those are just the placeholder photos that come with the locket.
  • Archipelago: Credenza was given a hairband with a skull on it, from the one person who had been a friend to her, while both were bound as a slave to the world's most psychotic submarine pirate, the same one who's raid killed her parents...
  • The pendant Anak gave to her mother when they parted in Tower of God. After the latter gets murdered by the Royal Enforcement Division, the rookie agent, Ren, takes it for himself. Much, much later, he managers to lure Anak with the pendant.

    Western Animation 
  • Gosalyn's lullaby in the pilot for Darkwing Duck.
  • Esteban's medallion in The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
  • The Futurama writers pulled one out of their asses for Leela.
  • Although she's technically only half an orphan (her father Hakoda is still alive, but off fighting a war in another part of the world), Katara's grandmother's necklace functions as this on a couple of occasions in Avatar: The Last Airbender: lost on a prison platform, found by Zuko, used to track the band by scent, retrieved by Aang; revealed Gran-Gran Kanna's history with the Northern Water Tribe and the man who becomes Katara's waterbending master, Master Pakku... who is actually the one who made that necklace with his own hands, as a gift for Kanna when they were arranged to be married..
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the same Captain Marvel trinket mentioned above is used, except here Billy seems to have had it long before he met his long-lost twin Mary.
  • Quasimodo's medallion in The Magical Adventures of Quasimodo.
  • In Defenders of the Earth, Kshin was carrying part of a map to a Lost City when Mandrake first met him. Unusually for this trope, this is not mentioned for most of the series and only becomes relevant when Kshin's grandfather (who feared his grandson was dead until he saw a picture of him with the other Defenders) turns up with the other half of the map.

    Real Life 
  • The Foundling Hospital in London has cabinets of these tokens, left by mothers surrendering their children in the 1700s. Particularly heartbreaking, as the tokens were never returned to the children, thus none of the children could actually trace their heritage.
  • Happens in China: Author and journalist Xue Xinran "writes of mothers wanting to provide their children with legacy mementoes when they give them up for adoption: some write letters to their babies on their clothing; others leave their fingerprint in blood. But orphanages routinely toss the clothing out."
  • The Romans used to think it tragic, but acceptable, to leave an infant you couldn't provide for, particularly girls, on the ancient Roman equivalent of the local garbage dump. But the parents would often leave the child with a necklace of charms, in the far-fetched hope that some noble family would stroll by and take the child in, and the child would grow up with the memento to remind them where they came from. They even wrote plays about it, with the storyline usually having the child growing up and searching for, and inevitably finding their birth parents.

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