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Moses in the Bulrushes

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King Skjold, floating ashore.

River, oh river, flow gently for me!
Such precious cargo you bear!
Do you know somewhere he can be free?
River, deliver him there.
— "River Lullaby" from "Deliver Us", The Prince of Egypt

An infant is saved from some calamity by being cast into the hands of Fate by his parents, whose lives are sometimes claimed by the same calamity. Fate promptly deposits the young hero with a family (usually poor and humble) who will raise him up to be good, just, noble and strong. He remains ignorant of his true heritage, except perhaps for some trinket — a ring or maybe a pendant, or sometimes even a distinctive birthmark — which can identify him to someone who knew his parents.

Sometimes the infant is abandoned in the wilderness by the villain, who doesn't want to murder the child directly, and instead wants it to die from exposure. This never works out as planned.

Often the hero is an aristocrat or even a prince(ss), whose nurture by a humble family gives him a refreshingly egalitarian view on things when he finally discovers his heritage and takes his rightful position. Conversely, as in the tale of Moses, the hero can be a child of commoners who gets adopted and raised in privilege by upper-class parents, only later to discover the plight of their oppressed people. A vital stage in the Genocide Backfire plot.


Also known as a Foundling Tale. Contrast with Cinderella Circumstances, Changeling Tale (which is the inverse of this trope).

See also Changeling Fantasy. Compare Doorstop Baby, Switched at Birth, Separated at Birth, Muggle Foster Parents, Wonder Child, Wild Child, Noble Fugitive. See also Parental Abandonment, Fling a Light into the Future, and The Ark which is another ancient motif. Results from a Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Arika in Mai-Otome appears to be the infant princess set adrift to escape invaders in the very first scenes of the series. Then again, so does Nina, and the official story was that it was Mashiro. The series plays with the ambiguity for a while before The Reveal (heated fan debates and inevitable Epileptic Trees continued all the way until episode 23 aired). As it turns out That was Arika as an infant in the first scene but that wasn't actually the princess but instead the daughter of the King's retainer being set adrift. The actual princess was Nina, who was snuck out in a different fashion off-screen. Mashiro was a fake, but is allowed to continue to reign anyway.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The nameless Namekian who would later split himself into Kami and King Piccolo was sent to Earth from Namek to escape a disaster that killed nearly every other Namekian.note  Unlike most examples of this trope, the nameless Namekian had no parental figures to raise him, so he spent his entire childhood alone, in a frozen wasteland, waiting for someone to come looking for him. Eventually, after years of waiting, he leaves to explore Earth.
    • A parodic twist of the concept: In Dragon Ball Z, it was revealed that Goku was a Saiyan, sent to Earth as a newborn to conquer it for Frieza's planet trade organization.note  In a twist, this saved him from the near-genocide of his race caused by Frieza himself, and he was raised into a good person by a succession of quirky father-figures (it also helped that he received a blow to the head as a child that gave him Easy Amnesia).
    • Dragon Ball Minus (and Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which adapts some elements of Minus) retcons / revisions Goku's origin into a more traditional example. Goku's parents were suspicious of Frieza's decision to recall all the Saiyans to their home planet at once and sent Goku to Earth for his own protection. They neglected to explain this to Raditz, who assumed his brother had been sent on a standard mission.
  • Mamoru in GaoGaiGar, although in this case, the "basket" is a giant mecha-lion that hand- or rather, mouth-delivers him to his Muggle Foster Parents. Notable that for most of the series, the parents still have a lingering fear that one day, the lion will return and take him back.
    • He does, sort of. And it's heartbreakingly inverted in the ending of FINAL; the heroes can only open a couple of tiny, ephemeral wormholes back to Earth, and they choose to send Mamoru and Kaidou back to their foster parents, entrusting the future and their story to the children.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: Yusei Fudo's father evidently borrowed Kal El's spaceship to save his son from Zero Reverse.
  • Violinist of Hameln has Princess Flute, who was slipped out of her kingdom during a war (in which her older brother had already tragically died). She was eventually left on a doorstep in a small village far, far to the south of her home country, with only a letter saying "take me" and a crucifix - but in a Subversion of the trope, was ignored by the house's inhabitants and the passersby tried to act like she didn't exist. She would have died had not the visiting elder of a nearby village taken pity on her.
  • In Vagabond Sasaki Kojiro is found by his foster parent this way after being sent by his samurai father from a besieged castle on the brink of falling. Kojiro wasn't actually alone on the boat from the start, but the adults accompanying him had been swept overboard and killed by the time he reached his destination.
  • In Godmars, the infant Mars is sent to Earth as the vanguard of an alien invasion by the evil Emperor Zule along with a giant robot set to destroy the Earth if he dies (or gives the right order). Two things get in the way of this: first, his non-evil alien father secretly sent another five robots to protect him; and he was found and raised by a good human couple, who name him Takeru Myojin.

  • Downplayed in the Child Ballad Fause Foodrage, where both Wise William and the queen, having exchanged her son for his daughter, know where the child is, and even have a code phrase where they can let the other know that the child is doing well. Both children remain in ignorance until nearly grown.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman is the classic modern example, with his parents sending him off to Earth to escape the destruction of Krypton.
    • A twisted variant happens in Superman: The Dark Side where Superman is raised by Darkseid. Darkseid eventually translates a message where Jor-El says he coded the anti-life equation into Superman's genes so he could enslave Earth using superior Kryptonian science. His father would not be proud of his foolish attachment to these primitives.
    • Superman: Red Son has Kal-El land one hemisphere away, in the middle of the Soviet Union.
  • Subverted in the case of Superman's foster son, Chris Kent/ Lor-Zod. At first it looks, and Superman believes, this trope has happened, but in reality Lor-Zod was sent to Earth by his father, the villain General Zod, to provide a link that he can use to escape the Phantom Zone
    • And (sadly) subverted in the storyline "Superman and the Legion of Superheroes". Two members of a dying planet try to invoke this trope by launching their son to Earth, hoping Earth will make him as great as Superman. Unfortunately, the alien child lands on Earth in the xenophobic 31st Century, where it is immediately shot and killed by the couple who find it.
  • Superman is not the only DC Comics hero to invoke this trope. Aquaman, at least in some versions of his origins, was cast away from Atlantis at birth and raised by a lighthouse keeper who named him Arthur Curry.
  • Nightcrawler of the X-Men was thrown over a waterfall by his mother; later he is rescued and adopted.
  • The Boys: Subverted by the Homelander, whose public origin story is the same as Superman's. In reality, he was raised in a lab near an atomic bomb that was set to explode if his powers got out of control.

    Fan Fic 
  • In Ghosts of the Past, sequel of Child of the Storm, it's revealed that Gwion Bach (better known as Doctor Strange) was a textbook case of this, set adrift by his desperate mother as the forces of Uther Pendragon slaughtered their people. He was found by a fisherman and raised as Taliesin (in Camelot, ironically enough), and as he notes, he didn't know anything about where he came from, even that he was adopted, until his teens.
    • Then, of course, there's Clark Kent, who knows there's something different about him, but takes a while to discover his true origins.
  • Invoked in The Dark Lords of Nerima (A Ranma ½-Sailor Moon crossover) where it looks like we are being set up for the Amazons to be given a Moon Kingdom origin story with a folktale of their founding based on a set of baby twins sent to Earth in a lifepod along with the records of the Fall of the Kingdom so they will be safe then heartbreakingly subverted when it is revealed that the two most holy relics are tiny infant skeletons.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog himself was one of these in Sonic X: Dark Chaos; Maledict launched him into space as an infant in a capsule to euthanize him - he survived and eventually landed on Mobius. And until Episode 53, Maledict had no idea his son was alive.
  • In Touhou Ibunshu, sometime before the start of the series, the Moon's Tsukito Academy was assaulted and leveled. The two remaining survivors, Reisen Udongein Inaba and an infant Lunarian, managed to access a teleport pad and escape to Gensokyo. However, after arriving, Reisen was attacked by a very vicious youkai, losing the child. Said youkai was Remilia Scarlet, who raised the child as a servant of her household and gave her the name Sakuya Izayoi.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Iris was abandoned by her birth parents in the woods to die, but she was found and taken in by Dragon-type Pokémon.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Izuku is Kal-El/Superman, giving him this backstory. The narration describing his rocket leaving Krypton even refers to him as "precious cargo", referencing the lyrics of "Deliver Us" as Moses' mother lays him in the river.

    Fairy Tales 

    Films — Animated 
  • In the first Ice Age movie, the human mother just so manages to deposit her young son with the protagonist animals before dying. Counts, because how could she know that they would take care of him?
  • In Treasure of Swamp Castle, Princess Szaffi is lost in a flood and adopted by a gypsy woman.
  • The Disney version of Hercules rewrites the hero's origins to make him an originally fully divine son of Zeus and Hera, who was then merely raised among humans, rather than a half-divine hero.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 reveals Po to be this, finally explaining how a panda can have a goose as a father. The ending reveals that Po's father is still alive along with a number of other pandas who managed to escape Lord Shen's slaughter.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, by virtue of having Moses as the protagonist.
  • The Penguin in Batman Returns (1992) is a villainous version of this trope; the Penguin even plans to kill the firstborn of every family in Gotham as revenge for his upbringing.
  • Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, although the trope is slightly distorted in their cases. For one, they are directly given to the Larses and Bail Organa, though not by their parents. Bail knew who Leia was and that she could play a major role in striking against the new Empire, but it looks like the Larses knew less about Luke and the goals Obi-Wan had for him.
    • The prequel trilogy implies they have a pretty good idea of it and just don't want him getting involved.
  • Parodied in the movie Kung Pow! Enter the Fist. The baby Chosen One, having narrowly escaped the thugs that killed his parents, ends up rolling down a steep hill. He is found by a peasant woman, who picks him up, hugs him... and sends him rolling down the hill again. Chosen One also has an identifying mark of destiny — his tongue is a living creature.
  • This is one of the few tropes that the movie Spaceballs actually played straight: Lone Starr was raised in a monastery, with only a medallion to tell him of his past. No one could tell him what it meant until he encountered Yoghurt... who told him in a fortune cookie that he was a prince, with just enough time to sweep Princess Vespa off her feet.
  • In a teaser for the Western spoof Evil Roy Slade, the titular character was the last survivor of an Indian attack. The Indians looked at him, then walked away. Then wolves found him, sniffed him for a bit, and ran away yelping. As the credits roll, we see Roy as a very angry toddler stalking out of the desert, toward the camera.
  • In The Night of the Hunter, Missus Hooper finds the two Harper children washed up on shore in a little boat amid the bullrushes. Although they're both a bit older than baby Moses, they're still compared to the Biblical event.
  • Elora Danan in Willow: born with a birthmark that destined her to bring about Bavmorda's downfall. Her mother sends her away with a benevolent nursemaid and is then is killed by Bavmorda's enforcers. Willow finds her floating down a river, having been sent away to safety by the nursemaid moments before said nursemaid was tracked down and murdered.
  • In Clash of the Titans, baby Perseus, being an illegitimate demi-god, is locked into a coffin with his young mother and thrown into the sea, but Zeus has Poseidon make certain the waters will gently take Perseus and his mother to safety. Perseus is then raised on an island paradise. This scene is based on the original Greek myth of Perseus.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Will Turner was rescued by the British navy from the wreck of a pirate ship he was in. Elizabeth hid the evidence that he is related to pirates.
  • In WarCraft, Draka sends her son in his basket on a river to save him from falling into Gul'dan's hands, and The Stinger has him picked up by humans.
  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: Uther sends Arthur off down the river in a boat while he fights Vortigern. He's found and then adopted by some kindly prostitutes when it drifts past Londinium. Unlike in most examples, here Arthur is not an infant but a young boy when this happens.
  • Thor: Loki was abandoned by his father Laufey as an infant for being too small for his race and left to die of exposure before Odin found and adopted him. Odin did not tell him the truth until Loki found out the hard way.

  • In the Lone Wolf spinoff series World of Lone Wolf, the hero Grey Star was an infant who was stranded on the legendary Shianti's island after an especially violent storm. This was nothing short of miraculous since the island had enchantments specifically meant to prevent anyone from reaching it without the Shianti's permission. The Shianti sensed that destiny had a hand in the child's arrival and raised him as their own. This was especially fortuitous since Shasarak the Wytch-King a rogue Shianti had established an Evil Empire that threatened all of Southern Magnamund. The Shianti were forbidden to interfere directly, but nothing prevented them from sending their adopted human son Grey Star armed with their magical knowledge against Shasarak.

  • Herodotus reports in The Histories that Cyrus the Great fit this. According to Herodotus, Cyrus' maternal grandfather Astyages, King of the Medes, had a prophetic dream that his advisors interpreted as meaning daughter Mandane (whom he had married off to King Cambyses I of Persia and was then pregnant with Cyrus) would give birth to a son who would overthrow him. Astyages, therefore, called his daughter to live at his capital so that she could give birth under his court's supervision, and then ordered one of his generals, Harpagus, to kill the child. Harpagus didn't have the heart and passed the job on to a shepherd. The shepherd didn't have the heart either, and (as it happened) his wife had just given birth to a stillborn son. So the shepherd passed off the stillborn baby off as the "murdered" royal child and raised Cyrus as his own. Eventually, Cyrus' royal ancestry is recognized, etc., etc., and he goes on to overthrow his grandfather (as prophesied), but there's a lot of interesting stuff before then we really don't have space for now. Almost needless to say, there's basically no evidence to support this except the word of Herodotus, and even he probably got the story from somewhere else.
  • The villainous Benedetto ("blessing") from The Count of Monte Cristo is a definite subversion of this trope. He is the product of an adulterous affair and left for dead by his parents. He is raised by criminals and is much worse than his adoptive family. If they manage to impart any values to him, it is an utter hatred of his birth father.
  • This is Shasta's Backstory in C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy, part of The Chronicles of Narnia... Except for the part where his adoptive father is horribly nasty and tries to sell him as a slave. The talking horse Bree is actually the one who helps teach him values.
  • A version occurs in The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon: In Oath of Gold, the third book of the trilogy, Paks takes up the task of locating the rightful king of Lyonya, a man with elven blood and specific birthright powers that make him the only one the elves will accept as ruler. He was stolen by evil forces as a child, and, it turns out, enslaved for some years and forced to endure some terrible things that the book doesn't go into great detail on. A visitor contrived to give him a chance to escape, and he found his way to some distant relatives who didn't realize who he was but raised him well. He went on to make his own life, and it isn't until Paks figures out who he is that his true purpose and powers are revealed - but it turns out that half a dozen people actually knew where he was, but feared to bring the truth to light, because 1) his time in the hands of the evil ones could have damaged him beyond help (specifically, making him an unstable ruler or making him unable to wield the powers needed to perform his duties as king), and 2) until shortly before the story begins, his sister was alive and showed great promise as a ruler.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • It's all but admitted out loud that Carrot Ironfoundersson is the long-lost heir to the long-empty throne of Ankh-Morpork. He was found in the wild and raised by dwarfs (and still considers himself an unusually tall dwarf), and he has both a crown-shaped birthmark and a sword (which, while not enchanted, is far from ordinary). Carrot, however, is happy with his position as a captain in the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, has no intention of reclaiming the throne, and even goes out of his way to obfuscate any more evidence he's the lost king of Ankh.
    • Pratchett also subverted this in Wyrd Sisters. After the true heir to the throne of Lancre is revealed, everyone discovers he doesn't want to be king, and would rather be an actor, like his adopted father. Fortunately, an alternative heir is found when Magrat realizes he has a half-brother, who turns out to be the court jester. In a further subversion, Magrat later discovers that the half-blood was not because the king disported with the jester's wife; it was because while the king was out disporting himself with the peasants, the queen got lonely.
  • Harry Potter. Parents killed? Yep. Whisked away? Yep. Doorstop Baby? Yep. Raised somewhere safe? Yep (Dumbledore has enspelled Harry as long as he lives with the Dursleys). The Chosen One? Yep. Comes from a background much different from the way he is raised? Yep. Distinguishing special mark? Yep. Identified by tons of people who knew his parents? Yep. Has to step up and face the Big Bad? Yep. What more can you ask for? Has to sacrifice his life freely in order to save everyone? Yep!
  • Simon, the hero of Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, is orphaned shortly after his birth with nothing but a name and a mysterious ring. He is taken in by chambermaids, raised as a scullion, befriended by a wise doctor, forced to flee into the wilderness when evil takes over his home, goes on adventures, and eventually returns to the Hayholt to battle the Big Bad Sealed Evil in a Can Storm King. Naturally, it turns out that he is a direct descendant of the former king and therefore the only valid claimant to the throne, since just about all of the other eligible characters have been killed.
  • (King Bel)garion (of Riva) in The Belgariad is a slightly further-removed example — he's the descendant of the original Moses In The Bulrushes, a few hundred years down the line — strange birthmark and all, although the heirloom sword would be an immediate giveaway apart from the fact that it stayed in the throne room — he claims it when he finds out his station.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Havelok is dumped as a child by the Big Bad in a castle and then sent to be drowned by a fisherman. Then, the fisherman has a Heel–Face Turn and decides to protect and raise the boy instead to fulfill his destiny after a weird mark shows his heritage.
  • In the Chivalric Romance King Horn, the boy Horn is set adrift in a boat by the usurper of his father's throne. Similarly, in Havelock, the fisherman the usurper hired to kill Havelock actually smuggled him to England.
  • In the Chivalric Romance The Swan Children, the swan maiden who marries a king gives birth to children, and her wicked mother-in-law has them exposed, replacing them with animals that she claims her daughter-in-law has given birth to.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Lay La Freine — and many others — a woman gives birth to multiple children, and another woman taunts her, saying that this is possible only in cases of adultery. This other woman is promptly punished for her slander with a multiple birth of her own and exposes the excess children to avoid being charged herself.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Tristan and Iseult, Tristan, poisoned during his duel against Morholt, is sent on a craft without oars or sail in hopes of happening onto someone who can cure him; said person happens to be Iseult, who turns out to be Morholt's niece.
  • In the Medieval French Suite du Merlin (and works which followed its story, including Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur), King Arthur, on finding out that he has fathered a son on his own half-sister who is prophesied to kill him, orders all the boys born around the right time to be put out to sea in a ship, which is then wrecked. Naturally, the only survivor is the son in question, Mordred, who is found and fostered by a shepherd and brought to court at fourteen years old, where his true lineage is recognized. Something of a subversion in that this is usually a heroic-origin trope, and Mordred is about as unheroic as you get.
    • And, in Lord Tennyson's version Idylls of the King Arthur himself is found this way, and is not necessarily the son of Uther so much as the God-sent King.
  • In The Wheel of Time series, Rand learns that his father found him as a baby on the slopes of Dragonmount after his mother died in battle. This is a key part of the Prophecies of the Dragon, which requires that he be raised by the blood of Manetheren.
  • An interesting variation occurs in L. Frank Baum's second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz: Tip, the young protagonist, spends almost the whole book searching for the missing Princess Ozma of Oz: It turns out the Wizard gave her to a witch, who turned her into a boy, who just happens to be... Tip! Needless to say, Tip was not particularly pleased by this development. But he got used to it.
  • Inverted in the Star Trek novel The IDIC Epidemic, in which a young woman thought to have been the sole survivor of a destroyed Vulcan colony is discovered to be Romulan instead. The likely explanation is that she was kidnapped in infancy by a Romulan noble family's rivals, then left to be adopted by Vulcans, so her presence among the Romulan Empire's hated enemies could later be revealed, bringing shame upon her biological parents' name. Ironically, she still winds up becoming a savior of sorts, as her Romulan blood turns out to be the key to stopping a plague within the Federation.
  • Salome in Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "A Witch Shall Be Born". Alas, owing to a Curse she was the calamity, and since exposure failed to kill her, she returned to usurp her sister's throne, use Cold-Blooded Torture on that sister, and institute a Religion of Evil with Human Sacrifice.
  • Rémi from Sans Famille by Hector Malot (and its numerous adaptations).
  • Scyld Scefing, later to become king of Denmark, is washed up in this way on the shore of Denmark in Beowulf. His parentage and place of origin are never revealed.
  • Averted in The Silmarillion, where the young half-elven princes Eluréd and Elurín (the sons of Dior and the brothers of Elwing) are abandoned in the wilderness... and never seen again.
  • In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, Rose Small's backstory was being abandoned on the step of her adoptive parents' home.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, this is the generally accepted story for Aegon VI Targaryen, the apparently murdered son of Rhaegar Targaryen, suddenly popping up in the Free Cities...if it really is him. It is more commonly believed by the fandom that Aegon — while believing himself to be Rhaegar's son — is really a female-line descendant of the bastard Targaryens branch, the Blackfyres.
    • Seems like Jon Snow shares this background too. He was raised as the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark, but is believed to be the son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
  • In Poul Anderson's "Brave To Be A King", the story of how Cyrus was like this was brought up and dismissed. A time traveler was taken for the abandoned infant, now grown up.
  • In Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Tamlorn, the child of Queen Rianna, is brought to the sorceress Sybel to keep him safe. She raises him in ignorance of his heritage.
  • An interesting variation occurs in The Pillars of the Earth. Tom's wife dies in childbirth, so he decides to leave the child in the forest because he has a hard time feeding his other sons too, so the child would surely die if Tom kept him. Later the child is found and is raised by monks. Then Tom gets to build a cathedral for the same monks, so the child grows up being near his father without even knowing about it. His true identity is only revealed to Philip and him at the end of the story, long after Tom's death.
  • In Poul Anderson's "Time Lag," Elva gives her baby to one of their marginally intelligent Servant Race and tells it to flee the attack. The story, however, focuses on her. At the end, her rescuers tell her that he survived, is now (owing to the title time lag) an old man, and the father of one rescuer, who was named for her dead husband and is, in turn, the father of her great-grandson.
  • A weird version of this trope occurs in The Quest of the Unaligned. In order to ensure his elemental impartiality, Crown Prince Alaric of Caederan is sent to be raised by foster parents in magicless Tonzimmiel, ignorant of his true heritage. While the plan was to retrieve him around his tenth birthday, this fails when his foster parents die and he disappears into Tonzimmiel's orphanage system. He is located mere weeks before he must be crowned in order to avert a civil war.
  • Cadance, according to Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell, making her reveal as the Crystal Princess even more Troperiffic.
  • I Am Mordred: Mordred is found by a fisherman when he's cast adrift to die at sea in a coracle.
  • In Spartan, the protagonist is abandoned by his father to Mount Taygetus to die from exposure. Luckily, he is rescued by an old helot and he is raised with love. At the end, he frees his nation.

    Live Action TV 
  • Smallville distinguishes itself from the standard Superman back story. Superman deciphers a message from his father and it ends with an instruction to "rule [Earth] with wisdom".
  • Part of the mythology in the fourth season of Sliders. Quinn was the infant son of the greatest living physicist on a parallel Earth, who placed his children with his childless alternate selves to shelter them from a war on his homeworld.
    • By the same token, Colin, Quinn's brother, who was likewise given to their alternates on a technologically backward world.
  • Was done to Hera in Battlestar Galactica until her parents recovered her.
  • Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time was sent to the non-magical world as a baby so that she may one day be prepared to face the evil queen who was trying to kill her. She was initially supposed to be sent with her mother, Snow White, so that she wouldn't grow up ignorant about her home world and mission, but the plan was averted at the last minute and a humanized Pinnochio was sent in her place. Unfortunately, Pinnochio abandoned Emma in the orphanage that they were sent to and Emma grew up without knowing her real heritage, except for the blanket that Snow White wrapped around her the day she was teleported away.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Odo was discovered in the Denorios Belt in the Bajoran system as an infant. As an adult, he discovered that he was one of one hundred infant Changelings sent out to explore the Alpha Quadrant by his people, the Changeling Founders. He was less than pleased to discover that the Founders were also the leaders of the tyrannical Dominion.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Prickly City, when Carmen coaxes Winslow into talking about his past, he starts with being found in a basket among reeds.

    Religion and Myth 
  • Named for the Book of Exodus's example of this trope in action: Moses was set adrift in a basket of reeds to escape the slaying of all newborn male Hebrew slaves; he was found and raised by the daughter of Pharaoh. (In this example, however, the baby is born to peasants and raised among royalty instead of the other way 'round.) (Exodus 2:3-6) That, and, since his biological mother was his nursemaid, he was familiar with his background from an early age.
  • Herakles/Hercules, Sargon of Akkad, Oedipus, Cyrus the Great, and King Arthur are just a few of many examples from mythology. Larry Gonick (the artist of The Cartoon History of the Universe) has theorized that this is a common trope in the myths of ethnic groups who have a hero from a different ethnic group; according to the myths, he's actually one of them but was swapped as a baby.
  • In some versions, King Arthur tries to avert the prediction that his son Mordred will kill him by having him put out to sea on a raft. In some cases, it's said that he actually put all the children who shared that birthday onto a raft, to avoid the shame of killing his own son. Either way, a fisherman ends up finding and raising Mordred.
  • The Norse and German legend of Sigurd, the dragon slayer who was raised by a blacksmith to discover that he was the rightful heir to a kingdom. Depending on the source this one also counts as an Interspecies Adoption.
  • Older Than Feudalism: This is extremely prevalent in Hindu Mythology
    • In the Mahabharata, Karna was the first illegitimate son of Kunthi and the sun god Surya. Since Kunthi is an unmarried princess at that time, she sets him adrift on the river on a basket of reeds with a pair of amulets and chest armor as his inheritance (that incidentally makes him invincible). He gets adopted by the charioteer Atirathanote  and later joins the evil Duryodhana's side as his most trusted friend and against his (unknown to him) five brothers.
    • Krishna is another. A prophet told Kamsa, King of Mathura, that his sister's offspring with Vasudeva would one day overthrow him. So he had her imprisoned. When she had a child, its body was thrown against the prison wall. Krishna and Balarama were smuggled out of the prison and raised by farmers in the countryside. Later, he and Balarama returned to Mathura, killed Kamsa, and freed their parents.
  • Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome, are an example where the villain cast them out to die. Their mother was not only a Vestal Virgin but had been forced to become one by the relative who murdered her father for the throne. Since they were not only the offspring of a disgraced Vestal Virgin but also a threat to his throne, the king ordered them to die by exposure. Luckily, a she-wolf found them and nursed them before they were found by shepherds who took them in and raised them.
  • A more tragic subversion is the story of Oedipus. His father. King Laios, lived under a curse that stated that his own son would kill him. To defy fate, he hammered a spike through his infant son's feet and left him on a hill to die. The baby was found by farmers who named him Oedipus ("swollen foot") and raised him. As an adult, he got into a fight with a stranger on the road and killed him. He didn't realize that this stranger was, in fact, his birth father, King Laios. And it keeps going From Bad to Worse.
  • Taliesin, a real-life warrior poet of medieval Wales, eventually developed a complicated mythology around his origins. He began as a slave child forced day and night to stir the cauldron of the evil Ceridwen. By accident, he splashed some of her potion of awen (inspiration) on his hand. He gained instant and complete knowledge of the world — including that Ceridwen was about to kill him. To evade her, he turned into a grain hidden among a million others. Still, she dug him out eventually and swallowed him. Nine months later, she gave birth to an infant whom she could not bear to kill even though he was her enemy. So, she put him in a skin bag and threw him into the sea; he washed up on shore and was discovered, and in time grew up into the great poet and bard.
  • Scyld Scefing, the legendary ancestor of the Danish royal lineage is described as arriving this way in Beowulf.
  • Perseus and his mother Danae were set adrift in a casket put out to sea by her father (Perseus' grandfather) Acrisius. Acrisius did this because he heard a prophecy declaring that his own grandson would kill him one day. Unfortunately for him, You Can't Fight Fate in Classical Mythology, so Perseus and his mother survived. Perseus' father Zeus had his brother Poseidon, god of the sea, ensure that their voyage was a peaceful one. Eventually, the casket reached the island of Seriphos where they were taken in by the fisherman Dictys.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Legend of the Five Rings has Daigotsu, the hidden heir to the throne. Subverted in that rather than being raised by an upright peasant family he is raised by evil cultists and becomes the new Big Bad.
  • Mortarion, Primarch of the Death guard from Warhammer 40,000.

  • In BIONICLE, most of the Av-Matoran were spread across the Matoran World by the Order of Mata Nui to ensure their safety from evil hands, mindwiping the whole population of the Matoran world to forget the whole several month period this moving took place to make even more sure nobody knew.

    Video Games 
  • Lloyd in Tales of Symphonia was abandoned by his birth father (who thought he had died) and raised by a dwarf.
  • In Castle of the Winds, the Big Bad kills your parents in an attempt to kill you, the Chosen One. Your parents knew it was coming, however, and left little baby Player in the hands of an elderly farmer couple.
  • In Final Fantasy IX, Princess Garnet is revealed to be one of the last Summoners, who survived a great catastrophe by going away with her mother on a boat. Her mother, though, had died as soon as they got to Alexandria. Also, Zidane qualifies once the full scope of his origin is revealed
  • Seemingly played straight in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn with Pelleas, lost heir to Daein, except that he isn't taken in by a family and grows up in an orphanage. However, it's subverted when after fulfilling a boatload of conditions, you find out in the epilogue that Soren is the true heir. A subversion in that not only does he not become king, but he also doesn't even know. Made particularly ironic when it's revealed that Pelleas' special birthmark that identified him as the heir is actually a Spirit Charmer mark; Soren, who has the genuine Brand, probably owes his survival to being confused for a Spirit Charmer.
    • Micaiah is one of these as well.
  • The Player Character of Jade Empire was a baby Spirit Monk taken from the destruction of Dirge and raised by Master Li to reclaim his/her heritage.
  • As explained in the Extended Gameplay of Dragon Quest VIII, The Hero is the son of the wayward prince of Argonia and a Dragovian princess. His pet mouse is actually his grandfather in disguise, who protected him when his Dragovian brethren sealed The Hero's memories (which conveniently immunized him from all curses) and sent him away. His Argonia heritage paves the way for him to marry Medea rather than Prince Charmles.
  • In Dragon Quest XI after the fall of Dundrasil, the infant Luminary's basket fell into a river while the survivors were escaping from monsters. He's found later by an old gentleman known as Chalky, who would adopt him as his own grandson.
  • In Ocarina of Time, it's revealed that Link is a Hylian, left in Kokiri Forest by his mother as she died at the feet (roots?) of the Great Deku Tree.
  • Variant used in Odin Sphere with Oswald who wasn't abandoned, but adopted by Lord Melvin of Ringford who found him after his parents had been murdered by assassins sent by Oswald's grandfather- King Gallon of Titania. Possibly a subversion as Melvin DIDN'T raise Oswald with care and love to be a noble and good man but raised him distantly to be a cold, emotionless killing machine.
  • Another variant is in King's Quest III, where Gwydion, the game's protagonist, is really Prince Alexander, who was kidnapped and enslaved by the evil wizard Manannan.
  • This trope serves as part of the opening cinematic of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning, with Spyro's egg literally floating down a river on a makeshift raft.
  • A variation occurs in Final Fantasy IV, but it was never really elaborated on until the DS version: as a baby, Cecil's father, the Lunarian KluYa, was murdered, and his mother Cecilia died in childbirth. Cecil's brother Theodore (later known as Golbez), abandons the baby Cecil at the edge of Baron's woods since the evil influence of Zemus led him to believe that Cecil's birth was the direct cause of his parents' deaths. Cecil is taken in and raised by the King of Baron.
  • Xiba from Soulcalibur V is the biological son of Kilik and Xianghua. Unfortunately, because of that, he inherited his father's Evil Seed. And so, after consulting Edge Master for advice, Kilik puts him in the care of Kong Xiuqiang. 17 years later, does he look Malfested to you?
  • In Team Fortress 2, Grey Mann was captured and raised by an eagle soon after his birth. He eventually kills the other chicks, eats them, and then climbs down the mountain. He ultimately kills his brothers, Redmond and Blutarch.
  • In the backstory of Dragon Age, the first Archon of Tevinter was set adrift in a basket with an Orphan's Plot Trinket just after birth to protect him from his usurping uncle. He would go on to found The Empire.
  • In Avencast: Rise of the Mage, as a baby, the player character is found in a basket on a river under a portentously stormy sky, an Orphan's Plot Trinket amulet in his hands. Turns out he's one of two Kyranians who survived the Eldritch Abomination Morgath destroying their people, and The Only One who can defeat Morgath — because he's the missing piece of the Fusion Dance the Kyranians attempted to repel him in the first place.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation  
  • For much of the series, Leela in Futurama is believed (by herself, the rest of the main cast, and the viewers) to be an alien abandoned on Earth. It is later discovered, however, that she was born to a pair of mutants living in the sewers of New New York. As mutants are rejected by society and forbidden to leave the sewers, they placed her on the doorstep of an orphanage with a note written in an alien language, so that people would think she was an alien rather than a mutant.
    • In a heartwarming twist, her parents did watch over her for her entire life as they best could and as soon as Leela discovers them she tries as hard as she can to have a close, normal parental relationship with them (while still living above ground where mutants are banned).
  • In Winx Club, Bloom is an ordinary Earth girl. Or at least that's how she seems until she discovers that she is a fairy and has magic powers. Later she learns from her parents that her father saved Bloom from a fire and adopted her. Eventually, she learns that she is the lost princess of Domino, the planet that was destroyed by the Ancestral Witches.
  • While it's pretty clear that Tygra from ThunderCats (2011) is adopted (considering how he's a Tiger in a royal family of Lions), it was never brought up in the show itself until the episode "Native Son". His father Javan sent him away in a hot air balloon when he was unable to sacrifice him to the Ancient Spirits in order to save their clan from a deadly disease. The balloon eventually found its way to the city of Thundera, where he was raised by King Claudus and his queen and would later gain an adoptive brother, Lion-O.

    Real Life 
  • Princess Gwenllian, daughter of the last native Prince of Wales, fits into this trope. Her mother died in childbirth, her grief-stricken father got himself killed fighting the English less than a year later, and she and her cousins were taken prisoner by King Edward I. Gwenllian was reared in a convent from infancy onward; Edward didn't want to kill her because she was a baby, she was a girl, and she was a member of his own family (her mother had been his niece), but he wanted her kept where the Welsh couldn't make her a symbol of uprising. She eventually was made aware of her own status, but she never left the convent.


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