Are there any tropes regarding how societies react to children with supernatural abilities, besides abandoning in the woods or, for the complete opposite, considering them gods? Is there anything between those two extremes?

I'm working on a story where 2% to 4% of children are born with supernatural abilities, present at birth.

Obviously, stories about overpowered babies are as old as dirt, and tropes about such children are equally common. But while TV Tropes has "Goo Goo Godlike," "Enfant Terrible," and even "Fetus Terrible," it's harder to find any tropes regarding how societies react to such children beyond either abandoning them, Romulus and Remus style, or worshipping them as little demi-gods (or both, having started with the former and then being adopted by a local king).

Are there any alternative tropes out there, or am I really restricted to working with, subverting, or deconstructing just these two?

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    The other common trope is sending special children to a special place (like Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters), but this is for more grown up children.
    – Alexander
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 18:46
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    I'll admit I haven't seen this done very often. So I doubt there'll be very many.
    – Fayth85
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 19:00
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    Do you need to have pre-existing tropes to react against in order to write? Why not let the story live for itself, and let others deconstruct the tropes? Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 20:08
  • @ChrisSunami - I think of it as part of the research process - the same way I'd want to know more about deaf culture before writing a deaf character, even in a supporting role, I want to know more about the cultural history of an idea before I write it into my story. Then I can plan out how I want to approach it. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


Though I consider this more of a worldbuilding thing, I do find it too fascinating to pass up. You see, you highlight the two potential camps where people might fall into:

  • abandoning in the woods
  • considering them gods

But these are views on them. There might be a more nuanced look. If you consider 'supers' in The Incredibles, for example.

The Incredibles

(above is a picture of Mr Incredible, Frozone, and Syndrone, from The Incredibles)

You are basically put in the same black and white picture: good versus evil, us versus them. This is, in itself, a trope you can subvert if you get creative (or follow George RR Martin in offering more nuance).

Like showing more about a culture surrounding it. With The Tyke Bomb (also TVtropes, be warned). In which you have a group, though typically an 'evil' group, raising these children and indoctrinating them from youth into their organization. You can toy with that quite a bit (religion's pros and cons, army and patriotism)

Or maybe toying with more common tropes like The Fetus Terrible (also TVtropes). You can toy with the 'devil's baby', or demonic offspring expectation. But this has been done. I mean, I've read a lot about 'the son of the devil' stories, who both follow (Constantine) and reject (Blue Exorcist) their biological father.

People might (rightly) be fearful of the children (or even fetuses) and consider them to have the Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon. Or they might well be the Goo Goo Godlike you mentioned.

So there are plenty of tropes to consider, but more importantly, you just need to consider what people might well believe in their 'natural' surroundings. So it really boils down into what you want to consider.

  • I tried worldbuilding.se, with many more details about the situation. They're having a debate over whether or not the question encourages responses that are too opinion-based. So since this is, at heart for me, a research question about tropes, I edited it to focus on that and re-posted here. Also, I like your culture idea - it would let me start in from the side and move in toward the child in question. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 20:30
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    @JaycieBeveri Yeah. I'm not surprised about that. Glad I could help at any rate.
    – Fayth85
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 22:12

While it doesn't necessarily pertain to supernatural abilities possessed by the child in question, old Slavic naming conventions often involved giving a child a substitute name, an undesirable descriptor to ward off evil or negative effects until they reach a certain age. You could do some form of this so that in this world, children are given substitute names or numbers until they reach a certain age, at which time they usually manifest their power and receive a true name. Just a thought.


What is the purpose of your question in the context of writing?

Usually writers don't look at lists of existing tropes and then write a story working with those. Tropes are what readers or scholars find in literature and film, not blueprints for writers.

As a writer, you are completely free to create your own "trope".

  • True, that's not how most writers do it. But I think of it as part of the research process - the same way I'd want to know more about deaf culture before writing a deaf character, even in a supporting role, I want to know more about the cultural history of an idea before I write it into my story Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 20:23
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    Then you should look at cultural history, not at tropes found in (mostly current) media. Your question makes me think of the inquisition, of fairytales about changelings, about gifted children being mobbed in school and devolopping antisocial tendencies as a consequence.
    – user29032
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 20:51
  • Like I said, these tropes are as old as dirt - just look at Hercules and Mwindo. I thought tropes are a subset of cultural history? Don't these tropes engender thoughts as ancient as changelings, as old as the Inquisition, and as recent as Tom Riddle because they are part of our shared cultural history? Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 21:05

I think you now know as much as there exists in terms of tropes derived from ancient cultures around this; TVTropes is usually pretty good with this.

But I agree with @Cloudchaser; while it's definitely important to research this, don't be limited in worrying about what's a common trope and what's not. Instead, think of all the many possible reactions to a child with special abilities that people might have, especially the parents. Then, once you extrapolate that to society, you'll have a world like our own in how we treat different races, family pedigrees, intellect, sexual orientations, and gender identities, one that truly feels organic.

For starters, I'm thinking of the following reactions to children with superpowers and the ways they might grow up or respond to these:

  • Fear for their physical safety, for society bending over to accommodate for them, for their potential rise to power and corruption
  • Confusion, either talking down to them or doing their best to ignore them; bullying, difficulty in making or keeping friends
  • Exile or abandonment; often out of fear and/or confusion
  • Envy, leading to mistreatment, extortion, bribery for special services, toward both the child and the parents; fair-weather friends, like when a family member wins the lottery
  • Curiosity, obsessed with learning more about them; scientist
  • Awe and amazement, the "god" status; the celebrity treatment
  • Ridicule; also the celebrity treatment; ex: "TMZ"
  • Pity; the "special" kid that all the adults feel sorry for and bend over backward to "help" them
  • High expectations, especially from parents; people wanting to live vicariously through them; huge burdens on their shoulders
  • etc.

When you think about how our own world lives with people who are "different", the more you read and listen to people even just within the U.S., the more you see that it's not just "love" or "hate", but everything in between and more. The more you make the reactions relatable, even the trope answers will be engaging, because it's no longer mythologized; these will be real people with real opinions.

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