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A crook who takes in children, usually orphans and has them steal for him, usually through pickpocketing, the Short Con or both. Like the original Dickens character, this trope is subject to two distinct interpretations. Sometimes, the character will be a Lovable Rogue and will be presented as essentially giving the children the best life possible. On the other hand, other versions of this are cruel exploiters and function similarly to the Orphanage of Fear. Less sympathetic examples may qualify as a Babysitter From Hell.
Sometimes, just sometimes, The Fagin may actually love the children who works for him like a father, and there are few things scarier than a Papa Wolf Fagin, who is not above using his extensive underworld connections to absolutely torture to death those who harm his children.
Expect to find The Artful Dodger among his crew. If the Fagin's charges grow up successfully, they will likely become Satisfied Street Rats. Related to the Thieves' Guild. The children involved automatically qualify as a Tyke Bomb.
The trope is named after Fagin, a character from Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist who is so associated with this trope that his name is actually next to it in the dictionary. He even fufills both interpretations, depending on the media he's in.
- Fay Gunn from the Batman comics
- Provost from Runaways
- The Phantom once encountered such a man leading crew of pickpockets in Africa in the "Black Fagin" storyline.
- The Shadow King from Marvel Comics was this before he made the mistake of challenging Professor Xavier.
- Red Sonja: As a teenaged thief, Sonja worked for one named Jubal.
- Fagin The Jew is a sympathetic retelling of Fagin's story from Fagin's point of view by Will Eisner.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen it would appear that the original Artful Dodger has grown up and taken over Fagin's role.
- Maman of Slumdog Millionaire initially seems to be the nice version who takes in children to sing for money on the streets. But he blinds them to make them look more sympathetic.
- Dick Tracy (1990): "Steve The Tramp" has "Kid" steal for him. Dick Tracy tracks Kid back to Steve's shack and beats Steve up, freeing Kid.
- The City of Lost Children: This is the octopus' side job.
- Bart (played by Bob Hoskins) from Danny the Dog is a revolting horror of a "man" who raised a Chinese-boy to manhood (played by Jet Li) as an attack dog to help him kill and extort money in Glascow, London.
- The Shredder from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie essentially ran the Foot Clan this way. The Foot Clan was made up of teenage orphans and runaways who were trained in the art of ninjitsu and instigated a massive New York crime wave.
- Robin Williams character in August Rush.
- Charlie Chaplin in The Kid is of the Papa Wolf variety. He uses his adopted son to drum up his business as a glass salesman by having him run around town breaking windows.
- The original is Fagin of Oliver Twist. Because of the Unfortunate Implications of the anti-Semitism in his portrayal, he's often been adapted (e.g., in Oliver!) into a more benevolent/morally gray character than he was in the novel. A number of critics looking at the original Fagin have noted that he has more than a whiff of the pedophile about him.
- In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Locke encounters both versions as a child. The first criminal who took him in, the Thiefmaker, was more of the evil version, but he ends up selling Locke to Father Chains, who is very clearly inspired by the positive takes on Fagin.
- In the Heralds of Valdemar novel Take a Thief, Skif falls in with a group of young thieves led by an adult man (Bazie), who is unfortunately crippled; he gives them food, shelter and lessons (both educational and in how to be a good thief) in exchange for helping him out with his daily life and stealing for him.
- The Thief Lord centers around, well, the Thief Lord and his gang of orphans and runaways. Subverted in that the Thief Lord turns out to be a kid himself, and not actually an orphan/runaway, but a rich kid stealing petty items from his dad's house.
- Referenced in the Temps short story "Sortilege and Serendipity" by Brian Stableford when the hapless hero, whose job is testing Talented kids, is mistaken for the super criminal known as the Taxman, and finds himself spinning a yarn about being a Fagin-figure using his work to recruit powered youngsters into his gang. He briefly wonders why he's never actually done this, before remembering that all the kids he works with are mouthy pains-in-the-neck with useless powers.
- Subverted in one Batman short story: Batman thinks the Penguin is kidnapping kids from troubled backgrounds to lead them into a life of crime. He's actually giving them a decent education and a pleasant childhood so they can grow up to be outstanding members of society ... who owe him a huge favor.
- Sergeant Rumpkin in Beyond the Western Sea falls somewhere between the two versions. It's ambiguous how much he cares for the boys independent of the money they bring him; however, the worst thing we see him do is chide Toggs and made vague threats about Fred, who betrays the gang.
- Aristedes from Jim Butcher's Ghost Story. Harry even points it out and is surprised to find that one of the boys, Fitz, has actually read Oliver Twist.
Live Action TV
- In Leverage Parker's mentor Archie Leech can be argued as one. He took Parker in and made her steal for him as well as trained her as his 'legacy'-the best thief in the world. He also displays some of the Papa Wolf tendencies, calling Parker 'kiddo' and even referring to himself as Parker's father. However, the last one is deconstructed: he never took the young Parker home to his white picket fence family, fearing she won't fit in, making the older Parker a sort of Emotionless Girl.
- One episode of Robin Hood features Bertha, a seemingly kind and motherly woman who takes in homeless children - until it's revealed she is using them in her scheme to win money from rigged boxing matches. She also sells the kids into slavery at the end of her tours.
- In Neverland, Sy Fy's miniseries reimagining / Origin Story for Peter Pan, Hook started out as one of these in London's East End, with Peter and the future Lost Boys being the children in question.
- In the Pathfinder adventure path "Curse of the Crimson Throne", this is the occupation of one of the early villains, and the PCs can be former wards of his.
- Fallout 2 has a merchant in the Den who sells the stuff children steal for him. You could kill the kids to recover anything they pickpocket from you, but that gets bounty hunters gunning for your head. And just about everyone else in the game will hate you on sight.
- Final Fantasy IX features the Tantalus gang, led by a boisterous, bearded Petting Zoo Person named Baku. It's stated outright that he adopted the hero after finding him abandoned near the docks as a child, raised him and taught him to steal and perform on the stage; and it's implied that the rest of the gang may have been similarly recruited. Baku will knock you cross-eyed if you betray him...but eidolons help anyone who tries to hurt his gang.
- The Sewer King from Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Underdwellers" is very much the evil version.
- In the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers episode "Adventures in Squirrelsitting", Fat Cat considers raising the two squirrel girls as his own heirs before deciding it'd be too much trouble and ordering them tossed into the canning machine.
- There was an episode of Futurama in which Bender played this role when he bought an entire orphanage. In typical fashion, he ends up loving the orphans much to his chagrin.
- The version of Fagin in the Disney film Oliver and Company does this with animals.
- Ferrell in Sonic Underground, the guardian of Manic when the Sonic triplets were split up. He was Roboticized in the pilot.
- Fagin was partly based on Isaac Solomon, who was at least rumored to be a "kidsman" (apparently, that's the "technical" term for this type of criminal), although he was mostly a very successful fence. He also made a pretty impressive escape from Newgate Prison and British authorities.