[DWJ] trolling for ideas/suggestions

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Nov 15 08:16:58 EST 2006

Further to my last post and after thinking a bit more about
healing-in-fantasy: the *Encyclopedia of Fantasy* (Clute and Grant) has
entries on "healing" and "potions" that might give a theme to use.  It
suggests that the healing of individuals by herbwomen (which doesn't get in
at all as far as I can find) might be taken as a microcosmic metaphor for
the Healing Of The Land, a central fantasy theme; that in turn could be
taken to imply that the role of women as healers/herbwomen is of central
fantasy importance.  Might one suggest that the majority of herbalists are
female?  It seems to me that they are, or that at the very least the male
ones tend to keep a shop in a back alley in town and be involved in
slightly dodgy magic as well, and require monetary payment for their salves
and potions, whereas the female ones give of their wisdom freely to the
person in need of it (though they may accept payment in kind rather than in
cash) and are not likely to summon a demon by accident.

It's not a very feminist ideal, I suppose, being just another example of
women being exploited if one chose to look at it that way, but it's worth a
thought or two.

In that context, Anne MacCaffrey has at least one woman who is the Castle
Herb Expert: I can't for the life of me remember the title of the book or
the name of the wench, but the "parallel story" of the Moreta's Ride bit of
Pern's history has her working away gathering and storing medicinal herbs,
and then smuggling them out by the sackful to the refugee-camp at the
castle gates.  I think Kerowyn in Mercedes Lackey's *By The Sword* is
similarly the person at her father's castle in charge of herbal remedies: I
vaguely remember that when she goes back after her Big Adventure (before
she sets off to become a mercenary) she escapes into the still-room and
makes herbal salves and potions there because it's the only "womanly task"
she actually quite enjoys.  Each is being exploited at least to some
extent, though they escape from their exploitative male siblings/parents
fairly sharpish in order to have a story of their own.

Oh, and the people in charge of harvesting and preparing numbweed on Pern
always seem to be women, and isn't there a female character in *The White
Dragon* or *Dragondrums* (or whatever the one is in which the annoying
harper apprentice goes off on his own and gets lost on the Southern
Continent) who is out doing research on herbs-for-healing when she comes
across the protagonist of the book?  MacCaffrey tends towards a sort of
"rationalised" herbalism: there are plants on Pern that have definite
medicinal properties, like numbweed and I think a sort of willowbark tea
for a headache.  That headache-cure idea turns up in Lackey as well, I'm
fairly sure, probably as something the Herald-Mages use when they are
suffering from backlash.  But I am *not* going to re-read the whole series
looking for it!  Even if I had them all, which I'm fairly sure I don't,
that's altogether A&BtheCofD.

Which reminds me: several authors seem to provide a herbal infusion that is
used as an infallible female contraceptive (and that turns up in John
Norman's Gor books, about which the less thought the better).  Some also
have one for inducing abortion.  Those are definitely feminist things,
I'd've thought.

Of course, the Healer With Herb in Tolkein is Aragorn -- but he's given the
idea by a woman.  And Gandalf is scatheing about the male medics at that
point, isn't he?  Unless that's Aragorn again.  The point is that Male
Medicine fails but Old Wives' Herbal Lore succeeds, when what ails the
patient is the Black Breath.  That might be worth a mention, given how rare
female characters are in TLotR.


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