Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hermits as Heroes and Mad Women

Notes on fictional representations of isolation between genders...

The Hermit by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
In the art of Tarot, The Hermit card represents many things: introspection, solitude, seeking and offering guidance and the insights and awareness that come from being alone.

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It's the art of shining the lantern inward, not out.

In this way, the Hermit represents an essential step along the path of our own hero's journey, regardless of gender.

It's a psychological experience, helping us become more of who we are.

Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. - Carl Jung

Jung said that the highest and most decisive experience of all is to be alone with one Self, and for many of us worldwide, we are asked to do just that now.

To self-isolate.

To social distance.

Everyone responds in different ways, depending on whether they are extraverts, introverts, creatives, immersive... a combination of all possible elements. The point is, now more than ever, we can turn to our most cherished fictional characters for support and guidance.

At least, that's what I thought when I started this post a few days ago. 

Now, after some hours of research, I have to amend that statement to, "...we can turn to our most cherished MALE fictional characters for support and guidance."

Female fictional characters in isolation, not so much, though of the hundreds and hundreds of tarot deck designs, we are starting to see some female representations of the hermit.

That's something, right?

Gender and the art of Hermiting

Basically, men and women can find the rhythm of isolation in similar ways -  immerse in books and film, do yoga and workouts online, join forums of interest, pursue distance education, even apply for PhDs, cook, clean, meditate, garden, design and build. All these actions help us grow in the time of social isolation and distancing.

And, when I started writing this post, I thought we could add to those activities by honoring the heroes in our favorite stories who are, indeed, isolationists - hermits, recluses and even reluctant warriors, and who, like true hermits, offer guidance in a time of need.

The only problem is, they are virtually always portrayed as men, not women.


Male Hermits as Heroes

For example, we have:

Obi Wan Kanobi 

We meet him in the first of the Star Wars films as a hermit living on the distant planet of Tatooine. From an unassuming introduction, he grows into a character rich with wisdom and fluent in the way of the Force. A true hero, and guide. I love him.

Rick Deckard 

In Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (AKA Blade Runner) Rick Deckard is a dark hero, a bounty hunter responsible for retiring (aka killing) rogue androids that escape from off-world colonies. A loner for sure whose reluctance to connect makes the mysterious ending ever so much richer. Perhaps an anti-hero, but a hero none the less.

And Then There are the Women...

Dickens' vengeful Miss Havishham
In my search for female characters who represent the positive and creative aspects of the Hermit, I'm still looking.

Help me out here, please!

So far, fictional female characters who spend time alone, unlike men, do not become Jedi Masters or alluring dark heroes. Generally, they become cruel, go mad and die alone, without making a single mark.

Take, for example, Miss Havisham in Dickens' Great Expectations. She's driven into isolation and mental instability from romantic heartbreak. Not our favorite role model or bringer of light.

And then there's Emily Grierson in William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. She's described as “a small, fat woman” who lives in a town full of people who see her as cold, distant and living in her past. No midi-chlorian running through her veins...

We have powerful works like Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. The main character is isolated but... she also has deep psychological issues rooting from early childhood and struggles with depression, feeling of alienation, inadequacy... We can empathize and relate, but is she our guiding light in the true sense of the Hermit?

No, none of them are.

If you know of an awesome female hermit in fiction who is not portrayed as a soul-sucking maniac, I would love to hear about her. I'll put her up alongside Obi Wan Kenobi and all the other awesome male loners ASAP!

Hope to be inundated. :)


Author Kim Falcconer

Kim Falconer's New YA Fantasy Series is out August 4, 2020 - Crown of Bones. (Writing under A.K. Wilder) 

Also, check her urban fantasy  - 
The Blood in the Beginning - and Ava Sykes Novel and the SFF Quantum Enchantment Series

You can find Kim on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Or pop over and throw the bones on the site.

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Helen Lowe said...

Hey Kim,

I nominate:

Jenny Waynest in DRAGONSBANE by Barbara Hambly -- she lives alone to pursue her wizard's calling and hone her magic;

Peri in Patricia McKillip's THE CHANGELING SEA is living a hermit's life

And Gram Tillerman in Cynthia Voight's HOMECOMING is also a recluse until her grandchildren show up and compel her, grudgingly and unwillingly, to take them in.

Spirit Whispers softly said...

Hi Kim

Really fascinating. I also feel like there's a lot out there but which are not celebrated, I'll have a ponder. There is a book called The Desert Mothers that are early Christian women ascetics and their teachings, but I haven't read it yet

My other thought comes back to what is spoken about in another group called The Way of the Rose. That meditation and asceticism is born from the hunter gatherer lifestyle and the need to be still for long periods of time to hunt game.

The women and children who were responsible for gathering did so in groups with laughter, and their prayers and meditations were through story telling and singing. There have been studies (I remember Brene Brown writing about it) that show women need to be around other women for best mental health and also it is replenishing for women. Women are not hard wired for solitude, which might explain why many go "crazy" when they are alone.

Or is it just that really connected (to Goddess/Earth/Moon/Stars) women are misunderstood as crazy but they are actually just on another level?

I'm going to ponder this some more! Love it.

Kim Falconer said...

Helen, those are great examples. I had a feeling you would be here to help me out.

I know there are amazing female characters who are reclusive, but they don't pop on google search like the male hermits/wise ones.

Thanks for dropping in!

Kim Falconer said...

Hi Spirit Whispers Softly...

Really good additions to the discussion. I'm going to think about the whole evolutionary biology of it all. Isolation can be a psychological challenge to anyone, male or female, and so many factors play into how we respond, including the idea of choice.

And I agree, 'crazy' is a relative term!

Thanks so much for dropping in.

Nicky said...

Great article.

The heroine from Chalice by Robin McKinley is reclusive.

Sister Amerie from Julian May's Saga of the Exiles travels back in time with others with the intention of being a hermit.

Why there aren't more hermit heroines - a woman is considered 'suspect' if she wants to be alone (as a creative introvert I can relate).

Obi-Wan Kenobi FTW! :D