The Magic Herb Woman (TM) Gets Some Side-eye

You know her. If you read books set in the Middle Ages, you know her.

Signs and Symptoms

She cavorts about her garden, picking magic herbs.

She makes the potions for the town.

This is all done with magical intuition. At no time is there a training montage or other evidence of her learning her art. If there was any learning involved, it happened in the past and is briefly summarized as something that happened passively and without effort.

She never loses patients, nor does anyone ever have a complaint against her treatment plan, against all reason and odds. This somehow leads to the Evil Doctor and Evil Town Founders to hate her to an irrational degree. There is always at least some shade cast on conventional doctors.

Her Heyday or Golden Era

I was actually surprised to see it in Hamnet. I speak of the main POV character, Anne.

I should say that I am including her despite the fact that Hamnet, her son, dies. Don’t worry, it’s handwaved: it is definitely not Anne, Magic Healer Lady (TM)’s fault.

Anyway, I was surprised to see Magic Healer Lady because the height of her popularity was in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and Hamnet was published in the last couple of years. Are we still doing this? Doesn’t this character have some mud on her yet? (And she is always a ‘she.’ This is a gendered AF character.)

My Pet Peeve

The most magical of healer women with the most magical herbs loses patients. The maternal survival rate was abysmal before the introduction of germ theory, forceps, and safe caesarian sections. The infant mortality rate was equally awful.

Why do you think my main character’s mom dies in childbirth? Why do you think my midwife in ‘In Service of Meiser’ was a mandrake-root obsessed nutter who forces mandrake juice on everyone and freaks out when someone finally refuses to pay for her terrible service?

I know the Magical Healer Lady (TM) in real life.

And she is useless, pushy, vicious, dumb as a sack of hair, and self-righteous. She is the crunchy-granola harpy who, hearing you have some kind of sniffle, has her go-to cure that she will want you to take. She will shove it down your throat if she ever gets the chance, and she is a miserable git when you avoid her cure-all.

When I see her depicted from her point of view in so many books, my hackles go up. Herbal Magic Lady (TM) is not magical or spiritual. She is a menace.

Bookish Pet Peeve

She is a Mary Sue! So often, she is a Mary Sue. All her cures are handed to her, she is always right about everything, and the plot revolves around how great she is and how all good people love her.

On the other end of the spectrum, she frequently is the Deus Ex Machina. She magics the heroes better when they should have to fight their way through the pain. Her presence evaporates tension.

Conclusion:

Medical people in the Middle Ages used the humoral theory, period. Conventional doctors used herbal cures. Medical personnel learned their arts from other people through work and study. Everybody relied on diet over other things, and it DID NOT WORK WELL! Please, please, get these things right, or at least try to.

And can you not shy away from people getting sick and dying? It is ok for people in an era before antibiotics to die of infections. It is a great addition to the trauma and conflict of the world.

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Vivian Yongewa

Vivian Yongewa

37 Followers

Writes for content farms and fun. Has an AU historical mystery series on Kindle.