Fortunatus is one of my favorite characters. He’s an evil villain who experiences an undeserved rescue and is saved. He’s my first saved villain. He is a redeemed unlit and I love him.
As you all know, I love warrior stories. That’s fairly obvious and I’ve talked about it before here. One of the unique-to-me-elements of my love comes from my experiences as a church member, pastor’s daughter, and now as a pastor’s wife. I hope you get the heart of what I’m saying here because it may seem a little self-aggrandizing, but it’s not meant that way. It’s meant to show why I love these stories: they’re my life experience.
I see my pastors through warrior-colored-glasses. I see them just as I see policemen, firemen, and the men serving on the front lines of our military. Pastors are shepherds. They’re here to train and defend the sheep. You don’t stop wolves with sweet words, but with well-made weapons wielded by well-trained men.
I view my husband as one of these great defending-shepherds, a SoulDefender if you will. This perspective puts me in the same rank as every woman who has ever sent her man out into the cold, dark night to risk his life for others. This type of woman isn’t super popular right now. Culturally, we love the warrior woman, the leader woman, she who herself goes out into the night, risking her life. I get it. The warrior/leader woman is dynamic, sexy, and powerful. She’s not trapped in a box, or a home, or quiet, but out active and engaged. Look, here is a woman who is as good as a man!
It gets old.
It gets old, honestly, because it’s one dimensional, physically and temperamentally. I’m not fit or muscular. I don’t have martial arts training or a strong constitution. I don’t like being in charge. The warrior/leader woman doesn’t speak to me because she isn’t me, or not me on many levels. It also gets old because it tends to communicate that homemaking is easy, and thus only lazy women or stupid women do it. It also communicates, even more subtly, that it’s fine to leave your children behind to be raised by someone else. You need to be out saving the world! That’s what mighty people do. They’re out saving. When in fact, mighty people are in rising. They stay in and raise their children.
Rabbit trail, but this is one of the things I enjoy about Joss Whedon. He creates dimensional women. He tries to show women in many different roles and honors them all. He can have Black Widow and Hawkeye’s wife in the same house and neither women feels put down by the other, nor belittled by the storytelling. Hawkeye’s wife is just as strong and mighty as Black Widow, even though she’s only on the home front, she’s only a hearth keeper.
I try not to hate on the warrior/leader woman too much. I understand she can be an analogy for a strength that isn’t just physical or temperamental. Unfortunately, this constant warrior/leader woman drumbeat starts to get on my nerves. It often beats its drum by putting down the men in the story, by making them weak, or stupid. It also leaves the women keeping the home, tending the hearth, doing everything that is needed in a family while her husband is out fighting, including trying not to worry, with little honor. Even worse, when these wives of warriors are showcased in our modern storytelling, she’s often belittling and nagging her man for his desire to protect others. She parades her children and herself before him as needing him more than the world. She makes his choice of warrior-ness a selfish one, even though she knew what he did when she married him. This woman forces her man to feel torn between his promises, his duties, and his family.
The cliché women in our modern storytelling are either the female warrior more mighty than any man (including highly trained ones), or she is a weak coward demanding her warrior stop being what he is because she doesn’t like it. Oh, how this annoys me.
In my own experience the cop’s wives, soldier’s wives, and pastor’s wives that I know personally, take his going, and their tending of the home as their part in the duty. It’s a team effort. It’s the family business. The wives keep the home front. They cheer him on as he leaves because he needs to go fight with a strong focus, not a divided one. She is a mighty woman. She has taken on the role of the warrior’s wife, and she embraces it. She embraces the worry. She embraces the late nights, long hours, the unknown, and unknowing elements. This wife shoulders as much as she can to keep burdens from him. This woman is incredibly strong, smart, clever, and wise. She isn’t shellfish about sharing her man. She doesn’t turn their family into a burden on him every time he goes out to be a shepherd. She encourages him. She tells him she thinks he is the strongest, bravest, best warrior in the world. This wife says, “Come home with your shield, or on it.” She has his back. Most important, she gives him a place to come home to. She creates a place to come back to. She doesn’t nag every time he goes away.
We don’t honor these incredibly strong women enough. We look for women marching for their rights, or protesting the evils of patriarchy, or doing incredible physical feats, or just yelling really loud. We don’t notice the quiet HearthKeepers doing the work it takes so warriors can go out in the world to fight the wolves.
So, because this is near and dear to my heart, because I have just stepped into this mighty sisterhood, I started writing Huntsmen and HearthKeeper stories. In normal genres, they would be Urban Fantasy. But for me, they’re stories about the men who fight the things that go bump in the night, and the women who light their way back home. They’re exaggerated forms of real life. Instead of just cops, I have men who hunt supernatural beings that have gone rogue. Instead of having just cop wives, I have women with the ability to stitch torn souls back together. I have women who are literal lights in the dark.
Fortress is my first story in this personal genre. It’s the story of a small town under attack from an odd, burning, black ooze. Huntsmen arrive on the wings of a storm to take out the mysterious black tar. Before they can figure out the tar’s intent it specifically targets Dún, a woman who owns the local diner. That’s the overarching plot. The story is about Will and Dún. He’s a lost, angry huntsman who doesn’t remember why he does what he does anymore. He’s a broken warrior or a breaking warrior. Dún is a young woman who finds herself stronger than she thinks, and is able to stand in the middle of Will’s anger, accepting him as he is. She opens her heart not just to him, but to the other men who give their lives for the town. She finds she’s not a warrior, but a helper of warriors. This acceptance moves Dún into the world of magic. She becomes the first HearthKeeper Guardian, joining the ranks of many sisters before her who step into the darkness of their men’s worlds and find themselves strong.
One of my first readers of Fortress said:
I love that your story grows not out of emotion first, but out of commitment and dynamically explores the relationship between man and woman.
Your stories have done more to tether my heart to hearth and home than a host of books I read in my teen years outlining why I should desire to be a homemaker. I also think books on womanhood tend to focus more on motherhood than the calling of a wife, to the point of seeing marriage as merely a means to have children, neglecting the high calling God has placed in being a helper to man. Your chosen metaphor of the warrior’s companion, the HearthKeeper, is poignant and corrective.
We need clear doctrinal teaching on marriage and the roles of men and women but we also need stories that stir our affections to love that truth. Art is “the Huntsman marked by the Preacher as one of his soldiers against the monsters seeping into the world through cracks and crevasses…” Art too is a ‘guardian.’ And yours is a strong fortress, ready and able to stand the test of time and changing culture.”
Another reader had this to say:
You’ve created something amazing.
I have been so busy this summer with deadlines, work, and barely being home, and pausing life to read Fortress was very rewarding. (I wish I could have gotten to it sooner, but life )
I love how it’s focusing on the quiet power, the one where women are supporting the men through the hardships in life. (Like, that is life!) And it was done in such a beautiful way in a world that is ours, and yet not. The story was new and refreshing -the pacing keeping me on constant edge….I do hope you continue to write more about Dun and Will because I need more lol!
My Snow White retelling has this same Huntsman/HearthKeeper vibe. It was a finalist in the Rooglewood contest. I hope to tell many more stories in this genre. I love it. I love playing with strong women who aren’t raising a sword, but who are standing beside a man with a gun. It’s my life. It’s the lives of the women I know. I want to honor them, for they are the strongest people I know.
Amendment: I want to mention that what I don’t want to do with this post is discourage women. I don’t want you to feel like a lesser women if you aren’t this brave, strong, clever, supportive creature. We are finite and dependent, all of us. None of us are as good, kind, brave, or wise as we could be or want to be. We’re all weak. What I want to do in this article, and my stories, is honor the women who stay home and set that candle in the window, because it’s not an easy job.
Second, men should never use their jobs as an excuse to abandon their families. A man’s first priority, regardless of job, is his family. He must draw boundaries and lines that make them his highest aim, even if he’s deployed, or on the streets, or in the pulpit. A man can’t abandon his family.
If you are interested in reading Fortress, you can get it in the first tier of my Patreon for only a $1 a month. Check it out!
One of the themes in my stories is standing. You will see the youngest and smallest of children standing for what is right, standing against the bullies, and standing for the weak. My Scarecrows embody this idea, a concept given form.