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Solitary Sorceress

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Out in the wilderness, probably in The Lost Woods, lives a woman with magical abilities. She may be a sorceress, witch (wicked or otherwise), demigoddess, supernatural creature in human form, or some combination of these. Whatever the case, she at least looks like a woman, lives apart from the rest of society, and has some kind of special ability.

She becomes important to the story when the characters decide to seek her aid, whether for information (achieved by scrying or prophecy) or magical service (a magical item for later, healing, removal of a curse, application of a protective enchantment, etc.) This aid may be given in good faith or as a means to her own ends; freely, or at a price. She may have interfered via a third party to bring the protagonists to her door, but she may also be sought out as a known provider of services, or simply someone the protagonists stumbled across in the course of their travels.

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In order for the characters to encounter her at all, her solitude must not be absolute: perhaps she lives within walking distance of an otherwise normal village, maybe even right on the outskirts of town. She may be a friend of the community, visited frequently by its members according to their need, or be shunned and feared by them. This latter characterization is common of a Wicked Witch, who may even prey on the townsfolk, steal babies, etc.

Whatever her reputation, her abode will be a simple house or cottage, where she may have a familiar or bevy of servants, but no family members.

A notable exception to this trend exists, however: sisters. Specifically, three of them, often according to the pattern of The Hecate Sisters. Like the Fates, who shared a single eye and tooth among them, a typical trio of sisterly witches function narratively as a single unit and thus qualify as "solitary" for the purposes of this trope.

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The Solitary Sorceress can be beneficial to the cast, malevolent—perhaps even the main villain of the story—or ambiguous, either serving her own ends at the expense of everyone else or giving aid only at great cost to the characters.

She is Older Than Feudalism — see Circe — and a stock figure of the Chivalric Romance.

This character type leans heavily female, but male versions do exist, usually living in a Mage Tower instead of a cottage. Hermit Guru is a related trope that is usually male. The main distinction between the Guru and the Sorceress is that while characters will consult a Hermit Guru for the kind of training, enlightenment, or wisdom that comes from years of discipline, study, and contemplation, they will consult the Solitary Sorceress specifically for supernatural aid.


Examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • Dragon magazine #86 SnarfQuest #11. Etheah of the Woodland is a benevolent sorceress who lives by herself in a small house far away from civilization.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Witch of the Everfree, Sunset spends her first few years in the Everfree as this, and actively cultivates it as her public image. She becomes more social as time goes on, though, starting to visit Ponyville increasingly often as time passes.
  • Durothé, the Wizard Everlasting/Last Wizard, though hardly by choice, in The Keys Stand Alone. Before the four removed it, her anti-communication curse meant that she was better off not mingling with her people (who revere her), but she was dying for the curse to be removed so she could be a real leader to them, not just a figurehead. Only her Interpreter was allowed to speak with her, largely because that person had the only hope of being able to make any sense of what she said—or at least to interpret her in acceptable ways.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Witch in Brave is an elderly woman living alone (apart from her sapient crow familiar) in a cottage in the woods. Merida finds her cottage following a trail of Will-o'-the-Wisps, and asks her help to fix her relationship with her mother. The Witch initially refuses, saying she's out of that whole business after "too many dissatisfied customers."
  • Frozen: After accidentally exposing her powers to the world, Elsa flees to the mountains and plans on living her life like this.
  • Ursula, the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid is a villainous example. She was banished from the Kingdom of Atlantica, but still gives magical help to "poor unfortunate souls"... with a hook in it.
  • Mama Odie in The Princess and the Frog is an elderly, blind voodoo priestess living in the Louisiana bayou who helps Naveen and Tiana break the curse that turned them into frogs.
  • The Sword in the Stone. Madam Mim is a powerful witch with Voluntary Shapeshifter powers who lives in a hut in the wilderness.
  • The sorceress Roleil from Ralph Bakshi's Fire and Ice has a secluded hut in the steamy jungle. When her brutish lackey Otwa brings her a young girl, Roleil uses magic to divine two crucial facts about the stranger: that she is Princess Teegra, daughter of the king of Firekeep; and that she is sought by the ice wizard Nekron.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Big Fish there is a Witch who lives in a very dilapidated house outside of the suburbs, and supposedly if you look her in the eye you see how you will die. According to the Unreliable Narrator, he and some friends in their boyhood went on a Scare Dare to knock on her door. It ended badly, but she turned out to be Not Evil, Just Misunderstood.
  • Sleepy Hollow by the same director has the Witch of the Western Woods.
  • The Sanderson sisters, three Wicked Witches in Hocus Pocus, seem to live just outside of the village of Salem, though by the modern day, the house is within the limits of the town and has been made into a museum.
  • Tia Dalma from the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies is a voodoo lady living in a hut on a remote island. She provides information via divination, specifically reading crab bones, and can bring people Back from the Dead. In the third movie she is revealed to be the sea goddess Calypso, trapped in a human body.
  • As Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is loosely based on the fairy tale, the isolated witch in her candy house in the forest makes an appearance in their backstory; the intro newspaper-clipping animation that shows their exploits and growth into professional witch-hunters shows evidence of several more, such as "The Swamp Witch" and "Meadow Witch", and the witch they find that sets off the plot is a woman living off in the forest. And so are the main antagonists. And a good side character. The witches' isolation seems to be justified in this universe by the fact that dark witches are inherently corrupt and evil, and they start to visibly decay, which makes them too obvious to stay around people.
  • In the film adaptation of Stardust Lamia is one of three witches who live in a crumbling manor within a wasteland and seek a fallen star to restore their youth. Each of the three assaults the protagonists in her own way.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz has a castle all to herself, with a platoon of guards patrolling the approach, and a battalion of flying monkeys nearby. Only one monkey is ever seen in the same room as the Witch; otherwise, her servants seem to steer clear unless summoned.

    Folklore 
  • One of the most famous examples of the overlap of Wicked Witch and this trope is in Hansel and Gretel, in which the witch lives in the deep woods, in a Gingerbread House specifically in order to lure children, which she then fattens and eats.
  • Baba Yaga is generally depicted as an old witch who lives in the deep woods, and sojourns out to capture and eat children. Modern versions of the character are more ambiguous and in line with The Trickster.
  • The mountain hag Yama-Uba from Japanese Mythology lives in the remote mountains and eats people.
  • Circassian Mythology: In the tale of Warzameg and Psatina there is the Bitch-Witch of the Flying Wagon, who lives in an isolated cove with her herd of horses.

    Literature 
  • In the Arcia Chronicles, this becomes Gerika's modus operandi after she learns to control her powers. Before returning to Tarra, she lived on the outskirts of a kingdom in another world, counseling many generations of kings as the a Wise Witch. Afterwards, she uses the same guise to explain herself to Alexander (that she lived in a forest hut that his horse just happened to bring his wounded and unconscious body to), in order to avoid revealing that she was basically summoned to save his life by the self-sacrifice of one of his most loyal friends.
  • Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch has the residents of Finch learn of such a person who lived in the area centuries earlier when they go on a treasure hunt for the pages of a firsthand account of her.
  • The Belgariad has Vordai, the Witch of the Fens. Shunned by her homeland because of her powers, she's lost more or less all interest in the rest of humanity, and lives in the swamplands of southern Drasnia. She's also become fond of the fenlings, otter-like critters that are native to the fens. When Belgarath and Garion are passing through, she compels them to give the fenlings the power of speech in exchange for passage back out of the fens, on the grounds that she doesn't have long left, and wants them to be able to look after themselves after she's gone. This is potentially problematic, partly because it would be insanely difficult, partly because Belgarath had recently been strained almost beyond his capacity in his fight with Ctuchik, and was believed at the time by Garion and Polgara to potentially have burnt out his powers, and since he's the de facto Big Good, if he'd found his gifts were no longer there, the domino effect would have been horrific. As it is, it works - while Belgarath later notes that he could have slid out of it fairly easily if he'd wanted to, he felt sorry for Vordai.
  • In The Chronicles of Prydain, Taran and his friends journey multiple times into the treacherous Marshes of Morva to seek the counsel of the Three Sisters, Orwen, Orgoch, and Orddu, inscrutable witches of unspeakable power who like to play with people's lives.
  • In The Dresden Files, the Queen Mothers of Faerie courts, most powerful of their kin and theoretically mortal enemies, live together in what seems to Harry a simple cottage. Their isolation here is near-absolute: they occupy a corner of the Nevernever that is inaccessible by normal means, and don't like uninvited visitors.
  • Enchanted Forest Chronicles:
    • The witch Morwen lives out in the Enchanted Forest with a ridiculously large number of cats. She has a few notable friends who will journey into the forest to visit her, including a dragon who regularly borrows her crepe pan, but for the most part she's alone with her cats and she likes it that way. She provides aid to other main characters in all four books, usually when they encounter her house by chance.
    • The magician Telemain is Morwen's male counterpart. He's an eccentric who spends most of his time in the middle of nowhere doing Sufficiently Analyzed Magic experiments. In Talking to Dragons Daystar and Shiara happen upon his Wizards Tower while in need of aid.
    • The fire-witch in Calling on Dragons doesn't fit the mold, but he ended up in the position of one, taking over the role from his sister Rachel, who inherited the isolated tower from the original Solitary Sorceress when she retired. Rachel got tired of misguided adventurers trying to "rescue" her and so gave the place up to her brother, who got tired of the same thing and eventually filled in the road, making the tower truly isolated. The protagonist party wouldn't have encountered him at all but for a teleportation mishap.
    • A different fire-witch in Talking to Dragons lives in an invisible castle that teleports randomly around the Enchanted Forest (presumably she had some way to track it down). She attacks passersby in order to turn them to stone and use them as decoration for the castle.
  • Discworld: Witches on the Discworld live this way, Nanny Ogg being an exception — she lives in a huge sprawling house in Lancre town as the matriarch of her massive family. Witches are given a grudging and sometimes hesitant reverence by the community, which they consider it their duty to protect, even without gratitude.
  • Good Omens: Agnes Nutter apparently lived alone on the outskirts of her village. Her last scion, Anathema Device, also lives alone, in a cottage she rented outside Tadfield, and acts as a source of information and assistance to Adam and Newt.
  • The witch Granny Pinchbottom in the Bruce Coville novel Goblins in the Castle is a sort of boogeyman figure the main character William was taught to fear, but when he encounters her, she turns out to be well-intentioned, though somewhat duplicitous and scary, and gives him a few items he needs.
  • The Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid lives by herself in a dangerous part of the ocean. Unlike in the Disney adaptation, here, she's a True Neutral character who tells the mermaid about every negative consequence her spell has.
  • In one of the Lythande stories, Lythande is under the influence of a cursed lute that leads the way to a small house isolated in a swamp, with a single beautiful woman living there. Initially she's taken to be a hedge-witch hiding her power from society, but it turns out that she's a dragon in human form.
  • There are two in The Sword of Truth series: Adie, a sorceress who helps early on and eventually becomes one of Zedd's traveling companions, and Shota, a witch who is more antisocial and tell and gives things to Richard that he doesn't like but she deems to be for his own good.
  • Red Reera of the Land of Oz books is a Yookoohoo (a powerful magic user specializing in transformations) and lives isolated with her pets in a cottage in the woods, because she dislikes human company. Usually she neither helps nor harms others, but Ervic manages to trick her into restoring the Three Adepts to their true forms. She takes being tricked with good grace, but tells him and the Adepts not to spread the word of her uncharacteristic helpfulness, because she doesn't want people to start pestering her for help all the time.
  • In The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Sybel is a young sorceress, descended from a line of wizards, who lives alone in a white stone house surrounded by a large garden stocked with legendary magical animals. People do not come to her for help, there's a witch farther down the mountain for that, until a young lord knocks at her gates with a baby he wants her to shelter and raise.
  • Ursula Vernon's short story "Razorback" has two: Sal and Elizabeth Gray. Between them they demonstrate the typical gamut of the trope between helpful and callous.
  • In Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, women with power above the level of an ordinary hedge-witch live outside the town. For Godmothers, whose role includes judging cases and meting out punishments, this is to help them stay neutral. For Sorceresses, especially the evil kind, there are various Traditional reasons.
  • In Hour Of The Dragon, (usurped) King Conan is healed by one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Flashback-only character Maggy the Toad in Game of Thrones is a forest witch that practices Blood Magic and lives alone in a small cabin in the woods. Her book counterpart, on the other hand, is an urban fortune-teller.

    Myths & Religion 

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Hero gelfling Jen from The Dark Crystal consults the reclusive Aughra, the Keeper of Secrets in her mountain cave, to learn clues about his mission and the purpose of the crystal shard. Aughra, however, is such a Cloudcuckoolander that her clues are cryptic and questionable at best. Jen is certain only that he must get to the stronghold of the sinister Skekses, and that time is running out to press the Reset Button.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dragon magazine #82 article "Wounds and Weeds". A fighter wounded in battle encounters an old woman living by herself. She saves him from death with her knowledge of herbal healing.

    Video Games 
  • Erika Redmark is the most powerful mage in Avernum. Because of her anti-social personality and all-consuming desire for revenge on The Empire, she lives by herself in a Mage Tower far to the west, rather than some more centralized location.
  • In Diablo, Adria the witch lives just outside of Tristram and sells magical items and mana potions.
  • Flemeth initially appears to be just an elderly "apostate" mage hiding out in the wilderness from the church's enforcers when you first meet her in Dragon Age: Origins.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • A Morrowind Mages Guild quest has you seek out a Dunmeri Sorceress who hasn't been paying her guild dues. She lives in a cave far from civilization.
    • In Skyrim, Anise is a kindly old lady who lives in a cabin on the outskirts of Falkreath until you find a letter of her conspiring with her Hagraven sister in her basement, where she becomes hostile.
  • In many of The Legend of Zelda games, Link can buy potions from a witch (usually named Syrup) who lives by herself in the woods.
  • The Voodoo Lady fits the bill in three of the Monkey Island games: in LeChuck's Revenge, Curse and Tales, she lives in a place remote enough that Guybrush will find her somewhere around the end of the first act, around when he gains the freedom to move around the game world. However, in the original Secret and Escape, she lives right in the middle of Mêlée town and is accessible right away. In all games, she gives Guybrush boundless advice and helps to construct some voodoo spell to help him on his quest.
  • Witchie of Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands moves to a forest near the town in Story of Seasons (2014), invoking this trope.
  • Metallia, the titular witch of The Witch and the Hundred Knight lives in a swamp somewhat isolated from civilization, only having her butler and the Hundred Knight for immediate company. She's not exactly the wise hermit archetype though, and she does have a few friends outside the swamp although all but one of them betrayed her.
  • Final Fantasy has a few examples.
    • It is first done with Matoya of Final Fantasy I.
    • Final Fantasy IX has one as well, though this one is different from all the others in that she's much younger. Eiko, roughly six years old, plays this role. She's encountered in Madain Sari, and is the last summoner (aside from Garnet), living alone except with the moogles, which can be counted as her Familiar. She helps the group get into the Iifa Tree and is one of the few examples on this page who abandons solitude and joins the party.
    • A subverted version is Belgemine from Final Fantasy X, in that you encounter her often in different places in your travels. However, by the end of the game, it's revealed that Remiem Temple is her home and if you go there, she reveals she's Unsent. She is a summoner, like Yuna, and she often offers Yuna friendly duels throughout the game to train her.
    • In Final Fantasy XIV, Y'shtola brings Alphinaud and the Warrior of Light to see her former master, also named Matoya. The cave she lives in even has the same music as the first one. This Matoya helps them get to Azys Lla, the forbidden land, and she also holds the secrets to the Antitower. She's specifically meant to be a Mythology Gag of the first one.

    Web Animation 
  • Lemony Wee the witch may well be the only human in Brackenwood, though she spends a lot of her time with the Auld Sage, an ancient, naked bigfoot.

    Web Comics 
  • Alice Grove: Alice is a high tech version of this trope. She is superhuman instead of supernatural, but lives by herself in a cottage in the woods, and helps the local townspeople. She even calls herself a witch.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-352 ("Baba Yaga"). She's the original Baba Yaga, including child eating. She used to live in an "Enchanted Forest" in southern Russia before the Foundation captured her. She can lift more than 200 kilograms of weight and move at speeds of more than 70 km/hour. She secretes an enzyme that renders her prey helpless and has Prehensile Hair.

    Western Animation 
  • Zecora of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic lives by herself in the Everfree Forest. Everypony thinks she's an evil enchantress because of her odd appearance (she's a zebra) and strange way of speaking (which sounds vaguely threatening), not to mention she lives in the Everfree Forest, which has a large share of strange and dangerous plants and animals while also having its own phenomena (since in Equestria, natural events like animals hibernating and leaves changing color are actively managed by the pony denizens). It turns out she is actually quite friendly. However, she can't cast spells like a unicorn, but as a zebra, she can concoct a wide variety of potions and has an extensive knowledge about plenty of things that the ponies may not know. The solitary becomes Downplayed over time as while she remains living in the Everfree, she is much more welcomed in town while visiting more frequently and even participating in events such as chaperoning fillies and colts for Nightmare Night.
  • Thundarr the Barbarian: In the episode "Island of the Body Snatchers" the witch Circe (no relation to the Circe from Classical Mythology) lives alone on an island except for some mooks she keeps as soldiers and servants.
  • The second season of Mia and Me introduces Tessandra, who lives deep in the Blackwood Forest alone with her son, Simo, and who the heroes end up seeking out to figure out how to reverse the effects of the green fluid Rixel uses to control his animals. Tessandra initially tries to keep outsiders away, but when Simo threatens to leave her to go with Mia and the others, she decides to hear them out and help figure out how to make the antidote to the green fluid.

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