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The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden: Understanding the Wounded Feeling Function in Masculine and Feminine Psychology Paperback – April 15, 1995


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Johnson, whose work will already be familiar to those interested in Jungian thought, specializes (as in his three books He, She, and We) in applying Jung's theories to the relations between men and women. In this slender book, he mines two important tales for what they can tell us about feeling not simply emotion but a grounded sense of values. Everyone in our culture, he argues, is "wounded" in the area of feeling, but the wound is expressed differently among men than among women. To understand the male problem, he examines the figure of the Fisher King from the Grail legends; to understand women's relationship to feeling, he explores the famous folktale of the Handless Maiden pledged to the devil by her own father. A solid contribution to Jungian thought. Pat Monaghan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Incisive, stark, healing. . . . .In his unique style, Robert Johnson identifies wounded feeling in the heart of contemporary society and, through two powerful tales, points the path to healing." -- Marion Woodman, author of Leaving My Father
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (April 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006250648X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062506481
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Robert A. Johnson, a noted lecturer and Jungian analyst, is also the author of He, She, We, Inner Work, Ecstasy, Transformation, and Owning Your Own Shadow.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. McGarry on September 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
"This book is about our wounded feeling function, probably the most common and painful wound which occurs in our Western world. It is very dangerous when a wound is so common in culture that hardly anyone knows there is a problem." Johnson opens his book with these provocative sentences. The first thing he does is convince the reader that the problem exists, and is of considerable scope. For example, our modern English language is not really adequate for a full description of the problem, having the vague and much abused word "feeling" and only one word, equally vague, for "love". Johnson, a Jungian analyst, explores the problem using myths -- the Fisher King and the Handless Maiden, to demonstrate the wounded feeling function in, respectively, masculinity and femininity. Through the myths, Johnson not only diagnoses the problem, but makes practical suggestions for healing. This wonderful little book, scarcely 100 pages long, can be read in an afternoon, although its insights could change the directions of a life.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Quiet Traveller on July 28, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this book because the Handless Maiden myth resonates for me, my having first been introduced to it through a dream and then through Clarissa Pinkola Estes book 'Women Who Run With Wolves'. I felt I had more to learn from this myth, and Johnson's book put the Handless Maiden myth in a matrix that helped me to understand it more personally, as a metaphor for the feminine in contemporary society. Placing it in a context I could understand so well brought this myth to life, and was the greatest value of this book for me.
The only off-putting thing, which changed it from 5 to 4 stars, is a small thing but which strikes to the heart of the issue. The author apologised in the beginning for perhaps not being able to do justice to the feminine wounding myth as much as the male myth. It was honest and ethical of him to state such concerns, which makes me respect his integrity, but he is alas, correct. As wonderful as his assessment of the Handless Maiden is, he still put a great deal of emphasis on the male value and aspects of it, which he did very little in reverse for the male Fisher King myth. The section in The Handless Maiden where he abandons such careful integrating of the masculine is the section which resonated most for me. I'm not sure why he did this, but if one goes through both chapters and counts instances of other-gender applicability you'll see what I mean. In one paragraph I almost felt like this myth was being ripped from my "hands" and given to the male, a dynamic of the actual myth.
Nevertheless, the author put the myth into a powerful and broad matrix of understanding for contemporary women, something which 'Women Who Run With Wolves', as much as I love it, didn't allow me to see as clearly. What I would suggest is first reading Johnson's book, and saving Clarissa Pinkola Estes interpretation for last, when you can appreciate it more, in all its profound and subtle complexity.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By reader on September 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have read this book twice, with many years in between.

In my youth, I thought Robert Johnson understood the myth of the Fisher King exceptionally well, but did not really understand the handless maiden. I attributed this to his gender bias, which he mentions at the beginning. He understands men better than women, from personal experience. I re-read the book again recently. I have been researching sexism, and I now understand things I simply was not aware of before. This time when I read the handless maiden myth, I was astounded. One of the things Robert Johnson talks about are the silver hands the king has made for the maiden. This is a metaphor for technology! And I was previously so enamored of technology that I could not even see the metaphor.

The highlights of the book are Johnson's re-interpretation of foundational mythology.

In the Fisher King, he tells the story of a king who is wounded in his feeling function. In modern terms, we would say he is damaged in his ability to experience emotions -- to relate to other people. He has respite from his pain only when he is fishing, hence the name. He lives in the castle of the holy grail. Direction to the castle are critical: the fisherman tells Parsifal (the youthful hero of the myth) that he should go "just down the road a little way, turn left, cross the drawbridge, and you will be my guest tonight." Johnson interprets these directions for us.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By love books and music on July 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
It is helpful to have an understanding of certain Jungian concepts before reading this book; however, enough is explained that it can probably stand well on its own. For those familiar with the Myers-Briggs type indicator, Johnson mentions that the goal of this book is to "search out the loss - or woundedness" - of the feeling function, which he defines as "the capacity to value or give worth to something. People who have a finely differentiated feeling function bring grace and good feeling with them; one feels valuable in their presence." According to Robert Johnson, the sensation, intuition and thinking functions are all important but none can provide the function of VALUING, which is unique to the feeling function. In our Western world, the feeling function is considered inferior and the thinking function is considered superior.

Johnson references the poverty of the English language in terms for feeling and love: while Sanskrit for example has 96 words for love, English has only one. This is where he brings in the relevance of the two myths that are in the title of the book: The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden. They both tell of the wounded feeling function, and Johnson also suggests the reader search out Gertrude Nelson's book, Here All Dwell Free, which speaks from the feminine perspective on the discussion of the wound, admitting that he has some trepidation about how he covers the feminine dimension in his book. Both myths are relevant for both genders and the rest of the book explores the stories of the myths and their variations and later the diagnostic significance of the myth and the prescriptions given in the myth for healing.
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The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden: Understanding the Wounded Feeling Function in Masculine and Feminine Psychology
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