Last weekend I was on a panel at OddCon titled People and Animals. It’s a pretty wide topic and the conversation varied a lot, but one thing that came up (Okay, I think I brought it up…) were tricksters.
I love tricksters. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the trickster (or don’t think you are, I’m sure all of you have seen a trickster or two), tricksters are(quoting Terri Windling) “contradictory creatures: they are liars, knaves, rascals, fools, clowns, con men, lechers, and thieves — but they are also culture heroes whose tricks can do great good as well as great harm, and whose stories serve to uphold the very traditions mocked by their antics.” They are also frequently shapeshifters.
In Norse mythology (which I base my Unbound series on) you have the god Loki. Loki is always poking a stick at someone. In Native American lore you have coyote and raven. In African the god Anansi, a spider. Rabbit is also a trickster in various cultures–obvious U.S. examples are Br’er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny. In literature Neil Gaiman had an entire book about the trickster Anansi (Anansi Boys). Terri Windling edited an anthology The Coyote Road and Tony Hillerman wrote the novel Coyote Waits. In Amazon Ink, I use rabbit in the form of an actual rabbit, but I also have a character who plays the trickster role.
The trickster is often seen as mean, but really he is teaching a lesson. Without the trickster, other characters would go unchallenged and without challenge we get comfortable with the status quo. Tricksters promote growth and from an author’s point of view, provide conflict. But they do it in an entertaining way. They don’t walk up and poke a finger in the hero’s chest saying “You need to change.” No, they, knowing the hero’s weaknesses, set him up. They provide the setting for the hero to be his own downfall. And in the end, the hero (hopefully) grows from it.
So, that’s a brief overview of trickster and where you might find him today. Where do you find him, what books, movies and TV shows do you see that still use him, and do you love him or hate him? (As I said at the beginning, you can put my check firmly in the love column.)