Monday, June 8, 2009

The Chief of Leafy Island

The trickster. The son of of Laufey. The clever character who uses his head and the materials in plain view to solve the insoluble and to do the unthinkable - which is obvious when he does it. My favorite characters to write... maybe because it's just a little close to my own nature. The trickster is not intrinsically a bad character. Usually the inverse, but a great trouble to the serious characters. Often at least amoral, poking fun at the po-faced and the rule-book. Paying the price for it too. The sort of friend you really need when things are impossible, and maybe the sort of friend you'd want to avoid when things aren't dire, because he'll make them that way. Just for fun.
A piece of every damn near mythology in the world. Glooskap. Loki. Hanuman (my personal patron :-)) Often slipping into disrepute as boss-gods grow sententious. Often the friend of the small and the weak. Surprise!
A mainstay of fiction too.
The Saint. Silk. and a few of mine... Benito. Bes. (ok, i'm up for more - books and authors with Loki.)
How do we make him work?
And why Leafy island?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I love an iconoclast character!

Ori Pomerantz said...

Often at least amoral, poking fun at the po-faced and the rule-book.

I disagree. Trickesters are usually very moral, with their heart firmly in the right place. They have no respect for the rulebook, but that's because they internalize the really important rules.

For example, in a society that is very uptight about sex a trickester might discuss the reason a couple has lots of children. However, he will not rape a woman. If he does, he is evil and not just tricky.

Rules are a way to fight the temptation to do evil. Trickesters don't need them.

Kate said...

Actually, Ori, I think it depends on what "is" is, to coin a phrase and all that.

To extend your example a little, a Trickster might not rape a woman, but many of them wouldn't hesitate to pose as her husband in order to seduce her. I'd say that skirts the boundaries and tiptoes over the edges, especially in the kind of society where a woman can get in trouble for having a child who isn't her husband's.

Usually he'll find a way to keep her from too much trouble in that case - but women do seem to be something of a weakness of Tricksters (Dave? Could this be why so many of them also have a bit of a reputation for erm... Bes's specialty?).

Some of my favorites (darn, Dave, you already got most of the really good ones) would be... um. All Dave's list. Some of the better incarnations of Doctor Who came close to Trickster. For such an entertaining archetype I can't remember many good portrayals.

Marianne said...

Just love Silk. :-)

The Doctor is a good one, too. :-D

Can't think up any more right now, but I know I've read a few...


Anonymous said...

The American Indian Coyote is another Trickster, developed either with no connection to the European ones, or some of those myths are even older than I'd think . . . and maybe they are.

As for amorality, yes, Coyote is unable to resist seducing women, and IIRC, it usually results in children.

LMB's Five Gods series includes the Bastard. Definitely one of the crew.

DW has Senior Chief Harkness.

Elizabeth Peters has just about given up on keeping John Smyth off the straight and narrow. A great loss to the literary criminal community.

Tpery's Nac Mac Feegles, eh, sorta. And Greebo the tomcat has potential in that direction.

Chris McMahon said...

The Trickster is a fascinating character. I can't help but think the world has lost a bit of wisdom with the Trickster banished to the nether regions of the spiritual pantheon.
I was reading recently about the christian missionaries coming into early America and trying to convert the Indians. For the locals the Tricker was a valid part of the spirt world, which had a particular type of wisdom to teach.
Notorious for adapting local dieties into a christian context, the missionaries (in this case) could not find any *legitimate* role for the Trickster in their theology. Christ and the college of saints were just a little too serious. So they did the only other thing they could -- they associated the Trickster and all his traditions with the devil. Boy - if anyone is going to lack a healty sense of humour surely is the guy downstairs!

John Lambshead said...


Kate said...


I wouldn't be quite so sure about the guy downstairs being short of a sense of humor... In his earliest appearances in the Judeo-Christian religious texts and mythologies, he's cast in the Trickster role - "Go on, eat the apple, it's not going to hurt you." - as well as some interesting efforts in the apocrypha.

Of course, by the time missionaries were heading through the Americas that aspect of Himself Below had been pretty much forgotten.

WangZheng259 said...

Why Leafy Island? Well, I don't get the reference, but it is better than having grown up on the Sniper Island that lives in your heart. (This is a reference to a character in One Piece. When he introduces himself, he says that he is from Sniper Island. When asked where it is, he says 'It is in your heart.' Two of the less than a dozen main characters believe him.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I grew up -- I keep telling y'all that the geographical dislocation of being born in Portugal was a weird glitch. I was meant to grow in the Southern US -- on Brer rabbit stories, and I love that character. The underdog who outwits the powerful with his sheer trickery and sense of humor.
"Born and raised in a briar patch, Brer Wolf, born and raised in a Briar patch." :-P