To love a Trickster

May 5, 2009 | Articles | 4 comments

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.)


  1. Zita Hildebrandt

    I think in the “Heroes” tv series Sylar is a trickster. He certainly fits the parameters you describe, although I didn’t really think of him that way before now. When it comes to tricksters I seem to start off hating them, and then grow to love them, and to realize that they are such a huge part of the story that without them, it would probably be quite boring. :D

  2. Cybercliper

    Sherilyn Kenyon’s character Acheron seems to fit the trickster definition. He prods people into doing things, sometimes against their will, generally knows what the outcome is going to be, and even when it’s bad or even fatal, he won’t interfere even though he can fix it. And usually it is to teach a lesson or test strength.

  3. Lori

    Sylar as trickster. I like that. I haven’t watched the series in a couple of seasons…but I can see how he might play that role. There can be a pretty thin line between trickster and villain.
    Archeron definitely sounds like a trickster. Sigh, that’s another series I’ve gotten way behind on! Is there one book he is in more than another? I will have to check it out.

  4. Cybercliper

    Acheron has his own book now just released in paperback. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but it’s on the TBR pile.