So, what is it that makes a story “pop”?
Stories that speak directly to the human experience, with characters and themes that are familiar to us all tend to be the ones to capture our hearts and give us “all the feels.”
How do authors achieve this? Often, they use something called an archetype: A universal, symbolic pattern. Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, discusses the common themes and personality types prevalent in literature throughout human history. These archetypes can be found across many cultures and time periods, and it’s exactly this universality that appeals to us, even today.
I’m going to be exploring some of the common archetypes in this blog from time to time, and today I’d like to discuss The Trickster. According to Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers:
The Trickster archetype embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change. All the characters in stories who are primarily clowns or comical sidekicks express this archetype.
Common traits of The Trickster include a tendency towards, as the name suggests, trickery. They buck convention, and follow their own rules. The mischief they enjoy can create all sorts of problems for the hero in a story, but often their antics end up being helpful, in that they give the Hero an outside perspective, and help her or him to find another solution to a problem.
Archetypal characters have two functions in literature: The emotional or psychologial function, and dramatic function. Emotionally, Tricksters are the characters who keep the hero humble, down to earth. They point out our foibles, bring about healthy change, and remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. They can symbolize the duality of nature as they are often shapeshifters, and are a good reminder to not just blindly accept the status quo. IMO, we should all keep our own personal Trickster in our closets!!
Dramatically, they provide comic relief in a story – when the action gets really hot and heavy, sometimes it’s good to throw in a little humor to lighten things up!
Some famous literary Tricksters:
- Loki from Norse mythology: There are numerous stories of Loki playing tricks on the other gods, wreaking havoc, then finding a way to make it up to them. One example is when he cut off the hair of the goddess Sif, wife of Thor. Thor threatens to kill Loki, but Loki then makes it up to Thor, by having a new, magical hair piece made for Sif out of gold.
- The Coyote in Native American tales: In one story, before people inhabited the earth, a monster walked the land, gobbling up all the animals except Coyote. Coyote tricked the monster by claiming he wanted to visit his friends in the Monster’s belly. Once he was inside the Monster, he cut out the Monster’s heart and set fire to its insides, freeing his friends.
- Br’er Rabbit from African tales: One of this Trickster’s antics was to get Br’er Fox to rescue him from a well. He told the fox that the moon reflected in the water at the bottom of the well was really a block of cheese. So, Brer Fox jumps into one of the water buckets, descends into the well, and, in in doing so, enables Brer Rabbit to escape when the other bucket rises to the top. In fact, rabbits are very common tricksters – their quick-thinking often saves them from larger, stronger animals.
There are also plenty of Tricksters in modern-day movies and television:
- “Vikings” – Floki (a personification of Loki
- “Star Wars” Han Solo
- Cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck
- “Pirates of the Caribbean” Jack Sparrow
- “The Simpsons” Bart Simpson
I’ve included a few links below if you’d like to do more reading on The Trickster:
Please comment, and let me know who is your favorite Trickster!
All photos courtesy of Shutterstock