Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guile and Mischief: Tricksters in Literature

Tricksters - so often featured in a wide variety of literature - are intriguing because they can be good or evil, or both.  In many tales, the trickster is cast as the hero who uses their wits and guile to out fox the stronger and faster foe.  A classic example would be Odysseus, the ancient Greek who used cunning and trickery to fool his enemies and conquer Troy with his wooden horse.  Another example comes in Watership Down where Richard Adams describes rabbit folklore centered on El-ahrairah – a clever rabbit devoted to trickery who infuriates his enemies but repeatedly saves his warren.

At other times, the trickster blurs the line between that of a childlike prankster and someone who happily causes malicious harm.  The German trickster Till Eulenspiegel does exactly this, he sees people as being no better than any animal and delights in revealing their follies and inadequacies.  The moral being we should realize our faults, but Till feels that humiliation is necessary to really teach the lesson.
Tricksters come from all walks of life and are found in ancient mythology, folk tales handed down by aural tradition, simple stories and modern literature like Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. Every culture around the world has their own type of tricksters. They could be gods who meddle in the affairs of mortals, to the anthropomorphic Brer Rabbit who entertains our children with wit and guile.

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