The Trickster Archetype

TRICKSTERS IN STORYTELLING

The trickster is a lower form of the magician archetype and — in various forms —  is very popular in modern storytelling. Audiences love characters who break the rules and outwit others to get what they want.

In children’s stories, the trickster and the underdog are the two main archetypes. Trickster heroes are more common in entertaining stories. In picture books you’ll find tricksters in ‘carnivalesque’ stories. Tricksters upset normal hierarchies and rules of everyday or official behaviour, either through cleverness or foolishness. There are plenty of tricksters in Aesop’s fables.

They often appear as pranksters or mischief-makers. In stories for adults and young adults tricksters can also have a sinister side.

STRENGTH: Uses confidence, trickery, and a way with words to get what he wants.

WEAKNESS: May become a complete liar who looks out only for himself.

Examples From Pop Culture

  • Carrie Mathieson — from Homeland does underhanded things in her job in order to do her job well, gets herself fired and committed to a mental institution
  • Sarah Manning — a mistress of disguise, often throws away the book in order to accomplish her goals
  • Jessica Jones
  • The Doctor — Doctor Who
  • Roseanne — has a mischievousness about her
  • Newman — from Seinfeld
  • Bart Simpson — is always getting into trouble at school
  • Wile E. Coyote — Road Runner
  • Will — (Hugh Grant’s character) in About A Boy 
  • Tom Sawyer

There are many other subcategories of fictional tricksters. See the list at TV Tropes.

New Female Tricksters

The original archetypal trickster is gendered male. Pippi Longstocking is the ‘tomboy girl’ equivalent of Tom Sawyer. (See also Anne Shirley and others.) These girl tricksters are very common in children’s stories being published today, as these characters have agency, and are therefore often referred to as ‘strong female characters’.  Female tricksters are equally popular among adult readers, as Maria Tatar points out below. Notice also the extra burden heaped upon female tricksters compared to the original male version:

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” series have given us female tricksters, women who are quick-witted, fleet-footed, and resolutely brave. Like their male counterparts—Coyote, Anansi, Raven, Rabbit, Hermes, Loki, and all those other mercurial survivors—these women are often famished (bulimic binges are their update on the mythical figure’s ravenous appetite), but also driven by mysterious cravings that make them appealingly enigmatic. Surrounded by predators, they quickly develop survival skills; they cross boundaries, challenge property rights, and outwit all who see them as easy prey. But, unlike their male analogues, they are not just cleverly resourceful and determined to survive. They’re also committed to social causes and political change.

– Maria Tatar

I would like to suggest that voters have higher expectations of female politicians just as audiences have higher expectations of female tricksters. This has a very real effect upon who makes it into office.

The Trickster Story

As well as referring to a character, the trickster is also a type of tale.

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books
By Denise I. Matulka

Leave a Reply