Trickiest Heroes

March 29, 2016
Certain literary academic types like to search for the roots of stories.  Get a bunch of them together and pretty soon you’ll start hearing terms like “origin myth” and “archetype” being bandied about. (Well, that’s what you hear when you serve them tea and coffee. Serve booze and you may get something entirely different)   That’s because these thinkers spend a lot of their lives trying to understand humanity and culture through its literature and art.  Stories and characters are created to answer needs in the human psyche and some needs are so deeply rooted we don’t completely understand how or why they exist.  But because they exist, each generation makes up its own stories that revive or reinvent these characters and their adventures.  The stories gain or lose shades of complexity that correspond to aspects of the era it was hatched in but certain characters (or archetypes) reappear from one generation to the next and in stories from very different cultures.  Look anywhere in the pages World Literature and you’ll find the Wise Old Mentor or the terrifying Shade. You’ll also find my personal favorite there: the Trickster, the wildest, most entertaining Hero in the pack.

Separating the Heroes from the Trickster Heroes

Heroes are usually stalwart guys (well, they’re girls too) who beat the bad guys with bravery and nobility of soul.  Don’t get me wrong, those guys are all great.  Young and inexperienced like Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker, or mysterious and cynical like Shane or Casablanca’s Rick Blaine, they face down terrors and save the world, even if they die in the process.  They’re admirable folks but aren’t they also the tiniest bit, well….boring?   Courage and Nobility are great when your life’s in danger but they’re not much fun on a date.   If wit and entertainment are what you want in a companion, you’d be much better off with ……Bugs Bunny.[amazon_link asins=’0805011900′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’theboothafoly-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e2ef9645-9a9f-11e8-a3f0-9d99ae094243′]

The Wascally-est Wabbit of them All

Think about it, Bugs is the coolest member of the Warner Brothers cast.  Fast-talking, fast thinking and nimble, he runs circles around Elmer Fudd and anyone else who stands in his way.  He continually turns the plot upside down and fools his opponent at every turn, sometimes with rhythmic patter, (Rabbit Season/Duck Season) and sometimes by dressing in drag (Bugs as Brunhilde in What’s Opera, Doc introduced most of us to Wagner and cross-dressing) With Bugs, the ending is always the same.  Bugs wins by trickery and never dies.  He exchanges nobility of soul for a brilliant brain and becomes the hero that’s cool.  Not bad for a “rascally rabbit”.
Actually the list of trickster heroes includes more than one rabbit and several of them are animals. The Trickster Heroes in Native American literature appear as raccoons, coyotes, foxes and other animals.  African tribes also created stories starring animal tricksters who overcame authority with their wits, the essential quality of the trickster.  The trickster is always an outsider who subverts and overcomes authority by outwitting the ruling powers.  Thank heavens some trickster heroes are human (or human-shaped) as well.

Human Trickster Heroes

Who’s the fellow who robbed the rich and rescued the poor until the rightful King returned to England?  Robin Hood of course and a trickier, more attractive man there never was.  Who upsets Oberon and Titania and steals the good scenes of a Mid-Summer Night’s Dream?  Puck, a/k/a  Robin Goodfellow.  Sometimes the Trickster captures the heroine’s (and the reader’s) interest and is somewhat domesticated by marriage. (Think of Harold Hill or Hans Solo) but most Tricksters evade capture.  They just go on from tale to tale (like Captain Jack Sparrow, one of the more successful recent trickster heroes) enjoying their lives. living by their wits and subverting authority.
The one thing we’re still a bit short on are trickster heroines although there are a few. Scheherezade tricked the king into keeping her alive with her wealth of stories and Pippi Longstocking qualifies, even if I don’t like her.  Ramona the Pest might also make the list.  Either way, we need more girls with the smarts to turn authority upside down and over on itself.  That’s what tricksters do.  That’s why we like them.   They’re the heroes that are “too cool for school”.

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