Hello! Disclaimer from the future (July 5, 2020): I’m leaving this post up, because I think it has some useful information throughout, but I also want to note that I do not in any way support or endorse JK Rowling anymore, due to her quite frankly dangerous racism and transphobia.
Here we go. Last couple days of the semester!
Yesterday was my twenty-first birthday, which I celebrated with lots of unhealthy food and people I love (and just a little champagne at midnight, because while I am far too much of a control freak to want to even get buzzed right now, I’m cool with a little celebratory champagne).
My last final of the semester is tomorrow, then I’m freeee. Finally. I loved my classes this school year, but I need a break.
One of the classes I took (and absolutely adored) this semester was Fantasy Literature. We read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We dissected excerpts from The Lord of the Rings, short stories by Ray Bradbury, and an episode of The Twilight Zone. We watched Pan’s Labyrinth, Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Matrix. Basically: it was amazing.
More than anything else, what stuck with me from this class were our discussions about the Trickster Figure.
We used the term in relation to the Jungian archetype, and defined it as being someone–usually of some sort of lesser status (a child, or someone from a lower class, etc.)–who defies the rules of society in a way that is cunning (and often entertaining). For example, a classic Trickster Figure is Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
The other thing our professor pointed out, though, was the way Tricksters weren’t always that obvious. In fact, most Fantasy protagonists fit the role (as well as a lot of YA protags).
Take Harry Potter, for example. JK Rowling describes him as being kind of scrawny and gangly. He isn’t amazing at magic (although he is good at the things he works hard at) and he’s not super charismatic. But The Boy Who Lived does manage to defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named–by tricking Lord Voldemort.
Likewise, Katniss survives the Hunger Games by outsmarting the Capitol and Tris’s whole superpower of divergence is built on her, you know, diverging from societal norms.
As a society and a generation, we’re in love with the Trickster Figure. The person who’s always one step ahead–unbreakable. We flock to see superhero and spy movies. (And speaking of Tricksters, who doesn’t adore Tom Hiddleston’s Loki?)
Why? You can argue that there’s something exciting about the act of deception. Secrets and cunning and that moment a superhero pulls off the mask. But what does that say about us? The fact that we seem to be so addicted to that excitement?
My first inclination is to say it means we’re bored with the mundanity of everyday life. We’re too set in our rhythms or too scared/tired/whatever to break the rules, so we live vicariously through the Trickster Figures’ adventures.
But while this might be true to an extent, I think more than that it comes back to Robin Hood.
People didn’t start telling the stories of Robin Hood because they were bored or scared. They told the stories about him because Robin Hood, as a character, was empowering.
After all, I doubt any of us want to live through the Hunger Games or go wand-to-wand with Voldemort. But seeing someone–and not just anyone, but an underdog–go up against something so terrible, and succeed, shows us that we could succeed against the antagonistic forces of our own lives too.
All this to say: I think Trickster Figures are awesome. And I’m happy they’re something everybody’s into right now. And while we already have a lot of Tricksters in the books and movies coming out these days, I want more.
After all, I doubt I’ll ever stop loving that squirm in my stomach I get every time a superhero reveals their identity to someone they love for the first time.
Thanks for reading!