Wordy Wednesday: Characteristics of a Trickster

It’s been a really long week. A good week (but definitely a long one).

Midterms are in full swing and spring break begins tomorrow night, which means that I’ve also had the fun of trying to prepare to go off-line for a week. (Internet? Where we’re going there is literally no internet connection ever period end of story.) (Also known as: cruise ship.) And now all of my professors have decided to assign extra work over break too, which means I need to read three novels, a couple hundred pages of a text book, write two papers, prepare a fifteen minute presentation, and work on both a dance combo and my choir music–in addition to completing grant applications, getting caught up on doctor appointments, doing Ch1Con work, trying to get caught up on internship/critique partner work, and, like, sleeping at some point. (Although, really, what is sleep?) (Seriously, it’s been so long since I felt rested that I have no idea.)

Still, I’m excited for break and, as mentioned, this past week (despite midterms and everything) has been really good. Last Wednesday I had a writing workshop with an alumnus that was super beneficial for my honors thesis, and in the evening my mom and I went to Susan Dennard, Veronica Rossi, and EK Johnston’s book signing in Lansing. I spent the weekend up north skiing with my family. Monday night we had the first rehearsal for the play I’m working on (again: I promise more info on that soon!). Yesterday I sent out my honors thesis for critique. And today I found out I was accepted priority admittance to New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute. (Ahhh!! Not at all sure if I’m actually going, but it’s so nice to have the option.)

Aaand yeah. That’s about where I’m at right now. Very tired and more than a little stressed, but also pretty happy with how things are going. (Sorry for those monster paragraphs.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

*****

In my history of children’s literature class, we’re discussing the trickster figure right now. We studied the trickster in my fantasy lit class last year as well (I talked about it here), but studying it again is really reminding me of how much I adore this character trope.

Tricksters are not just incredibly entertaining and empowering, but also really effective in children’s literature (because tricksters, in a lot of ways, reflect childlike characteristics). In fact, the majority of popular children’s protagonists (especially MG and YA) are tricksters.

But what makes a character a trickster? Check out some of the most common characteristics below.

Underdog

Arguably the most important element of the trickster is the fact that he or she is an underdog. Whether this means the character is literally small in stature, or rather of a lesser station in life (underprivileged or younger than everyone else involved or something else along those lines), the trickster will always come from a place that puts him or her at a disadvantage to succeed, in direct comparison with the opposing force.

A really good example of this is Katniss Everdeen. She’s physically smaller than most of her opponents in The Hunger Games and comes from the poor end of one of the “lesser” districts, which means that she’s both underfed and under-trained. Basically, looking at the Hunger Games from a traditional perspective, Katniss has very little chance of winning compared to her opponents.

This is really good in terms of storytelling, because it means that when the protagonist does succeed, it’s all the sweeter. While we probably see it coming as readers (because, duh, the “good” side is going to win), it’s still just out there enough to keep us on the edges of our seats.

Intelligent

This is how the trickster succeeds: not with brute strength, but with cunning. Slyness. The trickster is smart. S/he knows his/her limitations, how to read situations, how to plan elaborate schemes and think on his/her feet and manipulate the situation towards his or her advantage.

Another great example of the trickster figure is Harry Potter. While he might not be quite as book smart as Hermione, he’s street smart (you know, Wizarding Street Smart). He doesn’t defeat his opponents by overpowering them physically, but by figuring out more about the situation than they do and using that to his advantage.

(For instance: In Deathly Hallows, he figures out who the Elder Wand belongs to and is able to defeat Voldemort by using that information to his advantage. Voldemort, on the other hand–who technically is more powerful–does not figure that out. Because he values the power he has over thinking through delicate and complicated plans. And he ends up accidentally killing himself due to this.)

Hardworking

The trickster figure is dedicated towards succeeding in his or her goals–and, as part of that, is incredibly hardworking. Really, it’s the combination of cunning and work ethic that allows the trickster to succeed. Because no matter how smart you are, you won’t get anywhere if you’re not willing to put in the work to see things through.

A prime example of this is actually Loki, from the Marvel cinematic universe. While he’s far from the protagonist of the films in which he appears (and ends up failing because of that), it’s impossible to deny how much planning, work, and conviction goes into his plans.

(Just a Little Bit) Cocky

This is probably the trait that makes tricksters so attractive to readers. Tricksters might be underdogs–they might not even be confident internally–but they appear so confidence outwardly that you’d never know. Tricksters might be smart, but more than that they’re witty, constantly throwing out sarcastic one-liners. Tricksters might be hardworking, but they do it without breaking a sweat; they make things look easy.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a wonderful example of this. He has so much going against him, and definitely seems like an underdog when he’s being Peter, but as soon as he puts on the Spider-Man mask, it’s like he comes to life.

This is why superheroes and spies and characters like Katniss and Harry Potter are so integral to our cultural consciousness today. Because they’re underdogs, but they succeed anyhow. Because everything is against them, but they face each new situation with a smirk and a snarky retort. Because they know how it feels to be at a disadvantage–to feel like the world is crumbling around them–and they show us the results of never giving up and never giving in.

And in the end, they slay their dragons (err, Dark Lords). And there’s nothing better to read than that.

*****

Since I’m going to be out of town next week, I’ve got a special Wordy Wednesday planned for next Wednesday. Vote for the week after, though!

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

 

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