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.

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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

 

 

NaNo Day 20: What Katniss Taught Me [TWNP Blog Chain]

Normally I ramble about big YA film adaptations the day after I see them, but today I’m holding off on my Mockingjay – Part 2 post for a couple reasons:

  1. I promised the lovely Kate Gold that I would participate in her Today’s Word Nerd Ponderings blog chain today.
  2. I owe a review of the movie for [art]seen (the blog I write for here at U of M) and I should probably get that shorter and more organized post up before I write my gushy/ranty/super unorganized one for here. (Hopefully I’ll get a chance to spew my feelings all over you tomorrow, though?)

What I will say though is that–as pretty much always–this movie left me a bundle of mixed feelings. I have such a love/hate relationship with this series of adaptations. But overallĀ Mockingjay Part 2 is very good and you should very much go see it.

Still, in the meantime: TWNP blog chain! This month’s prompt is:

This prompt centers around the theme of valuable lessons, especially that we have taken away from books. You might answer:
What is the coolest thing you have taken away from a book you have read? What sorts of things have your characters learned, as embedded in a story you have written? Or, what sort of message do you want to share with others, either in writing or through your own life?

All three options for this prompt are really good questions, but I think I’m going to answer the first one. About, well, The Hunger Games*.

I’m not sure if it qualifies as like the “coolest” thing I’ve ever taken away from a book, but one of my favorite parts of the Hunger Games trilogy is the fact that life DESTROYS Katniss. Repeatedly. And she somehow always finds a way to keep going.

Katniss is a really interesting example of the traditional “strong female protagonist.” I adore her. She’s one of my favorite characters ever. But this is less because of her physical strength as much as the way she deals with things emotionally. Katniss endures SO MUCH, yet she keeps going. Even after she falls apart, she finds the strength to keep going.

Katniss taught me that even someone who is broken can pick up the pieces and find the strength to continue on.

I’ve heard so many complaints about how Katniss reacts to things in Mockingjay, and I HATE THAT. People are convinced that to be a Strong Female Protagonist, characters aren’t allowed to break. This POV is harmful. Katniss isn’t strong because she physically survives the Hunger Games. She’s strong because she mentally and emotionally does.

Yes, she breaks. Yes, she’s selfish and hysterical and numb and HURT. But she finds her way back to being human again. And THAT is what makes Katniss so amazing.

A strong female protagonist is someone who tries her best despite her circumstances and flaws. Being strong isn’t about being invincible; it’s about moving forward, doing your best, while knowing you’re not.

It’s about looking at a world as screwed up as the one the Hunger Games series takes place in, and not losing hope for a better one.

Goal for Today: 1,000
Overall Goal: 31,000
Current Word Count: 34,514

~Julia

PS. For anyone who has seen Mockingjay Part 2: WHAT IS WITH THE ASIAN BABY?

*If this looks familiar, it’s because I’m essentially plagiarizing myself off a rant I did on Twitter back in June. #Oops