There is so much to say about the Trickster as an archetype that it’s hard to know where to stop—and so much material about him out there, that selecting works to write about is a challenge. But, as I draw my week of mumblings on the Trickster to an end, I’d like to share three particularly interesting books on the way the Trickster pops up in American literature. Exploring the Trickster archetype can be a fruitful experience for any writer. These books give a tantalizing view into the way the archetype has been explored, molded, and transformed in the works of a wide range of American authors.
Writing Tricksters: Mythic Gambols in American Ethnic Fiction by Jeanne Rosier Smith.
If you are fan of Maxine Hong Kingston, Louise Erdrich, and Toni Morrison (and if you aren’t, you should be) this book will enlighten and charm. Beginning with a clear, accessible discussion of the Trickster and what it means for writers—especially female writers of color—Smith goes on to analyze the use of the archetype in the major works of these three preeminent authors. Smith’s book has been out for more than 15 years now, but it is as fresh as when it first appeared, and the decade and a half that has elapsed since it was first published only challenges to reader to explore for herself the Trickster in Kingston’s, Erdrich’s, and Morrison’s more recent work, and, for that matter, to look for it in the works of other authors as well.
Tricksterism in Turn-of-the-Century American literature: A Multicultural Perspective by Elizabeth Ammons and Annette White Parks.
Like Smith’s work, this volume of 10 essays explores the Trickster archetype in the works of ethnic authors, mainly women. But Ammons’ and Parks’ book reaches back further in time to the dawn of the 20th century, examining the work of African American novelist and essayist Charles W. Chesnutt; Christal Quintasket (also known as Mourning Dove), author of the 1927 novel Cogewea the Half-Blood; Dakota writer and activist Zitkala-sa; and Mexican American author Maria Cristina Mena, among others. Author June Foley captures the essence of the collection well when she writes that, by avoiding conventional ways of analyzing fiction and focusing on less-known, marginalized writers, these essays “ take a trickster's delight in disrupting tradition.”
Trickster Lives: Culture and Myth in American Fiction by Jeanne Campbell Reesman.
Veering from traditional Tricksters like Brer Rabbit and Hawaiian folkloric figure Kamapua’a to the works of such disparate authors as Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Thylias Moss, Stephen Carter, and Jack London, this potpourri of essays is uneven, but interesting. One essay in the collection asks, “Where are the Women Tricksters?”—a particularly interesting question given the abundant use of the archetype by women authors—and offers several possible answers. Another presents an unlikely comparison of the Trickster in the works of Herman Melville and Joel Chandler Harris. All in all, these essays are intriguing and informative.
I’ve discovered over the past week that I could write about the Trickster forever—that the figure I didn’t imagine playing a very powerful role in my work was actually there all along. But tomorrow, it’s time to move on to a different archetype as I take a look at Oshun, Afro-Caribbean goddess of fertility, abundance, and love.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...