Friday, June 12, 2015

The Trickster as Character; the Character as Trickster

Modern story often begins with a fuse being lit,  The reader or, if the story is a stage or screen drama, the viewer, gets a simultaneous view of the length of the fuse, then is left waiting for the inevitable ignition.  

A popular variation on that theme is the presence of a character, hesitating before a fuse, match in hand, trying to overcome some ethical barrier. Then the character strikes the match, applies it to the fuse.  In recent years, books and film begin with the actual explosion.  Readers and viewers come in on the clearing smoke of the disaster.

We've advanced as a reading and viewing public from the "Once upon a time--" beginning, while taking enormous strides away from the "--and they all lived happily ever after" ending, to the point where you don't feel you're exaggerating your point that evolving story has made readers into conspiracy theorists.

With one or two exceptions--those wishing sermons or some form of propaganda--turn to reading in expectation of impending disaster, actual disaster, and increasing attempts to deal with the disaster, followed by some sort of negotiated settlement with either the Cosmos, the prevalent conventions, or some raging contemporary issue.

Should our interests and curiosity take us a significant span of time into the past, we may find ourselves rooting for characters who are facing issues that seem, to use figurative language, tempests in teapots or paper tigers, both of these elderly, tottering phrases coined some time ago to signify issues overcome by historical events.  

Yesterday's social scandal is today's commonplace.  Last year's elephant in the living room is today's ho-hum.  Some works from the past continue to hold our interest because of the imaginative ways the protagonists addressed the problems rather than because of the problems.  And some authors, Charles Dickens comes to mind here, construct a greater atmosphere of sentimentality than they do a maze of plot complications.

In today's Reality, those of us who put any trust in mainstream media and who do not seek the solace of fiction nevertheless find our suspicions of impending disaster fueled by invented or propagandized reports purporting to be news.  Those of us who place value on fiction often arrive at the ironic state of knowing a work is by definition an entire fabrication, yet inspired by something of current social, moral, or spiritual issue.

The nature and agenda of character has evolved to the point where we often find ourselves rooting for someone we do not entirely admire, but offer support in hopes he or she will deal a crippling blow to an institution we do not at all admire, possibly even mistrust.

Your own tastes run toward the picaresque character, the noir novel, and those semi-satiric novels in which at least one character appears in the form of the Trickster.  By this term, you mean the man, woman, or child who embody the archetype found in most cultures,  The Trickster makes fun of authority, often by ridicule, other times by strategies involving the deliberate passing of erroneous data, of giving opposing forces yet more virulent ways to distrust one another, and contriving to have the working and craftsperson classes outwit the ruling classes.

The Trickster has for some time been a driving force in story, providing such a wide and diverse palette opportunities as Til Eulenspiegel, Uncle Remus' Br'er Rabbit, Hary Janos, Bugs Bunny, and the rollicking Anansi or Aunt Nancy stories involving a mischievous spider.  You'd be pleased to add Gregor Samsa into the cohort, thanks to the potential for seeing that Kafka character as one who exacts a satisfying revenge on a patriarch he has no use for.

Persons with theatrical background speak of a character taking stage, projecting the full force of that character's presence and intent onto the assembled cast members.  When you become aware of a character in a novel or short story projecting Trickster as that character takes stage, your interest in the story and its outcome increases by exponent.  Should you have the good fortune of seeing traces of the Trickster in your own work, you experience the tingle of endorphin squirting its way into your bloodstream, as it did when, before your titanium hips, you were able to run great distances.

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