Geekdom Come, Troping the Riff

Troping the Riff- The Trickster

The Trickster is one of the original storytelling tropes, existing in some of humanity’s earliest myths. In Africa he was Anansi the spider, in Europe he was Reynard the Fox, in Asia he was the king of the monkeys, and in the Americas, he often appeared as a coyote. Same archetypal character just wearing a different name and a different skin. After creation myths, tales about the trickster are perhaps the most common across humanity’s myths and folklore. The trickster defies convention and flouts authority, challenging what is known and accepted often through deception and trickery. The trickster is a character who survives by the use of their wit, using their intelligence and cunning to manipulate more powerful figures. The trickster has a penchant for chaos and hard truths learned through even harder lessons. They are not inherently good or evil, though depending on the story they can be neither, either, or both. If an adversary, they are intended to make the hero use their brain rather than brawn. If they are the protagonist of the story than the tale will be about how much cleverer they are than those around them.
The trickster as transformed a bit in modern storytelling but none the less stays true to its archetypal origins as an agent of chaos for good or for ill. On the more benign side of the scale, you have pranksters like Fred and George Weasley of Harry Potter or the Arrowverse version of the Music Meister. Then we move down to scale towards the tricksters whose intentions are a little less pure, Q from the Star Trek franchise, Supernatural’s trickster who turns out to be the angel Gabriel and that universes version of Loki, Puck of English folklore and Shakespearian fame, and who could forget the imp from the fifth dimension Mister Mxyzptlk (who is really just a Superman version of folklore trickster Rumpelstiltskin). From there we head to the malevolent end of the trickster scale with comic book villains Loki and The Joker whose acts of mischief often come with body counts.
The trickster archetype can be an effective protagonist as well. In fact, three of the most iconic figures of modern storytelling are tricksters, though they are far different characters. The Doctor dates back 50 years and in all that time he/she has spit in the eye of the powers that be using nothing but his/her wit to defeat foes who outnumbered and outgunned the last of the Time Lords. Then there is another English creation, John Constantine. The con-man conjurer, who has broken more deals with literal devils than the rest of humanity put together. A man of no extraordinary talent or skill who still manages to stick it to Angels and Demons and walk away with his hide intact. Of course, none of them compare to greatest trickster of all time, Bugs Bunny. That rascally rabbit performs more cons, tricks, pranks, and deceptions in one ten-minute cartoon than most tricksters try in a lifetime.

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