40 Years of The Perfect Organism: Does Alien Hold Up?
 

Does Alien Hold Up?

40th Anniversary Movie Review

 
As I Learn: Or Why I Stopped Calling Myself A Pantser
 

Why I Stopped Calling Myself A Pantser

Article

 
Monarchies of Mau – Role-playing Core Rulebook Review
 

Monarchies of Mau

Role-playing Core Rulebook Review

 

Fantasy’s Tricksters

The Trickster by Gema MoratillaFantasy loves a big, strong hero, almost as much as we love a big, scary villain. We love to see a good, old-fashioned epic showdown, preferably on top of a castle or inside an active volcano. However, there are some characters who weren’t blessed by being the biggest and the strongest. They may not be able to stand up to the brute strength of their enemy, but they won’t let that get in the way. They’ll just have to use the rarest of all the muscles: their brains.

Yes, the trickster is one of the most celebrated archetypes in fantasy, with its origins going all the way back to folktales and mythologies (more on that in a second). They’re the character who can do more damage with a cunning word than any blow, because why cause mere physical pain when psychological pain is so much more permanent? Not that they are always villains. In fact, they’re usually characters who straddle the line between hero and villain, trying desperately not to pick a side. People like…

Moist von Lipwig in Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

the postmaster general by questionstarSay you’re a conman and your last job didn’t quite go as planned. That is to say, you’ve been caught and hanged for your long list of crimes. Normally, that’s the end of a story, but for Moist, it was just the beginning. Shortly after being hung to within an inch of his life (the last inch, it seems, being the important one), he finds himself appointed as the new postmaster general for Ankh-Morpork. What follows is him trying to rebuild the mostly defunct institution the only way he knows: by lying and scheming and generally making it up as he goes. Of course, the fact that he’s likely to be killed by his enemies if he succeeds and by the Patrician if he fails is a pretty good motivator.

Like any good trickster character, Moist finds himself stuck in the middle of a series of unfortunate events with only his wits and ability to lie so convincingly that even he sometimes believes it to keep him alive. He may not have the sheer charisma of Captain Carrot or the stubbornness of Commander Vimes, but when you can convince an entire city that the gods themselves are showing you the way to buried treasure you don’t need anything else. The fact that he isn’t inherently good is part of what makes him so appealing. Sure, he is doing the right thing and eventually accepts his role and the shiny golden suit that comes with it, but that’s only because it suits his long term plans of “not dying”.

Westley in The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“No more rhymes! I mean it!”

See, at least half of you immediately responded to that line in the slurred French accent of Andre the Giant. The Princess Bride is one of the most quotable books and films in the world and also features one of the best examples of the Trickster in all of fiction in the hero of the tale, Westley/ the Dread Pirate Roberts. Sure he is a formidable combatant, having bested Inigo “Hello my name is Inigo” Montoya at swordfighting and Fezzik the Giant (sometimes names just follow actors) in unarmed combat, but it is his cunning which is his greatest asset in his quest to save his true love, Buttercup. From tricking the brilliant Vizzini into drinking poisoned wine to literally convincing Prince Humperdink to tie himself up rather than fight the climatic final battle, the Dread Pirate Roberts is a man whose greatest victories come from being able to talk straight out of his backside.

The Dread Pirate Roberts

Westley is certainly one of the more morally ambiguous figures on this list. Sure, his actions are motivated by the desire to save the woman he loves and he does spare Inigo and Fezzik. However, he shows precisely zero remorse upon killing Vizzini, not to mention the number of people who must have been killed during his time as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Still, it is hard not to admire a man who can turn a bellows, a holocaust cloak, and a wheelbarrow into a cunning plan to storm the castle.

Vash the Stampede in Trigun by Yasuhiro Nightow

On a sun-scorched planet in the distant future, there is one name that inspires dread in anyone who hears it. It is a name that has a $$60 billion bounty on it. Whole cities have fallen to this gunslinger. Everywhere he goes, bounty hunters chase after the ridiculously huge price on his head, but he always manages to escape and, with each scrape he gets into, his legend grows. How does he do it? Why, by being a goddamned fool, of course.

Vash the Stampede

That’s not really fair. Unlike the other characters on this list, Vash is certainly one of the most powerful characters in this classic manga/anime. If he chooses to, he could end pretty much every fight within a moment of it starting. However, that would require him to kill and that is something Vash flat out refuses to do. So, instead, he plays the fool at every opportunity, tricking bounty hunter and overly persistent insurance adjusters (you’d be amazed the kind of damage you get blamed for when people have to refer to you as Mr. The Stampede) into believing that he is nothing but a simpleton who stumbles in and out of trouble through sheer, stupid luck. He’ll disarm potential bank robbers armed only with his finger, scare off muggers with a dart gun, and even use tomato juice to feign injuries just to keep anyone from realising just who and what he really is.

Loki from…well, everything

nouveau Loki by shakusaurusNo list of tricksters is ever complete without a mention of everyone’s favourite scheming Asgardian. You could say that, with his mythical origins, Loki is in fact the original trickster, being the god of lies and schemes and all. And writers have been making liberal use of his talents for as long we can remember. Between hiding in plain sight in American Gods and giving the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes a Ragnorok-sized headache, this trickster nearly always manages to stay one step ahead of anyone who would oppose him.

Of course, there is a reason why Loki has to be so cunning; when your brother is the god of thunder and the strongest member of the Norse pantheon, any sibling rivalry that ends in a physical fight is not going to go your way. Instead, he always manages to set his brother on a different path, to make others do his bidding for him, and generally manipulate things from behind the scenes. Misdirection and shapeshifting along with being able to think on your feet are the trickster’s greatest weapons and, whatever medium he shows up in, Loki always has these things in spades.

So these are my favourite tricksters in the realm of fiction. No doubt you’ve got your opinions on this incredibly subjective subject, so please let us know in the comments below!

Title image by Gema Moratilla.

Share

4 Comments

  1. Avatar ScarletBea says:

    An article on fantasy tricksters and no mention of Locke Lamora? tsk tsk 😀
    He’s the best!

  2. Avatar Justin says:

    Coyote, specifically the one from The Iron Druid Chronicles. Can’t forget him.

Leave a Comment