My Master Has No Tail opens with narration that promises this: “Today I shall tell you an old tale of a time when tanuki and foxes still tricked people.”
The series follows a young tanuki named Mameda who travels to the city to play tricks on humans like in those old stories. However, things are a little different: it’s the Taisho era, and advances in technology mean that a lot of the old repertoire doesn’t work. Electric streetlights make it difficult to cast illusions in the dark. New ways of making and handling currency mean it’s not as easy to pass transforming leaves off as money. There are cars and trams threatening to run Mameda over every time she tries to cross the street! She’s despondent, until she finds her way into a theatre.
How might the liminal, mischievous, underdog figure of the Trickster lend itself to stories about queer teens?
Take a peek into one of my thesis chapters in this short video! Originally presented at the Fresh From the Fight: Heroes, Villains and Tricksters in Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Culture conference held virtually at the University of British Columbia, 2nd – 4th July 2021.
Hey, guess who finally recorded and uploaded her presentation from last year’s writing conference? It’s a dive into the various shapes and forms the Trickster can take in popular culture, starring all manner of con artists, child geniuses, and… geese!
I’ve made my exhaustion with the Marvel Cinematic Universe quite public in the last little while. It just got so big, so convoluted, so self-conscious and yet so self-congratulatory. Which is a shame, because there really is some good stuff in there, and a lot of potential for fun… as this book reminded me, coming out of left field and smacking me over the head with an emotional investment in a slice of the Marvel world. Loki: Where Mischief Lies (penned by Mackenzi Lee, most famous for her queer historical YA) is a gorgeously written, tightly plotted tale of gods and magic that contains just the right amount of hijinks, and contains a frankly graceful rendering of Loki that gets right what makes his character so interesting and so likeable… and, as a bonus, he’s not at all heterosexual. Having picked this up for work and gone in with very few expectations, this book blew me away, and I am so delightfully baffled that it gets its own post. Continue reading →
When I talk about “the Trickster archetype” here, I’ve been using it to refer to fictional characters, with “archetype” being essentially a synonym for “really old codified trope”. But this phrase has also been used in more psychological contexts, specifically those drawing from the work of Carl Jung, who played with the idea that we each have our own inner Trickster, a manifestation of our playful, childlike, perhaps even animalistic subconscious. Creativity can be considered a “trickster impulse”, as can the urge for rebellion (a combo of the two is perhaps the most powerful modern Trickery there is—Helena Bassil-Morozow talks about this a fair bit in The Trickster and the System). I keep saying that we come back to this character type again and again because it means something to us, and whether I intend to or not I’m being pretty Jungian with that statement: maybe Trickster characters have such a strong appeal because they scratch a deep subconscious itch, call to us on a fundamental psychological level, and are ultimately “fantasy figures who do what we cannot or dare not” (to quote Lori Landay), fulfilling an ancient and intrinsic yearning for power and playfulness, and, well, to be a bit of a shit now and then. Continue reading →
I spent my 2017 academic year picking a fight with Joseph Campbell and his blithe assumption that The Hero can only ever be a dude. Well, as my focus shifts from Heroes to Tricksters, the same issues crop up. The most famous mythological Tricksters discussed in the field and in popular culture tend to come from the following list: Norse Loki, Greek Hermes, West African Anansi, Polynesian Maui, and various versions of the archetype that appear in Native American mythology in the form of the Coyote, Raven, and Hare characters. These are all Trickster gods rather than goddesses. Lewis Hyde—whose book Trickster Makes This World I’ve quoted a few times in this series—quite confidently declared that “All the standard tricksters are male”. And, in a broad sense, he’s correct. But does this need to be the case? There are plenty of folks—including one particular writer I’ll be looking at today—who say “c’mon, my guy” and disagree. Continue reading →
In the midst of talking about what Tricksters are, let’s take another brief interlude to talk about what they’re not. Last time I mentioned that Kyuubey isn’t a Trickster just because they’re tricky, and neither are most others who fill the sort of Faustian demon role in their story, and I want to expand on that. However, I also want to look at a couple of demonic (or demon-ish) characters from fiction who do fit the archetype, and explore exactly why. Demons and devils (and fantastical equivalents of these things) can be Tricksters, but it’s not because of their devilishness. Rather, it’s almost in spite of their devilishness, and comes down to a few key points including, once again, their place in the narrative itself. With a spoiler warning for both The Good Place and the recent state of the Black Butler manga, let’s dive in. Continue reading →
Storytelling has been an important part of life for essentially all of human history. In this long tradition of tale-weaving there are a few structures and archetypes we just keep coming back to, from ancient mythology to modern movies. One of them is the Trickster, which, in my view, is entirely fair—after all, it’s one of the most blatantly fun character archetypes out there, brimming with cheekiness and social commentary and a degree of unpredictability that you don’t always find with stories about, say, Heroes or Lovers. We’re not telling stories of gods and monsters so much these days, but this ancient character type is still strolling through our popular culture, though perhaps in slightly different shapes and sizes. Continue reading →
I like Transformers now, and I like Starscream. Who’d have thought? And who’d have thought it would lead me down a tangent about the mythological archetype of the Trickster and the blurring of the gender binary within?
It’s the high heels, is what it is. The Transformers property I’ve grown attached to is the 2011-2013 animated series Transformers Prime, which WB got me into, and in which Starscream is rocking a pair of stilettos built in to his very mechanics. Many of the characters went through a design overhaul for Prime, most notably baddies like Soundwave, who is no longer a walking boombox that you can slot other Decepticons into; and Starscream, who’s now delightfully spindly and spiky compared to his earlier, blockier counterparts, and who now has better-looking legs than me complete with those wonderful heels. To me, this look conveys his character well—one glance at this robot and you can tell he’s bad news, but you can also tell what kind of bad news he is. Continue reading →