The Trickster


In his book Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde describes the wily archetype from mythology as one who blurs boundaries. This definition plays into my own analysis of the various divisions in the American Monomyth. In my Constructing American Heroes course, we explore the Frontiersman who expands boundaries, the war hero who defends them, the detective who restores them, and so on. But there is something other worldly about the trickster’s role of blurring boundaries. It’s as though through the static we can catch a glimpse of some truth on the other side of understanding. When we try to focus, though, we lose it and crash hard back into the practical concrete.

We encounter this principle when deeply moved by a song or piece of art, or maybe when we’re rapt in the escapism of a favorite vacation spot. If we return too often, the magic fades, giving way to familiarity. Hyde describes the phenomenon in terms of the view while traveling on a train, “Each thing seems all the more declarative for its swift arrival and departure. From a moving train I don’t see the opaque weave of the real, I see the more expansive view the shuttle gets as again and again the warp threads briefly rise.”

In mythology, we need charming tricksters to inhabit the in-between. Take Peter Pan, for example. The roguish adventure seeker at the cusp of, but refusing to enter into, puberty speaks to the like desire in the human experience. But add too much realism, and he becomes the worse kind of selfish villain. Make him a responsible role model for children, and he loses his fun. There is a truth that lies only in that intangible blurred boundary.

So how do we ever really experience the trickster then? By recognizing that he’s not the only archetype. We fully relish art, escapism, and so on, then throw ourselves equally into the other parts of our lives and being. We thrill at trickster’s blurred boundaries, then expand them, defend them, restore them, and start all over again.