Thursday, October 4, 2012
16793--Not For Kids
Adults love tricks, too. It stands to reason that we would also love tricksters. To be clear up front, I'm not talking about illusionists putting on shows at the Bellagio. No, this time I'm talking about that special class of roguish heroes and flawed deities that we adore for their colorful ways.
They take on different forms, but their methods of operation share similar patterns: interceding between gods and man, playing games for their own amusement. Sure, sometimes they benefit the heroes of the stories, but that payoff is often incidental to their intent.
One of the virtues we usually hold in highest esteem is their cleverness. Whether its Odysseus outsmarting Polyphemus, Prometheus pulling a fast one on Zeus or some clever scheme woven by Anansi on behalf of his father Nyame the Sky-God, the highlights of their tales focus on outthinking others. Noted exceptions regarding this particular characteristic include stand-outs Loki and Coyote.
Loki's mischiefs often bore the twist of malice, but for all he did to draw the enmity of Asgard there were also times he would redeem himself through the use of his cunning against the giants who opposed the gods. With that and being Odin's adopted son, the punishments he received over the years were mild enough to enable his survival to the time of Ragnarok, Asgard's prophesied final war. When the foretold Twilight of the Gods fell, Loki aligned himself with Asgard's enemies. Given his track record, it should've come as a surprise to no one. When I was a kid, one of my schoolmates who lived next door to me could've been Loki's avatar. He lied, bullied and drove his father nuts. If you had teams in a snowball fight (something we liked to do), about five minutes into the battle you could count on him to throw snowballs at his teammates and run to the other side. A little while later or maybe the next day, he'd be playing on our goodwill and get chummy again. He always seemed like someone destined for ever more trouble. I may have to track down whatever became of him.
For my money, Coyote has always topped the trickster ranks. Can he be bullying, willful, forgetful, greedy, gluttonous, arrogant and profane? Of course. No matter what form he takes to romp through life sowing the seeds of Chaos, though, he's also a creator and a teacher. He's seldom accused of cleverness. In fact, he never learns any of his own lessons, but he can be a great teacher to men and spirits alike. Sometimes he gives and sometimes he takes. Whether he's Father Craft or Coyote (or even Wile E. Coyote), he's always quick to bounce back with some new ploy designed to bring him a meal or a laugh that may just blow up in his face again. That's OK, though, because he's nothing if not dauntless.
That appears to be another trait the tricksters seem to share, especially the deific ones. They're not just resourceful, they're resilient. Whatever karmic payback they might incur, they come back for more and more. Are they gluttons for punishment? Are they insane? Maybe they're just not done teaching yet. Perhaps they're puppet masters letting other gods think they're running things. Who are we to say? We only know the angle of their stories that we're allowed to perceive. Never be quick to write a trickster off as a simpleton. Illusion is their conversation. What we call reality is their toy. You may never know an immortal trickster's long-game.
Prometheus is not only a Titan, but one who can see probable futures and is willing to suffer torture rather than give up information. Loki is a manipulative strategist. Coyote...sees humor and complexity at which we can only guess in a very limited number of dimensions. Even Wile E. Coyote is a super-genius. Just ask him.