THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE
“The figure of the trickster…He is a forerunner of the saviour, and, like him, God,
man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and
divine being whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his
unconsciousness.”
- Carl Gustav Jung, from The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE
Seeking to define the Trickster is a
treacherous task. He is a slippery figure
who shifts shape, challenging authority
and disrupting order.
The Trickster is a seer of limited sight- part
human and part supernatural. His
prophecies are often riddled with halftruths and lies, falsities that somehow
point toward a higher truth.
The Trickster possesses the keen ability to
see these hidden meanings and uses
these insights to transform himself or to
act as a catalyst in the changing of others.
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE
But the Trickster’s schemes or tricks can
often be self-defeating and harmful to
other individuals. Although he is partially
divine and mortal, the Trickster is also
sub-human.
Due to his oracular insights and his subhuman state, he is often the alienated
outsider.
Functioning on the fringes of society, the
Trickster works his strange medicine to
challenge taboos and crumble the
structures of civilization.
The Outsider by Thomas Homer
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE
Sometimes acting as
a magician, the
Trickster directly
reshapes the
surrounding world with
inner magic.
Continually weaving
old into new.
But the Trickster can
often also act as a
kind of holy fool –
working behind a
ridiculous façade to
perform these strange
changes unknown and
unnoticed.
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE
Though the Trickster resists
typical classification, he is
there forever blurring realities
in order to reshape the world.
If you try to follow his trail, like
Carroll’s Alice down the rabbit
hole, you may find yourself
lost and bewildered. But the
discoveries you make on your
winding roads will make the
journey worth the effort.
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE

“In short, the trickster is a boundary
crosser. Every group has its edge, its
sense of in and out, and trickster is always
there…He also attends the internal
boundaries by which groups articulate their
social life. We constantly distinguish –
right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean
and dirty, male and female, young and old,
living and dead – and in every case
trickster will cross the line and confuse the
distinction. Trickster is the creative idiot,
therefore, the wise fool, the gray-haired
baby, the cross-dresser, the speaker of
sacred profanities…Trickster is the mythic
embodiment of ambiguity and
ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity,
contradiction and paradox” (Hyde 7).
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE

“A curious combination of
typical trickster
motifs…[include] his
fondness for sly jokes and
malicious pranks, his
powers as a shape-shifter,
his dual nature, half
animal, half divine, his
exposure to all kinds of
tortures, and – last but not
least – his approximation
to the figure of a saviour”
(Jung 255).
THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE

The Trickster archetype connects
with other various important
archetypes and literary traditions.
Due to his association with the
bestial elements of life and the
unconscious realms of creation,
Trickster frequently frequents with
the Shadow. In Trickster’s guise of
the savior, the archetype aligns with
the Christ figure and can serve as
an inroad to the united Self. In his
sub-human but somehow
supernatural form, Trickster often
plays a pivotal role in numerous
animal fables as a miscreant hero.
MULTI-CULTURAL
EXAMPLES OF
TRICKSTERS
African American folklore –
the Hare
French folktales – the Fox
Native American mythology –
the Crow and the Coyote
Western African folklore –
Anansi the Spider
East Indian/Asian myths –
The Monkey
Greek/Roman
mythology –
Hermes/Mercury
Norse mythology –
Loki
When exploring possible literary representations of the Trickster, keep
an eye out for characters who use their wits instead of brute strength
to survive and/or live on the edges of society and possess oracular
vision. These characters will usually bring about some form of
significant transformation/reformation within themselves, within
others, or cause some form of change in their surroundings. These
transformations that the Trickster catalyzes usually will involve some
form of inversion of societal norms or the blurring of
cultural/situational/temporal boundaries. The Trickster is also
routinely a salvific figure capable of bringing redemption through his
or her unusual methodologies.
LITERARY APPLICATION – THE TRICKSTER
In T. H. White’s classic The Once and Future King, Merlin is re-imagined as a
slightly bumbling, quirky, but nonetheless magical helper to young Arthur.
Though he does traditionally fulfill the role of the guide in King Arthur’s
heroic journeys, within White’s novel he also serves as a Trickster figure.
Through his various physical transformations of Wart into the various
creatures of field, stream, and sky, through the more subtle and important
alchemy he performs on the budding character of his charge, Merlin proves
himself a suitable Trickster representative. Aside from his tricksterish
career as a magician, Merlin even travels backward through time. He,
therefore, blurs linear temporal boundaries and can act as an oracle, “Now
ordinary people are born forwards in Time…But I unfortunately was born at
the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards…Some people call it
having second sight” (White 35).
MODERN REVERBERATIONS OF THE
TRICKSTER
Not quite as ubiquitous as the Shadow, the Trickster figure still rears its head
frequently in our modern culture - bringing strange changes in his wake.
CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S THE TRAMP
The
Tramp is a bumbling but
good-natured character created
and portrayed by Charlie
Chaplin, a well-known silent
movie star. This vagrant
character strains to behave and
radiate the dignity of a
gentleman, but he instead fouls
up unintentionally. The Tramp
habitually uses his cunning to
reach his goals and to escape
looming authority figures who
are intolerant of his antics.
Chaplin, as the Tramp, also
continually uses familiar aspects
of his surroundings in unfamiliar
and novel ways. Whether using
wooden chairs as armor or
potatoes as synchronized
dancing feet, the Tramp takes
the traditional and utilizes it
untraditionally to create
something new.
BRE’R RABBIT AND BUGS BUNNY
Bre’r Rabbit is a reccurring character from African American folktales who uses his wits
and trickery to outsmart Bre’r Fox and Bre’r Bear. Originally a Cherokee Trickster, Bre’r
Rabbit was appropriated into the African American oral tradition.
A more contemporary rabbit, Bugs Bunny, also continually eludes his tormentors through
foolish deceptions, myriad disguises, and verbal trickery. Both of these “rascally rabbits”
highly exemplify the wily nature of the Trickster.
THE ROADRUNNER AND WILE E. COYOTE
Both Wile E. Coyote and the
Roadrunner could be considered
Trickster figures. Whether
constructing or evading various
elaborate traps and tricks, both
the Roadrunner and the Coyote
are forever locked in a tricksterish
dance – each striving to use his
wits to finally emerge victorious.
Though he struggles to use his
cunning to defeat the Roadrunner,
Wile E. Coyote is continually foiled
by fate and his opponent’s speed.
BART SIMPSON AS A TRICKSTER
Bart, from The Simpsons, is an
untraditional Trickster. Through his
various pranks, schemes, and
adventures, this rabble rouser
continually causes his own demise
and often accidentally brings about
positive change in the lives of
others.
Behind the thin veil of existential
apathy and disruption, Bart
possesses true integrity despite his
extreme selfishness and delusions
of grandeur.
FRANK THE RABBIT FROM DONNIE DARKO
In the existential teenage drama Donnie
Darko, a giant rabbit from the recent
future named Frank appears to the
protagonist with advice on how to avert
the impending destruction of the town.
With Frank’s help, Donnie is able to
perform a sacrificial action that saves
the lives of those he loves.
But Frank is not a typical savior; his
cryptic advice is eerie and confusing and
our hero is unsure if Frank’s visits are
merely a troubling side effect of his antidepressant medication. For these
reasons, Frank is a haunting Trickster
figure stepping in to bring about change.
MAJOR RESOURCES

Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth,
and Art. New York: North Point Press, 1998. Print.

Jung, C. G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.
2nd ed. New York: Princeton University Press, 1959. Print.

White, T.H. The Once and Future King. New York: Berkeley
Publishing Group, 1939. Print.