Painting by Jan Matejko Stańczyk.
The trickster is an archetype that appeared in the myths of many different cultures and is still popular with writers today. These characters are rule-breakers and agents of chaos; they are often animals (e.g. foxes, crows, coyotes), travellers, or even shapeshifters able to cross boundaries between worlds. For this reason they sometimes function as a guide or messenger, like the Greek god Hermes. Characteristically, the trickster is clever and creative. They generally lie to obtain sex, food, or just to get out of something they don’t want to do, using their wit to outsmart of the Man/the Establishment/the gods/what have you.
Since they are so unpredictable and paradoxical, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what the perfect definition of a trickster is. As Lewis Hyde puts it in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art:
[The] best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found – sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.
Illustration by Elise Stevens.
If you thought that Roald Dahl’s children’s books were deliciously gruesome (and they are), wait until you see what he has in store for the adults. In Kiss Kiss, Dahl combines horror and comedy to give us eleven memorable short stories. He obviously delights in making his readers feel as uneasy as possible right before pulling the rug out from under them, grinning at the shocked look on our faces. As a teacher, I get to experience some of this joy myself. I am currently teaching this collection to a group of sixteen-year-old students, and every week, I get to watch them as they slowly realise what is going on in each story. One by one, they all suddenly turn to me and go: “Ooohhhhhhh! Oh God, that’s terrible!”
We all love our Dickensian tales about evil stepmothers and adorable orphans who have to make their own way in a dark world – but sometimes they get lucky. Fiction has given us some of the most loving and supportive adoptive parents you will ever see, and these ten foster families particularly warm my heart.
“Histoires Naturelles” by Juliette Bates.
In the second installment of the Halloween reading lists (the first: monster literature), we are going to tackle a different form of fiction: the short story. There is a wide selection of monsters, curses, mysterious forces, and existential horror on this list, and all of them bite-sized for a quick fix of creepiness.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.