In previous posts, I have discussed the hero and his/her journey in detail. Their arc is critical, but the hero must have friends and enemies, people who help or hinder him. Each of them has an arc, some large, and some small.
My lead characters always have companions. I am a great fan of both Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, and the hero’s journey is central to much of my work. In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies. Quote from Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:
In his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Even better for our purposes, in his 2007 book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler takes Campbell’s concept of the monomyth and applies it to storytelling. His book offers insights into character development and takes the mythical aspects of the hero’s journey and places it into pop culture, from movies to television, to books. I am on my third copy of this book.
It occurred to me that the father of one of my main characters is the archetype known as “the Trickster.” This is the wise friend who can sometimes work against you, but whose presence adds an important layer to the narrative.
- Cross Boundaries
- Break rules
- Disrupt ordinary life
- Charm us with their wit and charisma
Wikipedia also tells us:
All cultures have tales of the trickster, a crafty creature who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. In some Greek myths, Hermes plays the trickster. He is the patron of thieves and the inventor of lying, a gift he passed on to Autolycus, who in turn passed it on to Odysseus. In Slavic folktales, the trickster and the culture hero are often combined.
Often in mythology, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery. When I need a thief, I automatically think of Loki—the consummate trickster of Norse mythology. Loki sometimes helps the gods and other times behaves in a malevolent manner towards them. He is also a shapeshifter and can change gender at will.
When I realized the trickster was emerging in the character of Elgar, I was thrilled. He is a good father, a widower. The son of the shaman, Elgar would be the first to tell you he isn’t fit for that task. His younger son has been chosen instead, and this book revolves around his son’s vision quest and his path to becoming his clan’s next shaman.
Elgar is a bit of a player in some ways, yet he has scruples. He takes chances but has great personal charm, so he is the clan’s speaker. His greatest weakness is that he gets bored easily, and trouble always ensues.
What I love about having the trickster emerging in this tale is the way he livens things up. He is the ray of sunshine in what could be an unremitting tale of gloom and doom.
The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:
Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts
Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome
Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero
Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view
Shadow: character who represents the energy of the dark side
Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving variety of functions
Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change
I think the rogue is an important component of any epic tale. He lends a touch of fallible humanity to the cast that can be otherwise too perfect. His influence on the hero also offers us moments of hilarity and pathos.
When I recognized my trickster, I began looking at my other characters, to see what role they represent in this cast. This gave me a reason to go back to The Writer’s Journey, and look again at my other characters and their archetypes to make sure I am using them to their best advantage.
I highly recommend The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. It is one of the foundation books in my reference library, and I refer back to it often, especially in the early stages of a manuscript, when I am trying to decide how to maximize a side character’s potential.
Credits and Attributions:
Renard the Fox, drawn by Ernest Griset, from a children’s book published in 1869 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.
Wikipedia contributors, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Writer%27s_Journey:_Mythic_Structure_for_Writers&oldid=804454608 (accessed December 5, 2017).
Wikipedia contributors, “Trickster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trickster&oldid=811022016 (accessed December 5, 2017).
By scan from an unknown publication by an anonymous poster, in a thread, gave permission to use it. Re-drawn by User:Slashme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons