After the hero crosses the threshold of adventure and finally sets out on his journey, he passes through a long phase that Campbell called “the road of trials.” This is often where the meat of the story happens, but it doesn’t fit squarely into any one trope because of all the possible directions where the story can go. For that reason, I think it’s more useful to think in terms of who the hero meets, not what the hero does.
The Trickster is often (though not always) one of the first characters the hero encounters upon entering the lands of adventure. He is almost always male, though sometimes he can change shapes and even sexes (for example, Loki, who turned into a mare and conceived Odin’s horse). His role in the story, though, can range from mentor (Merlin, Yoda, Mary Poppins) to bad guy (the Joker, the Homonculi, Grand Admiral Thrawn) to the hero himself (Prometheus, Bugs Bunny, Bilbo Baggins).
Obviously, the Trickster is a very slippery character. You can tell who he is, though, by whether he meets these two basic criteria:
- completely unpredictable
- not beholden to any authority
In this way, the Trickster often stands in stark contrast to the people of the ordinary world that the hero left behind. Which makes sense–having just crossed the threshold of adventure, the hero needs to leave his old mentality behind and be exposed to new experiences and ideas. For that reason, the Trickster’s antics often serve to teach the hero an Aesop, helping him to learn and grow.
That doesn’t mean that the Trickser is harmless. Quite the contrary–he’s a dirty, lying cheat, capable of taking any disguise and throwing the victims of his pranks into any moral quandary just for laughs. He’s not necessarily a jerkass–he may even be more of an ally than an enemy–but he definitely is not to be trusted.
Like most things associated with the hero’s journey, the amazing thing is just how prevalent this trope is. It’s even cropped up in some of my own work. For example, in Bringing Stella Home, Ilya Ayvazyan is a trickster of the playful hacker variety. In Star Wanderers, Samson is a blithe spirit who doesn’t necessarily have Jeremiah’s best interests at heart…though his girlfriend (the one at Alpha Oriana) is a lot more sinister. I’m not sure if anyone fits this trope in Desert Stars, but you could probably make a case for Lena or Amina–or better yet, Ibrahim.
Of all the major character archetypes, though, the Trickster is the one I feel like I know the least about. If you have anything else to add, I would like to hear it!