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Trickster and Hero

Two Characters in the Oral and Written Traditions of the World

Harold Scheub

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-11

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pp. 3-4

The eternal moment, the moment of transition, the trickster moment: Why is this important? Because during that moment, we are out of ourselves. We are broken into parts: we are man and woman, god and human, hero and villain; all of the possibilities of life are there, and we select them and participate in our own re-creation. We are taken apart...

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pp. 5-24

The hero is a visionary. He must do battle with external adversaries and also, at times, with himself. This battle is generally characterized as a transition of some kind. These are recurring themes: the first has to do with myth and god; the second has to do with trickster, divine and profane. The third has to do with the tale character and with rites of passage, with liminality. Epic is the consummation of...

Some of the World’s Tricksters

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pp. 25-28

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Part One: The Trickster, Preparation for the Hero

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pp. 29-32

The creation myths have to do with origins, the world of the myth, the Age of Beginnings. Tales also treat transitions, not on a mythic scale but an earthly individual scale. All is physical and concrete movement, all is spatial movement. These movements are accomplished by means of performance, and one of the things performance does is to link its various discrete elements into an aesthetic and social unity. That unity may be fictitious...

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1. African Profane Trickster Tales

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pp. 33-49

Profane trickster tales occur separately or in cycles, often without frames. But sometimes they have frames such as birth and death, with the cycle in between. That is the set-up, the prototype, for a more complex tale, in which the separate tales are now linked by the development and growth of a real-life character, and also through patterns that reflect...

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2. Mantis and Legba, Divine Tricksters

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pp. 50-100

Analysis of oral narratives, as with analysis of all works of art, seeks to solve the problem, “How does the poem mean?” not “What does the poem mean?”12 Frequently, it is not at all difficult to determine the theme of the work of art, but the statement of theme answers few of the aesthetic problems raised by the work being analyzed. Indeed, when analysis is properly carried out, it becomes impossible for the analyst to consider theme...

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Part Two: The Trickster in the Hero

The heroic epic is a grand blending of tale and myth, heroic poetry and history. Separate epics contain a greater or lesser degree of each. History is dominant in Sunjata, heroic poetry and tale in Ibonia, tale and myth in Mwindo, tale and myth in Gilgamesh. In all four epics, poetry plays a crucial if not dominant role. Epic is not history: it combines history...

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3. The Winnebago Hare

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pp. 103-110

The Winnebago hare shapes himself; as he shapes himself he is shaping the world of the people out of Grandmother Earth, and Grandmother Earth regularly chronicles the changes that Hare is himself undergoing. The storyteller records the origins and then the fall of humanity, the final differentiation of animals and the origin of death.25 The melancholy hero is born....

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4. Ibonia

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pp. 111-128

Epic describes the feats of a heroic character, dramatizes the transformation of a society or culture in a major way. A hero is one who, with one foot in the past and one foot in the visionary future, moves the society from one dispensation to another . . . or symbolizes that movement. As the epic progresses, an epic process becomes evident: the hero becomes representative of the essence of the culture. The hero necessarily...

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5. Sunjata/Sundiata

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pp. 129-135

To understand the West African epic Sunjata or Sundiata, one must understand other oral forms: the oral tale, the oral lyrical and panegyric poem, oral history, and oral myth. And one must understand the enormous energy, undifferentiated trickster-energy, that is unleashed during the formative time, the transformation or transition period...

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6. The Odyssey

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pp. 136-142

In The Odyssey, the cycle of tales is obvious, along with the patterning of those tales. And the historical background of the Trojan War and other events re - mains at the forefront of the epic. Homer clearly and emphatically works the trickster into this patterned mixture of history and tale. Odysseus is a trickster: consider...

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Part Three: The Hero, with the Trickster at the Center

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pp. 143-148

The hero’s journey, the ancient monomyth, is the great paradigm. It clearly is so for Gilgamesh, for Mwindo, Sundiata, Beowulf, Odysseus . . . But it is also the model for Legba, for the Winnebago Hare. Or are they the paradigm for the hero? Legba is a god with such disgusting trickster qualities. Hare is a trickster with decidedly heroic potential...

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7. Mwindo

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pp. 149-177

C. M. Bowra asserts that poets in Africa “seem unwilling or unable to construct songs of heroic action which are enjoyable for their own sake and not some kind of summons to action or an instrument of personal use.” He writes of “some African peoples, who delight to honor victorious achievements but address their poems to single real persons and compose especially for them.” Such poetry, he contends, comes...

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8. Gilgamesh and Beowulf

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pp. 178-194

Both Gilgamesh and Beowulf are structurally and temporally in two parts: one at the height of the heroes’ lives, the second during their declining years. In Gilgamesh, part one deals with Gilgamesh and Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven; in Beowulf, part one consists of Beowulf ’s struggles with Grendel and Grendel’s mother. Part two of Gilgamesh focuses...

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pp. 195-203

In heroic poetry, history and imaginative image come into conjunction to create these epics, and the fictional helps to explicate the impact and the meaning of the historical. These are moments of historical transition, from old ideas of leadership to new enlightened ideas, from ancient beliefs to new faiths, from bloody patterns of existence to less...

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Epilogue: The Trickster Lives!

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pp. 204-208

Chinua Achebe injects an oral tale into his 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart, as a comment on the contemporary story of Okonkwo: a character in Achebe’s novel recounts a trickster tale, a story about Trickster Tortoise who, during a period of famine, disguises himself as a bird with the help of feathers loaned to him by the birds, and flies into the sky...


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pp. 209-212


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pp. 213-216


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pp. 217-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780299290733
E-ISBN-10: 0299290735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299290740
Print-ISBN-10: 0299290743

Page Count: 214
Publication Year: 2012