Trickster, The

by Paul Radin


This was a pretty dry summary of a few of the most common Trickster myths in Native-American folklore. It was interesting but a little more specific than I had been hoping for (I forget how this got added to my list, but in subsequent research it seems like my interest in the Trickster figure might have been better fulfilled with the farther-reaching Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art).

My main disappointment with the book is that Radin is concerned almost exclusively with the Winnebago tradition, although he appears quite capable of considering further implications of the Trickster archetype. For example, late in the book he says:

The symbol which Trickster embodies is not a static one. It contains within itself the promise of differentiation, the promise of god and man. For this reason every generation occupies itself with interpreting Trickster anew. No generation understands him fully but no generation can do without him. Each had to include him in all its theologies, in all its cosmogonies, despite the fact that it realized that he did not fit properly into any of them, for he represents not only the undifferentiated and distant past, but likewise the undifferentiated present within every individual. This constitutes his universal and persistent attraction. 168

How much better of a book this would have been if this were the first paragraph instead of the very last!

That said, I can understand how people interested exclusively in the Native-American Trickster myth could be very satisfied with this book. It is a quick read, yet very thorough, and he did what he sets out to do very professionally. I would recommend jumping straight to his analysis and skipping the actual telling of the story, which starts the book off and didn’t make much sense to me isolated from Radin’s interpretative notes. Two essays finish off the book, the first by a Greek scholar that is everything I hate about academia: pedantic, self-satisfied and totally aloof from anything that matters. The second, luckily, is everything I wish the book had been: an exploration by Carl Jung of the Trickster archetype and what it means for us psychologically. I would totally buy a Trickster book by Jung.

Original Review


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