on November 30, 2002
The Trickster is a mythological or archetypal character found in stories throughout the world. The best known in Western myth are Hermes and Loki. In this fascinating study, Lewis Hyde gives equal time to the Native American Coyote, the Chinese Monkey King and India's Krishna. At first glance, these characters are merely pranksters; humorous, sometimes annoying and occasionally dangerous ne'er do wells who disrupt the normal flow of things. As the title of this book suggests, Hyde believes tricksters are much more than this. He makes a convincing case that tricksters are essential in both preserving and transforming societies. Without their disruptions, cultural stagnation would result. He points out that tricksters can either help to maintain the status quo or bring about radical transformation. An example of the former case is illustrated by carnivals such as Mardi Gras, where social customs are predictably and temporarily ignored or reversed. This allows people to vent their frustrations and unleash their inhibitions before returning to normal life. Hyde mentions the abolishionist Frederick Douglas as an example of the more radical sort of trickster who brings about permanent change. Within the institution of slavery, slaves were allowed one week of freedom and revelry. Douglas was not satisfied with this; he wanted to completely overhaul the status quo and indeed helped to accomplish this. Trickster Makes this World describes the antics of both actual (e.g. Douglas, the artist Marcel Duchamp) and mythic (e.g. Hermes, Coyote, Krishna) tricksters. This, of course, suggests a worldview similar to that of Joseph Campbell and others, who see the mythic as the foundation of real life. This book isn't easy reading; Hyde has a trickster-like style of zig-zagging his way all over a very expansive intellectual terrain. It doesn't so much make a case or present an argument as suggest a way of seeing the world. At the center of this worldview is not the all-powerful Zeus, but the slippery messenger/thief/trader Hermes (or one of his counterparts). Getting back to the provocative title, Trickster does not make the world in the conventional way (as the God of the Bible, for example). Rather, he (tricksters are usually male, an issue Hyde devotes a chapter to exploring) remakes and readjusts the world in which he finds himself. This is arguably a task as important as creation itself, or an essential part of creation.
on August 4, 2002
A brilliantly written, funny and moving book--filled with substantial scholarship and honest about its own stakes.
To tell you the truth, I was moved to write this review by the two reviews below, both of which fall pretty wide of the mark. First, this is an amazingly well-written book, and that goes for both Hyde's prose style and his winding structure. His reflections of his own project do not upstage the subject matter but rather deepen and situate it in "time-haunted history." I wonder why anyone would expect or want a book about tricksters to be linear and transparent. By this I don't mean to suggest that Hyde is exactly "performing" the trickster in his writing. He announces his approach perfectly well: Saturn dreams of Mercury.
I suspect that this book will frustrate all species of lazy reader because it asks for a sustained, continuous, and thorough reading. All the chapters are rewarding individually, but they are best read sequentially. If you want to be able to look at a table of contents and pick one or two chapters by topic, find a doctoral thesis, or a utilitarian academic monograph.
on February 5, 2002
This is an extraordinarily well-written and perceptive book that examines the Trickster archetype in depth with wit, imagination, and an appreciation for the vagaries of life. One of Hyde's strengths is his ability to untangle the common threads in such diverse areas as Native American mythology, African divination, the art of Marcel Duchamp, the chance-based music of John Cage, and the life and thought of Frederick Douglas. As its subtitle implies, it is weighted heavily towards "culture work" (myth, literature, art, storytelling, etc.) and does not really explore the social territory of the Trickster-- the domain of cons, grifters, snake-oil salesmen, chain-letter writers, illusionists, pranksters, and scam artists of all stripes. But given that the 20th century Western art world was largely dominated by a succession of Trickster figures, this book is a useful antidote to the hoary idea of art as simply a harmonious search for beauty or a form of self-expression that somehow takes place in a vacuum, unhindered by cultural constraints. I suspect that, in keeping with its subject matter, this book is likely to engender a deep sense of anxiety in some readers, while coming to others as a breath of fresh air.
on July 23, 2002
This book, like the myths it describes, is an interpretation. It is one man's exploration of his own exploration of the trickster myths. True, some of the tricksters he indentifies don't live up to his own definition; and true, his own definition is elastic. The structure of the book is a bit circular and tangential, not the most eloquently structured thing I've read. But... the book is also full of insights about how we erect a world, both in story and in fact. It makes distinctions that, as other reviewers have said, are glaringly obvious once you've read them, but were somehow beyond the pale before you read the book.
I've not yet read The Gift, though I did purchase it after reading half-way through this book. I found "Trickster" inspiring and insightful, often funny, always surprising.
Hyde does not promise us a scholarly dissection, which, when you consider that we're talking about myths, is entirely appropriate. His writing, even when he takes us on tangents, is fluid and clear. He's someone I'd want to have dinner with, maybe once a month or so, just to hear where his thinking is going and where it's been.
Read the excerpt. See for yourself.
on April 21, 2011
Many nonfiction books read as though the author had a good, tight essay and for some unfounded reason decided to expand it. Many of our school library's books have highlighted passages, as though readers were wading through the fluff to get back to the original essay.
Trickster Makes this World is a notable exception--it is so substantive that a third of the way through its 400 pages I felt as though I already had a whole-book experience. It wasn't just because of the density of the material, but the quality. Hyde knows the trickster archetype, and I don't mean intellectually. He sees the trickster in a thief but not a politician, and he has a sense for identifying which artists are tricksters and which aren't. He shows us why the trickster is not immoral, but amoral, and how his antics can help us break through our conventions in order to be fully present in the now. The trickster, according to Hyde, will not let us dismiss anything by stereotyping or categorizing it.
The author not only introduces us to trickster figures of Native America, Africa, Greece, and Norseland, but leaves us feeling as though we grew up with them. Who else but a trickster could lie, cheat, and steal from you and leave you feeling good about it? Hyde explains why, along with showing us how much we need the trickster to liberate us from our shame- and guilt-based culture.
But there is a deeper reason I consider this book to be of such value: although the trickster is alive and well in the contemporary world, he does not play a very active role in our lives, and we need him to. Without him, we might not realize that advertisers shame us into buying their products. We could miss the fact that bigotry is being promulgated in the guise of patriotism, and that cries for freedom are sometimes doublespeak that translate into more suppression. We might well continue thinking that we are given choices when all they boil down to is shades of conformity. The trickster will have none of this.
He is both above and below the law. Whether it stinks or pleases matters not to him, whether it is sacred or carnal will not slow him down for a second in pursuing his selfish goals. Even so, as the author shows, the line between selfless and selfish is blurred for the trickster. It doesn't matter whether he follows his crudest impulses or highest aspirations, he somehow ends up serving the people.
Hyde is deft at showing how the trickster's sole pursuit is truth--not the sugar-coated kind we are accustomed to that fits our belief system and cultural paradigm, but the bold, naked reality that lies hidden beneath. He left me with the conviction that when trickster stories again grace our lives to ferret out truth, as they did in the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we can again have lives of clear sight and genuine feeling. Trickster Makes This World is paving the way.
on July 31, 1998
The study of myth entered the popular culture with the Moyer's interview of Joseph Campbell, the articulate and composed teacher from Sarah Lawrence. Campbell introduced thousands to the heroes adventure, the beauty of myth and the place it has in our lives.
In Trickster Makes The World, Lewis Hyde gives us another essential character in myth and folklore. Taking us through the Hermes trickster cycle and the Raven and Coyote folklore of the Northwest and Southwest States, he developes the trickster from simply the mischievous to a complex and indelible character of our stories and lives.
I must confess that reading the book might create anger in some. As our imagination conjures some real life personifications of the trickster - Howard Stern; Bill Clinton; Jerry Springer - we might wonder what profit there may be in the study of the trickster. Fortunately though he doesn't let us progress too far before he introduces us to two original and artistic people who he! proposes have some aspects of the trickster in them.
And this a pivotal point I think. As Blye said in Iron John the point is not to model Iron John, the hairy man who lives in the lake at the begining of the book, but only want to feel his energy and learn how its used. The same holds true for the trickster. This is not a self-help book, but rather a thoughtful and provocative analysis of one of our central characters.
I would have enjoyed more tales about the trickster, yet Hyde gives us enough to describe his thesis and leave us wanting for more. If you enjoy myth and folktales you will enjoy this book.
on July 30, 2010
While this may be the same book with a different cover--and the confusion is unfortunate--it's also a great book inside any cover. Lewis Hyde brings a unique sensibility to the study of stories, tricksters, and what makes creative imagination possible. This book is rare within the literature on "narrative" because Hyde actually tells stories. His version of the trickster is rich in multiple possibilities: tricksters are destructive, but destruction is part of creativity--that's as close to Hyde's thesis as I can get. The book takes many detours, but I'm grateful that it's not a page shorter.
on February 17, 2016
Much as I love Lewis Hyde (The Gift is one of the great books) this book is a real chore to get through. He is constantly saying that he has an argument, but it never really holds together: Hyde is known for ranging around, but this is some kind of personal thing he obviously had to work through, and heaven help the reader. Clearly he decided that there was leakage around the neat "gift culture" hypotheses he started with, but he hardly nails what that is down (it's probably about different forms of abundance being released when rules and scarcities are broken into). Some things are just arbitrary -- Frederick Douglass comes in for a lot of time, but even Hyde admits at one point that he isn't a trickster, Hyde is just interested in him as someone who struggled between the white and slave cultures. Like everything else in the book, except for the Homeric Hymn (which is slogged through interminably), we get flashes of detail, insight, and then nothing. I hope he's gone on to something more helpful. For those interested in tricksters and coyote, etc., I suggest the versions of Thomas King.
on September 4, 2012
Hyde is not the first to compare the North American trickster with some European and Asian gods but his comparisons are some of the best.
The introduction in the new edition is worth the price of the book. It makes the point that the essential trickster is in a 'context of contextless'. Two points illustrate this well. Trickster is constantly wondering "without direction." He recovers from an episode and goes off in one direction or another. He (Hyde notes that Tricksters are most often male) is also without place. He finds species of trees in certain locales, but he himself is without locale. The same holds for animal species. The beaver has his home in water, the bear his wintering place, but poor trickster has no known location. He is everywhere and nowhere.
The book ia a major contribution to the mythology of Trickster Figures.
on May 8, 2014
Lewis Hyde is an amazing observer of history, humans and their myths. Every paragraph either teaches me something new, or gives me a completely different way of understanding this place that we call Life on Earth. A wordsmith extraordinaire, the stories pull you in and make this book difficult to put down!