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Listening to Trickster Tales

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Mythology has always had a special place in my heart. Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved myth and legend. Unlike many other little kids, I never outgrew them. My favorite ones of all are the trickster tales. I like hearing the exploits of brave heroes overcoming great adversity, of course, but the humor in the trickster tale beats all of that hands down.

Every culture has trickster tales of some sort or another. Both Native American trickster tales and African trickster stories involve a spider. In the Native American stories, the spider is called Inktomi. In African tales, it is called Anansi. Both Anansi and Inktomi stories are hilarious. Some of them are suitable for kids, while others are sort of raunchy. Whatever the story, however, it is sure to delight and amuse.

One of the things I have always found interesting about trickster tales is that they are often involved in the formation of some significant cultural belief or trait. For instance, the trickster Loki gave the Norse gods their weapons as a way of appeasing them after one of his more destructive pranks. The weapons of the Norse gods are some of their most famous attributes, so this contribution by the trickster Loki is not insignificant.

Trickster stories are great for little kids. Kids love anything involving smaller, weaker people outsmarting bigger, stronger ones, and that is what trickster tales are all about. They can really identify with the trickster figures in a way that is harmless, fun, and amusing to watch. Best of all, these stories can get them interested in the mythology of other cultures. Since so much of the literature written for kids is mythology, this will help them with their reading skills in addition to their cultural literacy.

In a class I teach, I even have the kids write their own trickster stories. At first, I thought they would not be up to it, but it turned out pretty well. The kids were so excited about the trickster tales. They loved being able to turn in a story about some mischievous character outsmarting the authority figures in his/her life. Sometimes, the trickster tale even took place in the classroom. I didn't mind. As long as they were amusing, I enjoyed reading them. It was good lighthearted fun, and best of all it got those kids writing. You have no idea how hard it can be every so often to do that.

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