We may not pay Satan reverence, but we can at least respect his talents.
December 8, 2013 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Thief-kings and tricksters: more of this character archetype, please!

My absolute favorite fictional archetypes are thief-kings and rogues and trickster gods. Eugenides in the Megan Whelan Turner books, George Cooper and Rosto the Piper in Tamora Pierce's books, Loki in any incarnation, Alice Morgan from Luther. They don't have to be literal thief-kings or trickster gods, and I don't care if they're good guys or bad guys or (best of all) shades of gray, as long as they lounge in chairs like a cat and hold knives to people's throats with a smile in the dark and cheerfully trick everyone into thinking they're less terrifying than they eventually reveal themselves to be.

Books, movies, tv shows, fanfic — anything is good. Thanks!
posted by you're a kitty! to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
There's a TV Tropes entry on "The Trickster" that's fairly comprehensive.
posted by bcwinters at 2:02 PM on December 8, 2013

On a silly note, "How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!!"
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2013

I think Q in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" fits.
posted by mean square error at 2:30 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

May I suggest The Gentleman Bastard's series by Scott Lynch, starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora?
posted by gryftir at 2:39 PM on December 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

You might like the show WILFRED.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:39 PM on December 8, 2013

The webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court has an excellent Coyote.
posted by moonmilk at 2:45 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

The recurring character Skink, from Carl Hiaasen's satirical crime novels is just magnificent. He's a former Florida governor who has become a vengeful swamp hermit. In Stormy Weather (my favorite book that features Skink) he captures an amoral ad exec known for his cigarette ads. He puts a shock collar on him and gives him several dozen cartons of cigarettes and assures him that should he stop chain smoking for even an instant, he will shock the holy hell out of him.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:08 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

In Gu Long's Lu Xiaofeng series of wuxia novels, one of the members of Lu's entourage is named King of Thieves, which is both his name and his job.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 3:45 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

A little close to the nose, and you're probably already familiar, but the Egyptian god Set/h fits the bill.

In Shakespeare, both Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus and Puck from Midsummer's Night Dream come to mind.
posted by General Malaise at 3:48 PM on December 8, 2013

Saffron in Firefly was a nice example of this kind of tricky customer.
posted by The otter lady at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2013

The Amelia Peabody mysteries, by Elizabeth Peters, featured a delightful character called the Master Criminal. He appears in these books. He's a genius with disguises and accents, and has grand ambitions in his very organized crimes.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:06 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The pooka in Emma Bull's fantastic War For The Oaks. Locke in the already mentioned Lies of Locke Lamora. In the second Company book by Kage Baker, titled Sky Coyote, one of the characters embodies the trickster Coyote.
posted by PussKillian at 4:07 PM on December 8, 2013

The Eli Monpress series.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2013

I just recommended this in another thread, but for literal trickster gods: Neil Gaiman's American Gods (and the related Anansi Boys) is a great read.
posted by rebekah at 5:06 PM on December 8, 2013

Nift the Lean by Michael Shae and both Fafard and the Grey Mouser are in this vein. For more real-world, Raffles the Amateur Cracksman is a really good (and subtly corrupting) Theif/trickster, and the Lupin novels have some of this feel (as does the anime character Lupin III, although his character veers from heroic to trickster to really crass, depending on the writers).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:36 PM on December 8, 2013

You would enjoy Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat stuff.

Also, there's also an amazing bit in Cryptonomicon where someone argues quite effectively that Athena is, essentially, a trickster god and that her proteges all win by hacking the system somehow, be it a mirrored shield, a big wooden horse with a load of soldiers inside or diverting the Alpheus and Peneus through the Augean stables.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:46 PM on December 8, 2013

Ben Aaronovitch has a fair number of gods and godesses who are unhelpful at best in his Peter Grant books.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:02 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The hoodoo spirits of the crossroads are often tricksters...
posted by jim in austin at 6:06 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov fits pretty close to perfectly!

Satan ("professor" Woland) appears in 1930s Moscow to perform a black magic show with his gang, including a talking/walking cat with an affinity for vodka, chess and eating. Also a frequently naked witch, a trickster valet, and a fanged hitman.

I don't want to say much more for fear I'll give too much of the plot away but it's a classic and one of the best novels I've ever read.
posted by addelburgh at 8:15 PM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Haviland Tuf in George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging series of short stories is a sort of anti-trickster - he somehow fools everyone and gets his way by always telling the literal truth and acting as staid and boring as possible.
posted by moonmilk at 8:16 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World (NYT has the first chapter online) and Lewis Hynes's and William Doty's anthology Mythical Trickster Figures: Contours, Contexts, and Criticisms are very accessible overview of the history and definitions of the trickster archetype.

Both studies look at tricksters as characters who do more than play tricks. They escape binary categorization, cross boundaries, defy taboos, and generally fuck with whatever powers happen to be being. Their actions may bring about a cure for Lupus or Ragnorok - it's anyone's guess.

Each semester, I have my myth students read stories about Loki, Hermes, Anansi, Prometheus, and Coyote, along with sections from the two books above. Then then have to use these sources to draw parallels to modern characters. Over time, I've had to make Jack Sparrow, the Joker, and the Trickster from Supernatural (duh) off limits, but off the top of my head, I can think of the following recent examples: Dr. House, Hannibal Lector, Beetlejuice, Ferris Bueller, Tyler Durden, Q, Moriarty from Moffat's Sherlock, Lucifer in Gaiman's Sandman series, Barney Stinson, Neil Patrick Harris playing Barney Stinson, El-Ahrairah from Watership Down, Salvador Dali, and Donald Rumsfeld. I still haven't figured that last one out, but props for not being Jack Sparrow again.

I have collected tons of material on this topic, if you want any more information, but I think you'll get plenty to work from here.
posted by bibliowench at 8:22 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding Neil Gaiman's Sandman, where Loki himself makes a few appearances. Wikipedia specifies exactly where, but you may not want to click that link since it's pretty spoilery.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:50 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also adore Eugenides, and you can't go too wrong by going with a couple of the characters who influenced Megan Whalen Turner: Niccolo from the House of Niccolo series and Francis Crawford Lymond from the Lymond Chronicles, both by Dorothy Dunnett.
posted by yasaman at 10:22 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lucy (Lucifer in drag), from Not Wanted on the Voyage, Timothy Findley's anti-patriarchal re-telling of the Noah's Ark story, is one of my all-time favourite characters.
posted by erlking at 6:34 AM on December 9, 2013

Not exactly the same, but previously: Please-introduce-me-to-the-best-books-about-tricksters-clowns-or-mischief-makers
posted by yaymukund at 7:11 AM on December 9, 2013

General Malaise: "A little close to the nose, and you're probably already familiar, but the Egyptian god Set/h fits the bill.

In Shakespeare, both Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus and Puck from Midsummer's Night Dream come to mind.

Shakespeare puts such a character (to some extent) in almost every play. He's the villain himself in Othello, the titular anti-hero in Richard III, and the lead (Rosalind) in As You Like It.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:55 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Windom Earle from Twin Peaks; also (to some extent, and a less clear-cut example of the archetype) the protagonist of The Mentalist.
posted by rjs at 10:07 AM on December 9, 2013

In Shakespeare, I'd also suggest Prospero from The Tempest.
posted by rjs at 10:09 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

He's not a main character, but the Trickster episodes of Supernatural are consistently fantastic. Kij Johnson also has a great short story about trickster stories; it's reprinted in an anthology of trickster stories which I haven't read but which has a lot of authors I like in it.

You also might get a kick out of some of Kelly Link's stories-- they sort of have a trickstery air to them, I feel, though none of them are strictly about an archetypal trickster.

Oh, and you know about the Aly books by Tamora Pierce, right? George Cooper's daughter gets her own story and she's godtouched too.
posted by NoraReed at 12:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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