This paper discusses the image of the child hero as a “trickster” and uses many examples from various cultures.
Image of Children in World Literature The image of a child hero or “trickster” is seen in many cultures. This kind of role can tell a lot about how a culture acts and reacts to things. The idea of the child hero in stories written and told before the birth of Christ probably reflect the peoples beliefs that the child is the future, and therefore carries some sort of power or gift. For stories that were written after the birth of Christ, the child could reflect the idea stated above, or it could also be the peoples belief in an infant savior, that a child will make everything right again. Whether the story comes from before Christ or after, the one uniform aspect about these stories is that they are present in every culture, all around the world. The image of the “trickster” is also very prevalent in the different cultures. It is seen in many different fables and moral-based stories. “You cannot go against the Philistine, you are but a youth, and he has long been a man of war”(Metzger 145). This is what King Saul of Israel said to David when he proposed that he fight the Philistine warrior Goliath. The story of David and Goliath is quite possibly one of the oldest child hero stories. It was part of the Bible, in the Old Testament. In this story a young man named David proposes to the king of Israel that he fight and attempt to kill Goliath, the giant that had been plaguing Israel. The king agrees, however hesitantly, and David goes on to slay the beast using just a slingshot. While this story is not one that was made up, it still shows us that the ancient Hebrews believed in the fact that a child, or in this case teen, has the will and motivation to do the impossible. Staying on the eastern side of the world, we will next see examples of Russian stories. In the former Soviet Union, a lot of the time stories, books and other types of art were hard to come by. “In a broader sense, though, recent years have witnessed genuine cultural enrichment, as Gorbachevs glasnost policy permitted the works of previously forbidden writers, artists, and cinematographers to become accessible”(Grolier Multimedia). After the public was able to get at the mass of stories that had been kept from them, there was even more of an increase of books and other forms of art. The Russian people now had much more of an incentive to write. “In a certain village, not near, not far, not high, not low, there lived an old couple with one little son named Ivashko”(Wyndham 32). This is the line that begins the story of Ivashko and the Witch. This story takes place in a small village in Russia, and the main character is a small boy named Ivashko. Ivashko was a very independent boy who wanted to go of on his own and go fishing. He begged and pleaded with his parents, and finally they gave in. His father built him a canoe and off he went. Ivashko was doing well while he was fishing, but and one point was lured to shore by an evil witch. The witch grabbed him and took him to her house deep in the woods. She showed him to her daughter and they decided that they would eat him. At this point the witch left to get some of her friends. Ivashko seized this opportunity, and when the witches daughter went to sit down on a shovel in order to demonstrate to Ivashko how to do it, he through her into the fire. He then left and ran up a tree. The witch found him and started gnawing at the tree. Luckily for Ivashko, a flock of geese was flying overhead and one flew down to sweep him up. Just as he left the tree fell over on the witch and all her evil friends, crushing them. Ivashko lived happily ever after. This shows that in the Russian culture there is a presence of the child hero, and even shows the image of the trickster in the way Ivashko tricked the witchs’ daughter into showing him how to sit on a shovel. Ivashko is a hero in this story not only because he killed the witch, but because he rid the lake and the woods of the evil that kept most people from going there. Although this isn’t one of the newly released works in Russia, I think that the children’s stories, sometimes being all that the Russian people had to read that wasn’t corrupted by the government, made a great contribution to the development of the Russian culture and also had a great impact on many people. The image of the trickster is also very prevalent in different cultures. In the African culture the trickster comes to the forefront in many different folk tales and fables. He is usually used to teach a lesson or to show a moral. In most cases the trickster ends up getting the short end of the stick, but in the story I’m going to relate to you, Sungura and the Leopard, the trickster comes out on top. In the African jungle there lived a leopard. One day it started to rain, and fearing that he may lose his spots, the leopard decided to build a house. A short distance away, a rabbit (Sungura) had the same idea. Both chose the same spot to build a house. They both then started to go and gather wood. Each was adding to the same pile, but neither one knew that the other was also going to build there. They just thought that their ancestors had put the extra wood there. Leopard then went to get mud for the roof, and came back to find the house already framed. He attributed this to his ancestors and went on to finish the house. The two slept in the house that night not knowing that they were together. In the morning they found each other and agreed to build a small wall and share the house. After a while, Rabbit started a family. The noise got too annoying for Leopard, so he decided that he would kill them. Rabbit overheard and decided that it was time to play a trick on Leopard. He started having his kids cry for elephant meat. Leopard overheard this and got scared. He figured ” if he can kill an elephant then he can kill me”. So he left. He then saw a baboon, and was called foolish for believing the rabbit. Then he went back. He then overheard Rabbit say “I can’t believe that leopard listened to the baboon! What a fool!” (Knuston 19). Rabbit then had his children cry for Leopard meat, and when Leopard heard Rabbit say that he would go out and hunt some, he left for good. Rabbit now had the house all to himself. This is a tale that came out of the Ashanti tribe, and the point of it was to say that even if you are small, if you use your brain then you can prevail. “Ashanti artistic creations include a wealth of myths and tales…” (Miller 2). Tales such as this one are seen throughout the African tribes, and the trickster is usually the one who prevails. The Ashanti, as well as the other tribal Africans, believed that it was more important to use ones mind and to be able to think quick than to just rely on brute strength all of the time. Using the image of the trickster also served as an educational tool. It displayed to the young children that they can get out of a conflict without fighting. It also taught them that pride was bad, because Leopard only wanted the house so that he wouldn’t lose his spots, and Rabbit, the winner, only wanted the house so he could raise a family. European culture also has its fair share of trickster tales in Aesops Fables. In these stories, which were said to have been written by a Greek man named Aesop some time in the sixth century BC, there is always a moral for an ending. While Aesops Fables is more of a collection of stories from different, unknown authors, Aesop gets the credit for it. The most commonly used “trickster” in the fables is the wolf. He is shown to be very sneaky and mean, but also very smart. In many of the tales he is successful as the trickster, and his main objective is usually to eat some sort of defenseless animal. One example of the wolf as a trickster is the story of the “Wolf and the Crane”. In this story, the wolf has a bone stuck in his throat and asks a crane to use its long neck to pull it out. The wolf offers a reward, so the crane reluctantly accepts. After the bone is out the crane asks for her reward, and gets this reply, ” You can go about boasting that you once put your head into a Wolf’s mouth and didn’t get it bitten off. What more do you want?” (Santore 3). this showed the cunningness of the wolf whereas he got the service that he needed for nothing in return. One fable where the trickster didn’t come out on top was in the fable entitled ” The donkey in the Lion’s Skin”. In this case the trickster was a donkey. He found a lion skin, dressed himself in it, and then went around scaring friends. When he neighed in happiness at his triumph, the fox heard him, and exposed him for what he was. Here the fable taught the moral that if one is to be a trickster, then make sure you are very careful about it. Probably the most famous tricksters and child heroes ever to be introduced to the world were Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. These two boys, created by Mark Twain, spent their entire lives tricking people for different reasons and also becoming heroes by getting themselves into many interesting adventures. In the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer the two boys end up capturing a criminal and bringing him to justice before the whole town. Another example of Tom Sawyer’s heroics was when he and a girl were trapped in a cave, and when she passed out from exhaustion he took it upon himself to get her water and keep her alive. In the end they were rescued from the cave and Tom was given accolades as a hero.