Monday, October 3, 2011

Tricking out Your Characters, a la Fred, George, and Peeves

I've covered a few examples of archetypes on this blog, such as with Threshold Guardians and the Forbidden Door. Today, I'd like to look at an archetype that, in the write hands, can be one of the funnest to portray. Tricksters.

Tricksters are usually the center of fun, mischief, and mayhem in the story. They delight in upsetting the status quo or in “taking the mikey” out of other characters or the hero. They present the hero with a challenge unlike other characters as they question authority and promote chaos--encouraging the hero to question as well.

For tricksters in Harry Potter, we need look no further than Fred and George Weasley. They fit the Trickster description to a Wesley sweater embroidered T. Their spiritual counterpart is Peeves, which is why it was so delightful at the end of OotP, when Gred and Forge passed their mischievous torch to Peeves, and he seized it wholeheartedly.

   "If anyone fancies buying a Portable Swamp, as demonstrated upstairs, come to number ninety-three, Diagon Alley-- Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes," [Fred] said in a loud voice. "Our new premises!"
   "Special discounts to Hogwarts students who swear they're going to use our products to get rid of this old bat," added George, pointing at Professor Umbridge.
   "STOP THEM!" shrieked Umbridge.
   "Give her hell from us, Peeves."
   And Peeves, whom Harry had never seen take an order from a student before, swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute as Fred and George wheeled about to tumultuous applause from the students below and sped out of the open front doors into the glorious sunset.

Like many fans, I find Peeves and the twins’ antics totally amusing, and I fully understand why Dumbledore keeps Peeves about the place. In holding your reader's attention, it’s important to have someone kick things up a bit, to foster a constant element of surprise. Plus, there's the all-important trickster element of being able to say and do what no one else will:

“Oh potter, you rotter, oh what have you done,
You're killing off students, you think it's good fun.
  (Peeves, from Chamber of Secrets)

Without the Trickster upsetting the status quo, life would not only be duller, but the hero’s path more difficult. Tricksters provide aide for the Hero, if only indirectly. Not only can they poke the hero’s flaw (oh Potter you Rotter) quite painfully, but by showing clearly a different mindset, an opposing world view, an alternate way of being, they enable the hero to do the same. As Ginny says, when you’ve hung around Fred and George for a while, you start believing anything is possible.

JKR magnificently uses her Tricksters to not only upset the status quo, but to propel her hero onward in his quest. Without Fred and George, Harry would definitely not have discovered as many secrets about Hogwarts and his father.
   "This, Harry, is the secret of our success," said George, patting the parchment fondly.
   "It's a wrench, giving it to you," said Fred, "but we decided last night, your need's
greater than ours
."
   "Anyway, we know it by heart," said George. "We bequeath it to you. We don't really
need it anymore."
   "And what do I need with a bit of old parchment?" said Harry.
   "A bit of old parchment!" said Fred, closing his eyes with a grimace as though Harry
had mortally offended him. "Explain, George."
   "Well... when we were in our first year, Harry-young, carefree, and innocent -"
   Harry snorted. He doubted whether Fred and George had ever been innocent.
   "Well, more innocent than we are now-we got into a spot of bother with Filch."
   "We let off a Dungbomb in the corridor and it upset him for some reason -"
   "So he hauled us off to his office and started threatening us with the usual -"
   "--dentention--"
   "--disembowelment--"
   "--and we couldn't help noticing a drawer in one of his filing cabinets marked Confiscated and Highly Dangerous." ...
   "It's not as bad as it sounds, you know," said George. "We don't reckon Filch ever
found out how to work it.
He probably suspected what it was, though, or he wouldn't have
confiscated it."
   "And you know how to work it?"
   "Oh yes," said Fred, smirking. "This little beauty's taught us more than all the
teachers in this school
."
   "You're winding me up," said Harry, looking at the ragged old bit of parchment.
   "Oh, are we?" said George.
   He took out his wand, touched the parchment lightly, and said, "I solemnly swear that
I am up to no good
."

Seriously, who else besides Fed and George would ever think to use that particular sentence as a password? It is through that Marauder's Map that Harry discovers not only passages into and out of the school, but the secrets to his father's friends and the truth of his betrayer.  It is also through this map that ultimately Harry discovers the link between Draco and the Room of Requirement -- a link that allows the entry into Hogwarts of Death Eaters at the end of Half-Blood Prince, and parents and friends to fight against Voldemort at the end of Deathly Hallows.

When, at the end of Deathly Hallows, Harry and friends and the reader as well are suffering from the loss of Fred, Tonks, Lupin, and all the others, when our hearts are too heavy to end on a positive note, it is that trickster Peeves who says what no one else will and helps start the process of healing:

"We did it,we bashed them, wee Potter's the one.
And Voldy's gone moldy, so now let's have fun!"

Have you considered a trickster to help shake up your characters, to provide a different outlook on your world?  If so, how have you incorporated a trickster into your story?

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!) 

Peeves picture credit.

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