Saturday, March 9, 2002

Redressing the Balance and the Boundaries – Wheel of Time Tricksters

By Linda

Tricksters are ambivalent creatures: fools, yet prime movers; everyman and yet remarkable:

Trickster is at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes others and who is always duped himself...He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both. He possesses no values, moral or social...yet through his actions all values come into being.

- Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology

The trickster can be a hero, but in the next step just as easily a villain, since he is amoral and lacks restraint. Many real world mythologies have trickster figures; with typical examples being Hermes in Ancient Greek myth, Loki of Norse myth, Coyote and Raven of North American myth, Eshu of African myth, and Lemminkainen of Finnish myth.

The Wheel of Time series has several trickster figures: dark, light and all shades in between. This essay will look at their characteristics and compare them with tricksters from folklore and mythology.

Mat Cauthon is the prime trickster, but he has a number of satellite tricksters around him: his dark opposite Fain/Mordeth, his mentors Thom and Jain, his thieving guide Vanin, his manipulators the Aelfinn and Eelfinn, and the embodiment of Aes Sedai trickery, Verin.

The characteristics of a trickster are:

  • They are outsiders,

  • They have no way of their own, no set pattern of behaviour,

  • They are messengers linked with the Underworld,

  • They disregard the rules,

  • They get covered in dirt,

  • They use tricks to get what they want

  • They have lucky accidents,

  • They are thieves, and

  • They are fools, or are often duped and made to look foolish.

  • These will be discussed in turn.


    Trickster figures aspire to enter a social group which excludes them. They want to leave behind their origins for something else, something they see as better. Consequently, they feel outsiders. Hermes, the Greek god of luck, thieves and merchants, for instance,

    explains to his mother Maia that he doesn’t believe they should go on living obscurely in a cave. They deserve better.

    “Why should we be the only gods who never eat the fruits of sacrifice and prayer? Better always to live in the company of other deathless ones—rich, glamorous, enjoying heaps of grain—than forever to sit by ourselves in a gloomy cavern. And as for honour, my plan is to have a share of Apollo’s power. If my father won’t give it to me I intend to be—and I mean it—the Prince of Thieves.”

    If his father won’t give him honour and wealth, Hermes will steal them.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    His ambition coupled with his lack of allegiance to the group provides inspiration for breaking the rules:

    Hermes has a method by which a stranger or underling can enter the game, change its rules and win a piece of the action. He knows how to slip the trap of culture.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Loki, the Norse trickster and companion of the major Norse gods Odin and Thor:

    also appeared as the enemy of the gods, entering their banquet uninvited and demanding their drink…He is counted among the Aesir but is not one of them.

    - Encyclopaedia Britannica

    Loki is not properly one of the Norse gods, he is an outsider.

    Likewise, Mat is too much of the rogue or vagabond to be taken seriously by others. He often does things on a whim and has appeared uninvited at court in Caemlyn, Tear and Ebou Dar.

    Soon after leaving the Two Rivers Mat becomes uninterested in returning to his humble life there. He wants wealth and the pleasure and comfort—and if he would admit it, the rank—it can bring:

    He did not think he could settle for the farm again; the cows and the sheep certainly would not play dice.

    - The Dragon Reborn, A Storm in Tear

    “Sometimes I think she believes I’ll marry a nice girl and settle down on my father’s farm.”
    “Some men would not find it an objectionable life,” Thom said quietly.
    “Well, I would. I want more than cows and sheep and tabac for the rest of my life.”

    - The Shadow Rising, Strings

    If he never saw the inside of another barn it would be too soon.

    - The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

    The above quotes show that his rejection of his former life grows stronger as the series progresses. Mat is able to gain wealth and status by changing the rules of chance and the rules of convention, be they of society or war.

    Outside boundaries but trying to break in, a trickster lives on the edge:

    Poised on the threshold... Hermes can move in either direction, or, more to the point, act as the agent by which others are led in either direction. It is this double motion that makes Hermes at once an enchanter and a disenchanter. In his enchanting phase, he often begins by going after the border guards, for if they have their wits about them he cannot operate...

    This is only the beginning of his enchanting/ disenchanting power, too. For once the border is breached, Hermes will deliver a soul into whatever world or mental state lies across the line. He carries his charges into the Underworld [see painting right] or out of it, into dreams or into wakefulness, into mythologies or out of them, into foreign countries or back home.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Mat brings people to/from the infernal Otherworld of the Finns, summons the shades of Heroes from the Underworld of Tel’aran’rhiod, and becomes a folk hero of legendary proportions. He is a talisman for his army who trust him and his cunning tricks to win the day and ultimately bring them home. He has tried to charm border guards in Tar Valon, Ebou Dar and Caemlyn and has used unexpected methods in Tear and the *Finn’s Otherworld to enter or leave. Mat has spent fair stretches of time variously poised on the thresholds of marriage, nobility, war and death. All things he protests he doesn’t want.

    Only an outsider will break barriers, due to their dissatisfaction with their assigned lot and their disregard for convention. A trickster must charm or enchant as well as cause disruption; otherwise he will be outcast even further. At well-guarded boundaries tricksters have to be skilful at deception if they are to proceed. They are unwelcome guests that have to talk their way in or sneak in, as Mat did for Rhuidean and in Caemlyn, Ebou Dar and Tear. Mat was even unceremoniously thrown out of the Aelfinn’s land when he outstayed his welcome.

    Noal is a perpetual tourist from a dead country, an outsider observing and writing about foreign societies, and Thom is a wandering vagabond minstrel outlawed from his country. Both enchant listeners with tales to break down barriers and collect information.

    Vanin is a vagabond who moved around a lot in a time when most people stay in one area all their lives:

    an Andoran who had lived in Maerone but ranged wide on both sides of the Erinin. Vanin had protested he was a stableman and sometime farrier...

    - Lord of Chaos, Heading South

    He might protest, but he mostly lives outside the law.

    The Aelfinn and Eelfinn are outside the main world, but desire access to souls from it, and man three main thresholds—the two twisted doorway ter’angreal and the Tower of Ghenjei—to trap these souls.

    Verin was a double agent—and double agents are always outsider—permanently on the threshold between good and evil. She was a moral outsider since she was too stained to be of the Light, yet betrayed the Shadow to the Light. It was part of her trick to appear foolish to disarm those she would manipulate or spy on.

    Fain is another moral outsider; he is twice apostate, having abandoned the Light and also the Shadow, and is now outside the Pattern. That is about as outside as you can go. While Fain is of this time, Mordeth is from outside it, from an earlier epoch. As a joint entity, they have talked their way into the presence of rulers such as Turak, Elaida, Niall, and Agelmar, even though they were not wanted. Due to his failure to charm, Fain was outcast further, and his enchanting took the form of dark power.

    No set pattern of behaviour

    Tricksters imitate and with good reason. The North American trickster Coyote:

    seems to have no way, no nature, no knowledge. He has the ability to copy the others, but no ability of his own...

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    While he is exploitatively dependent on other animals to guide/inform his actions, Coyote is not confined to a pattern of behaviour or instinct and so is more independent and versatile.

    What conceivable advantage might lie in a way of being that has no way? A first answer might be that whoever has no way but is a successful imitator will have, in the end, a repertoire of ways.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    This is an advantage; it allows the trickster to adapt to a changing world. At any one time, there is usually someone’s behaviour a trickster can imitate or adopt which will improve their situation.

    Mat is the best example of this: he uses memories of people’s lives and the books they wrote or read as well as what he has gleaned from Aludra to give him his repertoire. Her bitterness in Towers of Midnight shows she knows she was used. In a world changing from one Age to another, it is a huge advantage to instantly access more first-hand battle experiences than any one person could possibly have.

    Thom is able to imitate the conventions and manners of any nation he is passing through to gain social acceptance and find out what is going on.

    Quite possibly Verin copied the Black Ajah signal to a sister out of curiosity and thus had to choose between joining the Shadow or death. She then aped their attitudes in order to stay alive and gather information on the Shadow.

    Messengers linked with the Underworld

    Tricksters can move between heaven and earth and between the living and the dead

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    and many of them do so. The chief trickster figure in North American folktales, Coyote:

    travels to the Land of the Dead. Coyote’s daughter has been killed and Coyote follows her to the spirit world; he is allowed to try to carry her back to the world of the living provided that he not look behind him on the way.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    On the Pacific north coast Raven replaces Coyote as the trickster:

    In an Ingalik tale from the lower Yukon, Raven becomes the lord of the land of the dead, a detail that appears nowhere else on the continent.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Eshu the trickster figure of African Yoruba mythology carries messages for the other gods, but can’t be trusted. He is called “Heaven’s Revered Gateman” but also “Leather-Clothed Troublemaker (Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World).

    Lemminkainen is a trickster and charmer of women from the Finnish Kalevala. He journeys to Tuonela, the land of the dead, to shoot the Swan of Tuonela and claim the daughter of Louhi, mistress of the Northland, in marriage.

    However, Lemminkainen is killed and his body tossed in the river and dismembered. It is recovered and reassembled by his mother (see right) and he is restored to life.

    Ennobled as Prince of the Ravens, Mat has had dealings with the *Finns of the Otherworld, including being given dead men’s memories, and rescuing Moiraine from their infernal Otherworld—at the cost of his eye and Jain’s life. In one story, the trickster Coyote lost an eye in a gambling game. Mat threw his dice to decide what direction to take. Their way in and out of where she was held involved apparently doubling back but ending up elsewhere.

    Mat is king of the dead (see Mat essay) as this legend about Mat emphasises:

    "Well, there's this rumor that says you stepped into death's domain to challenge him and demand answers to your questions," Guybon said, looking more embarrassed. "And that he gave you that spear you hold and foretold to you your own death." Mat felt a chill. That one was close enough to the truth to be frightening.

    - Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

    Apart from having dead men’s memories, he has witnessed the living being dragged into the Underworld and tricked the denizens of a town poised on the threshold of life and death; and has married Tuon, who also has Underworld associations (see Tuon essay).

    He was killed by lightning channelled by Rahvin (who has a demonic name as many of the Forsaken do, see Names of the Shadow article, and is therefore associated with the Underworld), but was restored to life when Rand balefired Rahvin and undid Rahvin’s most recent actions.

    When Mat brought a message from Elayne to Morgase, he also a heard a “message out of the Shadow” that Rahvin wanted Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve killed in Tear. In the Otherworld of the trickster *Finns Mat was given messages of the future by the Aelfinn as well as messages from the past in the form of memories by the Eelfinn.

    And Mat carried the most looked-for/anticipated message in the Wheel of Time; that from Moiraine to Thom—a message from the Otherworld if ever there was one. In Salidar Egwene said that Mat and his band constituted a message from Rand to the rebel Aes Sedai (Lord of Chaos, Possibilities). To the exasperation of many readers, Mat spent a whole book refusing to read his message from the Aes Sedai trickster Verin and also took even longer to ask Thom about his message from Moiraine.

    Thom enchants people into telling him information and reports it to Mat, or to Elayne and Nynaeve. In an Orpheus-like role, Thom’s playing helped Mat—King of the Underworld—keep calm enough to concentrate and recall his visit to the Eelfinn and thus find the way out.

    Noal also accompanied Mat to the Otherworld of the *Finns. As Jain, he brought a message from the Underworld to the Ogier:

    Before he left, he told a curious tale which he said he meant to carry to Tar Valon. He said the Dark One intended to blind the Eye of the World, and slay the Great Serpent, kill time itself.

    - The Eye of the World, Remembrance of Dreams

    As a travelogue author, Jain is also a messenger about the foreign cultures of the Wheel of Time world; his books will inform generations about distant lands.

    Vanin helped Mat and Elayne fight off the gholam, a creature from the Underworld, in Ebou Dar. He most unusually survived it. A reader of territory both known and unknown, he uncovers conditions by scouting and brings messages of them to Mat, including one from dead Tinkers written in blood which has yet to be explained:


    - Lord of Chaos, Heading South

    Verin is the ultimate messenger from the Underworld, delivering a book that exposed nearly all the Black Ajah, and any other Darkfriends she discovered, as well as everything she learned of

    the prophecies they believe, the goals and motivations of the separate factions.

    - Towers of Midnight, A Visit From Verin Sedai

    Moridin’s statement to Graendal in Towers of Midnight that the Light doesn’t know the Shadow’s prophecies is wrong, thanks to Verin. Egwene acted on Verin’s information, but it is not mentioned whether she showed them to anyone. Apart from this one book, Verin’s room was also full of encoded notes:

    One day she would have to write out the cipher she used in her notebooks—a lifetime's worth of them filled cupboards and chests in her rooms above the White Tower library.

    - The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

    Fain carried the message of the location and identity of the three ta’veren to the Underworld of Shayol Ghul and while delivering that information may have received the Dark One’s intentions:

    "After that, Fain was taken to Shayol Ghul again, and his mind was—distilled." Rand's stomach turned over at the tone in the Aes Sedai's voice; it told more of what she meant than the grimace that flashed across her face. "What he had . . . sensed . . . was concentrated and fed back. When he entered the Two Rivers the next year, he was able to choose his targets out more clearly. Indeed, more clearly even than the Dark One had expected. Fain knew for a certainty that the one he sought was one of three in Emond's Field...It may be that the Dark One, in doing what he did to Fain, impressed some part of himself on the man, perhaps even, unknowing, some part of his intent.”

    - The Eye of the World, More Tales of the Wheel

    Moiraine intended to question Fain further to obtain more information on the God of the Underworld but he escaped. Mordeth is a messenger from the past who became evil by being prepared to do anything to combat the Shadow, the Underworld.

    Disregard the rules

    Tricksters are often regarded as oafish or uncouth due to their disregard for the rules of proper behaviour. Coyote was taught the trick of taking his eyes out and throwing them into a tree so he could see for miles and then calling them back, but was warned not to do it more than four times in one day. He thought the rules wouldn’t apply to him in his own land and he could get away with it but his eyes didn’t come back the fifth time. So he obtained two mismatched eyes, one from a mouse and then one from a buffalo (Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World). After foolishly not following the rules, he was made to look like a fool (see below for more on tricksters as fools).

    What are the rules?

    "Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not blaspheme. Do not gamble. Do not pick things up in the street. Behave yourself. You should be ashamed...” Whoever has the wit to break these rules, whoever puts the guards to sleep, slips across the threshold and floods the sacred meadows with contingency, whoever steals the boundary stones of clear distinction, that person strips design of its protective glamour. Hermes does all this and by it he disenchants the world into which he was born.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Mat has broken all these rules regularly; in fact he is notorious for doing so. It’s not that his upbringing was faulty; he says in Towers of Midnight, A Teaching Chamber that he was taught manners, but he refused to adopt them.

    He muses on rules in Towers of Midnight:

    Likely, the day the Light made the very first man, and that man had made the first rule, someone else had thought to break it. People like Elayne made up rules to suit them. People like Mat found ways to get around the stupid rules.

    - Towers of Midnight, Boots

    Tricksters find rules restrictive; rules prevent these outsiders from getting what they want:

    Trickster is the creative idiot, therefore, the wise fool...Where someone’s sense of honourable behaviour has left him unable to act, trickster will appear to suggest an amoral action, something right/wrong that will get life going again.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    You and I know when to speak and when to hold the tongue, but Old Man Coyote doesn’t. He has no tact. They’re all the same, these tricksters; they have no shame and so they have no silence.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    The danger isn’t really that shamelessness will destroy the cosmos, it’s that the cosmos will destroy the shameless.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Danger indeed; without Mat’s roguery, the Shadow cannot be defeated (more on his role of Fool in the Mat essay, Fool and Joker essay and below). And Mat can be as tactless and shameless as any amoral rogue. He kept making jokes at the expense of the unfortunate living dead in Hinderstap, saying:

    The more tragic things get, the more I feel like laughing

    - The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

    and he had no qualms about taking the goods he had won ‘fairly’ from them.

    Mat doesn’t know the rules of the dice game Koronko’s Spit in Towers of Midnight, Into the Void but that doesn’t stop him from playing, partly because he ignores rules on principle, but also because he knows his luck will bend the game his way anyway.

    At the end of Towers of Midnight, he refused to marry Thom and Moiraine. After all, he didn’t want to be married himself. Contrast this (lack of) action with that of Perrin, who married Morgase and Tallanvor at their request. In fact, Perrin pressed them to marry at one point.

    Thom broke the rules in Cairhien first by ‘breaking cover’ and getting involved too openly with Rand’s group, and then by killing King Galldrian in retribution for Dena’s death. He removed a corrupt king, but started a civil war, which set in motion many critical events of the end of the Age.

    Noal broke the conventions of marriage when he left his wife to go adventuring for years at a time, and she died alone. Unlike most tricksters he is deeply ashamed of this.

    Vanin is a scruffy anti-noble master horseman and thief. He didn’t have a steady job until he joined the Band, and doesn’t acknowledge rank, which is against the rules of the prevailing highly stratified society. His tendency to spit publicly exemplifies his disregard for proper social order and behaviour, which is to stay put, work, and respect those born above you.

    Verin broke both the Light’s and the Shadow’s rules. In joining the Shadow she broke the cardinal rule by committing apostasy and treason, and in betraying the Shadow for the good of the Light, she broke a rule—an oath—thought inviolable. All to stay alive, and it is a wonder she lasted as long as she did. To achieve this, she has, as she said, broken many customs in her time (The Path of Daggers, Prologue).

    All Aes Sedai break rules when it suits, even those of the Three Oaths if they can justify it to themselves. Before they reach the shawl Aes Sedai are given some idea of which rules they can break and which not:

    "Besides, you must remember Akarrin's lecture two weeks ago. 'You must know the rules to the letter,'" she quoted, "'and live with them before you can know which rules you may break and when.' That says right out that sometimes you can break the rules."

    - New Spring, Practice

    It also says much that Aes Sedai have a legal structure with such extensive and contradictory rules that they can use to ‘justify’ many actions to themselves to do what they intend. Both Aes Sedai and Black Ajah follow the letter of their Oaths and not the spirit. It’s why they are tricky.

    The Eelfinn also follow the letter and not the spirit of their bargains with humans. They twist the rules, the conditions, of their bargains to breaking point to do so. Even the physical laws of their world do not follow ‘convention,’ and this is a warning to adventurers that these beings are tricksters.

    Fain willingly broke the law against joining the Shadow and with Mordeth’s encouragement broke free of the Shadow’s rules too. He is now so insane that he follows no rules at all, but acts entirely on personal whims which may be self-defeating. Mordeth broke the rules of morality and ended up out-Shadowing the Shadow in his efforts to destroy it.

    This exchange about the *Finns’ “rules”:

    "And this place has rules."
    "Rules have to make sense, Mat," Noal said.
    "They have to be consistent," Mat said. "But they don't have to follow our logic. Why should they?"

    - Towers of Midnight, Gateways

    shows that tricksters don’t follow society’s rules; they have their own which others find hard to follow or accept.

    Covered in Dirt

    One rule of proper behaviour is to be clean when possible but tricksters don’t follow the rules, which is why they are often dirty.

    Thom’s comment:

    "Light, Mat," he said. "You look like you tangled with a briarstich patch and came out sore."

    - Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

    is a reference to the trickster Br’er Rabbit of the Uncle Remus stories who manipulates the fox and wolf into throwing him into a thorny but impenetrable briar patch so he can escape them. Mat had just escaped the gholam and been told the Aes Sedai were leaving when Thom made his remark.

    The more formal the occasion, the scruffier Mat seems to be. In Winter’s Heart, Tylin’s entire staff, it seems, exclaim over Mat’s dishevelled appearance because he has turned up grubby before. This time he had a legitimate reason, however, which is why he was so offended that he refused to clean up before entering Tylin’s (and Tuon’s) presence:

    Not to mention a much better chance of getting all the mud off him before he had to face Tylin. She had made her displeasure markedly known the last time he came back dishevelled, after a tavern brawl...
    He intended to get himself clean before Tylin saw him—he did—but as he limped through hallways hung with the flowered tapestries Ebou Dari called summer-hangings, for the season they evoked, four serving men in the Palace's green-and-white livery and no fewer than seven maids suggested he might want to bathe and change his clothes before the Queen saw him, offering to draw him a bath and fetch clean garments without her learning of it...
    "I heard today that if my Lord comes back one more time looking like he's been dragged in the street, the Queen intends taking a switch to my Lord's person."
    And that was the stone that broke the wagon clean in two.
    Flinging open the doors of Tylin’s apartments, Mat strode in, sailed his hat across the width of the room. . .

    - Winter’s Heart, Pink Ribbons

    This should have indicated to Tuon that Mat is a rejecter of rules, an outsider and trickster, as Tylin and her courtiers knew very well, but instead Mat’s future wife correctly deduced that he had been set upon.

    For an audience with Queen Elayne, where he wanted to drive a hard bargain over financing and manufacturing the Dragons, Mat

    tugged on a sturdy brown coat. The buttons were brass, but other than that, it was free of ornamentation. Made of a thick wool, it had a few holes from arrows that really should have killed him. One of the holes had a bloodstain around it, but that had mostly been washed out. It was a nice coat...
    Mat felt at his cuffs. He could have used some lace. If Lopin had been here, he would have set out the proper outfit without Mat even asking. A little lace was good for a man. Made him look presentable.
    "Is that what you're wearing to visit the Queen, Mat?" Talmanes asked.
    "Of course it is." The words left his mouth before he had a chance to think about them. "It's a good coat." He walked over to take Pips' reins.
    "Good for sparring in, maybe," Talmanes said.
    "Elayne is the Queen of Andor now, Mat," Thom said. "And queens are a particular lot. You should show her respect."
    "I am showing her bloody respect," Mat said, handing his spear to one of the soldiers, then climbing into the saddle. He took the spear back, then turned Pips so he could regard Thom. "This is a good enough coat for a farmer."

    - Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

    It may have helped his cause by entertaining or disarming her. Had he arrived with a show of wealth or strength, she might have driven a harder bargain. The proverb “Dress poor when you want a small favor, and fine when you want a large one” (Crossroads of Twilight, When To Wear Jewels) fits here. Perhaps Mat subtly indicated to Elayne that he was asking for a small favour.

    Like Mat, Vanin is naturally scruffy:

    His coat appeared to have been slept in for a week; it always did, even an hour after one of the serving women ironed it.

    - A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic

    Vanin has the dirty habit of spitting on the ground when he hears or speaks of something he doesn’t like, just as Mat spits on his hand when making a bargain. Spitting reflects the earthiness (dirtiness?) typical of tricksters.

    Vanin scratched himself while talking coarsely with an Aes Sedai to show her he cared nothing for her rank. Noal is also scruffy like Vanin, although not as uncouth. Both men want to pass unnoticed or disregarded.

    Thom is more the magician type of trickster and is not as grubby as the other Wheel of Time tricksters. Or rather, he can be scruffy when necessary to blend in, but polishes himself up very well, as we saw at his audience with Elayne:

    How had the man so perfectly transformed from an old scamp of a gleeman into a royal courtier?

    - Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

    Another who deliberately sets out to be unassuming is Verin. She is untidy, rumpled and ink-stained. Underneath, she has the ultimate dirt—on her soul.

    The Aelfinn and Eelfinn are not dirty, but they and their quarters smell bad:

    Mat remembered the stink of this place, that musty staleness. Now that he knew what to look for, he could smell something else, too. The musky stink of an animal's den. A predator's lair.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    The Aelfinn are clothed in wrappings like rags; the Eelfinn wear leather straps (probably human) that Mat found repulsive. Both species are unclean in the way they openly inhale a person’s emotions.

    Fain is dirty to the nth degree as befits an evil trickster:

    The stooped shape that shuffled hesitantly out into the open looked more like a pile of filthy rags than a man. Rand heard murmurs of disgust around him. The ragged man paused on the far edge of the street. His cowl, torn and stiff with dirt, swung back and forth as if searching for something, or listening.

    - The Eye of the World, Weaving of the Web

    He could not eat, except what he could scavenge while he hunted you—beetles and lizards snatched while he ran, half-rotten refuse dug from midden heaps in the dark of night...
    I do not believe I have ever met someone so abject and debased, yet at the same time so foul. I feel soiled from touching him, and I do not mean for the filth on his skin. Soiled in here." She touched her breast. "The degradation of his soul almost makes me doubt he has one. There is something worse to him than a Darkfriend."

    - The Eye of the World, More Tales of the Wheel

    Tricksters are dirty to show disregard for convention, but Fain’s external filth reflects his inner vileness accurately. He is an example of what evil can reduce someone to.

    Trick To Get What They Want

    In a position of weakness, and wanting what the privileged insiders have, tricksters resort to winning what they want through trickery:

    [The trickster] knows how to slip through pores, and how to block them; he confuses polarity by doubling back and reversing himself; he covers his tracks and twists their meanings; and he is polytropic, changing his skin or shifting his shape as the situation requires.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Tricksters pride themselves on their ability to recognise a trick or a fellow trickster:

    Never choose the card a man wants you to. Mat should have realized that. It was one of the oldest cons in creation.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    Mat is a shady character—literally since he is king of the dead, the summoner of the shades of the Heroes and the possessor of dead men’s memories. He smuggled Tuon and three Aes Sedai (two of them former damane) out of Ebou Dar and hid in plain sight near the city while the Seanchan assumed that whoever took Tuon would have put as much distance between him and them as possible.

    In Hinderstap, Mat played the role of the trickster traveller in the Stone Soup folk tale, using the villagers’ greed to obtain a wagonload of food after they had refused to sell him any.

    For his planned raid on Trustair he worked up elaborate background stories and then conned a Warder into lending his fancloth cloak (The Gathering Storm, Legends). Tricksters are often good at disguises and Mat does passably well at them, but being so strongly ta’veren does reduce their effectiveness. Those extreme twists of the Pattern are giveaways.

    In Towers of Midnight, Mat became a more primordial trickster with simple tricks like painting an Aes Sedai’s mouth blue with a herb. Far more serious were his tricks to get the better of the *Finns, where he had to take a route that appeared to double back on itself:

    He heard screams and screeches from the dark room. That was one trick used up; they would be expecting nightflowers now.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    Foxes have a reputation for trickery and Mat is a fox. Tylin said so, and so do the prophecies (see here); plus he was marked as one by his ring.

    The Eelfinn are fox-like beings outside the main world who use tricks to “legitimately” kill people who enter their realm.

    The Aelfinn were for questions; the Eelfinn granted requests. But they twisted those requests, and took whatever price they wanted.

    - Towers of Midnight, Gateways

    It glided around the three of them, speaking softly.
    "Come now," it said. "Can we not speak with civility? You have come to our realm seeking. We have power to grant what you wish, what you need. Why not show good faith? Leave behind your implements of fire. Those only, and I promise to lead you for a time."
    Its voice was hypnotic, soothing. It did make sense. What need had they of fire? It was light enough with that mist.

    - Towers of Midnight, Gateways

    Mat cursed, lowering his spear and striking at the Eelfinn, which moved across the ground on all fours. But his blade passed right through it, as if it were smoke.
    Was it an illusion? A trick of the eyes? Mat hesitated long enough for another creature to snatch the dice and leap back toward the shadows.
    Something sparkled in the air. Thom's dagger found its mark, striking the creature in the shoulder.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    "They control the darkness," Noal said. He stood with his back to Mat and Thom, wary. "Those yellow lights are to distract us; there are breaks in them and sheltered alcoves. It's all a trick."
    Mat felt his heart beating rapidly. A trick? No, not just a trick. There was something unnatural about the way those creatures moved in the shadow.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    And then the doorway was in front of them, appearing like a striking adder. It had not been there a moment before. The rim of the opening was intricately carved wood, with an impossible pattern of weaving vines that seemed to double back on one another and make no sense.
    All three pulled to a halt. "Mirrors," Noal said. "I've seen it before. That's how they do it, obscuring things with mirrors." He sounded unnerved. Where did one hide mirrors in a bloody straight tunnel?
    They were in the right place; Mat could smell it. The stink of the Eelfinn was strongest here. He set his jaw and stepped through the doorway.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    What the *Finns do is not all smoke and mirrors like a magician’s trick; but no one is really sure how much is a trick and how much is due to alien abilities. The *Finns want it that way, and it’s not really relevant, since it’s how they catch people.

    They nearly caught trickster Mat. He paid a heavy price to escape them with Moiraine: his eye and Jain’s life.

    Mat had made his demands carefully this time, rather than spouting out whatever occurred to him.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    The Eelfinn promptly found the hole in Mat’s requests and agreed to the Bargain.

    None attacked, and Mat began to feel right good about himself once they reached the other side of the room. He had beaten them. Last time, they had gotten the better end, but that was only because they had fought like cowards, punching a man who did not know the fight had started.
    This time he had been ready. He had shown them that Matrim Cauthon was no fool.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    Tricksters are often fools, Mat more than most. This time he foolishly did not stipulate that the Aelfinnn could not attack him. Only after replaying the tricks the Eelfinn played during their last encounter and understanding their “rules” did Mat realise that they had previously given him the desperately sought-after way out.

    "Looks like the game can be won after all," he said. "Tell the foxes I'm mighty pleased with this key they gave me.”

    - Towers of Midnight,The One Left Behind

    As fellow trickster Mat said:

    The Eelfinn were liars and cheats, but they seemed to be liars and cheats like the Aes Sedai.

    - Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    Mat is right to liken the *Finns to Aes Sedai. Both are the type of tricksters who blur truth and falsehood:

    Tricksters sometimes speak in a way that confuses the distinctions between lying and truth-telling or undercuts the current fictions by which reality is shaped.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    In fact they are renowned for it.

    Both groups also have similar parallels. The Aelfinn and Eelfinn are comparable to elfin folk, as their names indicate, and to aes sidhe; and Aes Sedai are derived from aes sidhe, the fairy folk. Aes sidhe were considered dangerous trickster figures and care was taken to appease them—or at least not offend them. Aes Sedai are described early in the books as tricksome by a particularly reliable and astute character, Tam al’Thor:

    ”You see, lad, Aes Sedai are tricksome. They don't lie, not right out, but the truth an Aes Sedai tells you is not always the truth you think it is.”

    - The Eye of the World, Tellings of the Wheel

    Davram Bashere agrees:

    “Aes Sedai are tricksome; no man can know what they'll do or why."

    - Lord of Chaos, Lion on the Hill

    People high and low treat Aes Sedai with regard and wariness and are careful not to offend them.

    Verin is the ultimate Aes Sedai trickster: she tricked the tricksters, both good and bad.

    Mat had not seen Verin since he had been freed of the Shadar Logoth dagger and had his memories filled by the Eelfinn, and with a fresh mind, he immediately recognised that she was conning everybody except him (The Gathering Storm, The Death of Tuon). The two tricksters felt a kinship:

    This time, studying her, her mannerisms seemed too exaggerated to him. As if she were leaning on the preconceptions about Browns, using them. Fooling people, like a street performer taking in country boys with a clever game of three-card shuffle. She eyed him. That smile on the corner of her lips? That was the smile of a jackleg who didn't care that you were on to her con. Now that you understood, you could both enjoy the game, and perhaps together you could dupe someone else.

    - The Gathering Storm, The Death of Tuon

    and set to to make a deal, which Verin thought would go her way, but she underestimated Mat’s fear and loathing of channelling and thus Aes Sedai. It is amusing that he who is full of tricks and magical luck shuns the “tricks” that real magic performs.

    Verin wears a mask of obliviousness and inconsequence so she is overlooked or disregarded while she spies and manipulates events.

    What better way to hide than as an unassuming Brown, constantly dismissed by the other sisters because of your distracted, scholarly ways?

    - Towers of Midnight, A Visit from Verin Sedai

    Verin and Vanin are both disregarded because of their weight and their innocuous facades, Verin’s being prattling and Vanin’s sleepy.

    Vanin managed to extract information from an Aes Sedai (women notoriously unforthcoming with information) about mountain passes, which helps him move secretly from one country to another.

    When Hermes is around, his gifts reveal the presence of mind. Not some hidden structure of mind, necessarily, but more simply some wit that responds and shapes, the mind on-the-road, agile, shifty in a shifting world, capable of recuperation, and located especially at the spot where roads, “parallel...and contrary”, converge.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Mat, Thom and Noal have this sort of mind. Thom is mostly a magician type of trickster, but he is also skilled at forgery and disguises.

    Until his recent powers developed, Fain’s tricks have mostly taken the form of traps for Rand; for example, at the Waygates in Cairhien and at Far Madding. His most powerful tricks seem to be against the Shadow: his capture of a Myrddraal, and now his lethal touch and the way he can re-corrupt (?) Trollocs. This may be an indication of Mordeth’s influence.

    Fain is a very dark trickster, but arguably also an unlucky one, since his traps have always failed. His luck mostly consists of not having been caught by a Forsaken or Isam—negative luck. On the slopes of Shayol Ghul, Fain/Mordeth’s luck ran out. Mat tricked the dark trickster into thinking that Mat was as vulnerable to his lethal mist as everyone else, and lured him close enough to kill. This is a replay of the legend of the fox playing dead on the battlefield so that it can kill and eat any ravens that come too close to it.

    Lucky Accidents

    Hermes was a god of re-allotment, an outsider who improved his prospects with trickery and who is applied to by his worshippers for the same. (Another trickster figure who reallotted resources from the rich to the poor is Robin Hood, a parallel of Mat, see Mat essay.) Hermes was also the patron of lottery, the lucky event which can reshape the receiver’s future.

    As a ta’veren, Mat twists the Pattern his way, plus he has extraordinary luck, more so than Perrin, or even Rand. Luck is a leveller and it is thus probably no coincidence that Mat is the most egalitarian of the main characters. He takes whatever resources he needs from rich (eg in Tear) or poor (eg in Hinderstap) alike. The Greek god of luck and deals, Hermes:

    “happened on a turtle and got himself an endless source of wealth”; that wealth is neither kin gift [such as inherited wealth] nor immortal theft but a third thing, created in a manic moment out of change and mental insight. Like any such combination of technique and accident it seems, therefore to come out of nowhere and, at first, to have no clear place in the order of things. It seems a bit shady, like the sudden fortunes of oil barons in the early twentieth century, like the sudden fortunes of software developers more recently.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Mat’s ideas of developing gunpowder weapons—a result of technique and seeming accident—are against the natural order of things and appear to come out of nowhere as far as the Third Age culture is concerned (although Jordan Foreshadowed them carefully to the reader, see Mat, Fireworks and Bellfounders article) and his abundant gambling gains are also against the natural order. Mat’s extreme luck is another thing that appears out of nowhere and is definitely shady:

    When they say that Mat has the Dark One’s own luck, he can get as mad as he wants to, but in a way it is true.

    - Robert Jordan at DragonCon 05

    Tricksters are amoral and ambivalent—and even their luck is too.

    With both [Hermes and Eshu], of course, lucky-find and unlucky-find lie close together. Hermes is a generous thief, Eshu a rich kleptomaniac; both finding and losing belong to their ambivalent sphere... Hermes does steal but he’s regularly called “luck-bringing,” a “ready helper”.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Certainly the Shadar Logoth dagger was a lucky-unlucky find for Mat.

    Verin’s bad luck in having to become a Darkfriend to stay alive was made to yield good, in that she used the opportunity to gather and report information on the Shadow. She made the most of an accident. Tricksters turn things around.

    We have too little information on Noal’s/Jain’s travels to know what lucky or unlucky experiences he had. Likewise, Ishamael’s version of his dealings with Jain may be lies. Jain’s discovery of the Shadow’s plot to blind the Eye of the World and his refuge in the Stedding may be lucky “accidents”. Or not, if they were Ishamael’s doings.

    Thom was lucky to survive the attack of the Myrddraal in Whitebridge and Vanin was also probably lucky to have survived the gholam in Ebou Dar, considering the difficulty Mat had with the creature.

    The *Finns are perhaps lucky that people are again visiting their realm from the main world. In early times, they managed to kill a lot of visitors and/or fleece them of useful items—their ‘treasure’ or ‘lucky finds’. They are ‘unlucky’ that Mat eluded them at the last, but probably lucky that Moridin did not do any more damage to their world or them apart from destroying the doorway from their realm to Tear while he was looking for Lanfear (Towers of Midnight, The One Left Behind and A Rabbit For Supper).

    Fain was a lucky accident for Mordeth, who wanted a body, and found a Darkfriend so traumatised by his treatment that he wanted to kill the Dark One. A committed Darkfriend would not have been compatible with Mordeth’s “kill the Shadow at all costs” attitude. Mordeth was a lucky accident for Fain because he gave Fain knowledge he needed to stay alive and hopefully get ahead in the game. Fain/Mordeth was lucky that Machin Shin listened to him, but he has been very unlucky in his attempts to trap Rand.

    Fain has developed unexpected and mysterious powers:

    All this directs us back to an earlier point: from Loki to Eshu, if tricksters are around, the gods themselves must suffer from uncertainty. If heaven itself is not immune from chance, then an accidental find must sometimes reveal something other than heavenly will or hidden purpose.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    It is particularly so with Fain—who was outside the Pattern—a true wild card.

    Mat is the Light’s joker (a wild card, see Fool and Joker essay) and used his extreme twists of chance to bring enough uncertainty to change Fortuona’s plans and derail the Shadow’s plans.


    If their luck isn’t in, tricksters resort to theft:

    Sometimes it happens that the road between heaven and earth is not open, whereupon trickster travels not as a messenger but as a thief, the one who steals from the gods the good things that humans need if they are to survive in this world.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    The theft of cattle is a disenchantment, for with it Hermes, like Loki and Monkey, brings time and death to what was formerly timeless and immortal.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    So often the major deed of a trickster is to bring death as well as change and technology to the world. Hermes is a god thief who brings the dead to the Underworld: Mat the gambler thief of luck is king of the dead (see Mat essay). His introduction of gunpowder as a weapon is a technology literally brought death and change to the world. Fain is creating some monstrous beings. Verin brought death to the Darkfriends she uncovered during her years of spying. At the cost of her life she stole from a god the identities and plans of his followers and strategic information and delivered it to his enemies.

    Some tricksters such as the Greek Titan Prometheus and the Polynesian demi-god Maui steal fire from the gods. Mat is a parallel of such tricksters (see Mat essay) but he hasn’t stolen fire, just used Aludra’s invention of matches and gunpowder for weapons to be fired upon the Shadow.

    What is the trickster’s motivation for their trickery and theft?

    Behind trickster’s tricks lies the desire to eat and not be eaten, to satisfy appetite without being its object.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Mat has a large appetite for pleasure and money and a fear of dying in battle, Verin has an appetite for knowledge and feared being executed. They have few qualms about theft to satisfy their appetite while avoiding their fears.

    Mat 'stole' Tuon, Daughter of the Nine Moons, and was crucial in safely restoring her to the Seanchan (Knife of Dreams, Under an Oak), a parallel of the trickster Coyote replacing the Moon after it was stolen. The theft that so changed Mat’s fate, his fortune, was that of the Shadar Logoth dagger, which he still lusts for at times. Thom is more a forger than a thief, but Verin stole intelligence about the Shadow.

    It is in the matter of thieving that Vanin comes into his own:

    Vanin could steal a hen pheasant's eggs without disturbing her on the nest, though it was unlikely he would fail to put her in the sack too. Vanin could steal a horse out from under a nobleman without the nobleman knowing it for two days. Or so his recommenders claimed in tones of awe.

    - Lord of Chaos, Heading South

    They had advance scouts out, of course, but none of them were as good as Vanin. Despite his size, the man could sneak close enough to an enemy fortification to count the whiskers in the camp guards' beards and never be seen. He'd probably make off with their stew, too.

    - The Gathering Storm, On a Broken Road

    The *Finns ‘steal’ lives or souls and any powerful or valuable objects they can.

    Mordeth stole Fain’s body, and together they stole the Horn of Valere. Mordeth did have a treasure mound but had to abandon it. Fain tends to find minions rather than objects. Mat finds both.

    As Shaisam, Fain/Mordeth’s aim was to kill Rand and the Dark One and steal the Dark One’s lair and function for his own:

    He was not reborn yet, not completely. He would need to find a place to infest, a place where the barrier between worlds was thin. There, he could seep his self into the very stones and embed his awareness into that location. The process would take years, but once it happened, he would become more difficult to kill…
    This place would become his. But only after he had feasted upon Rand al'Thor, the strongest soul of them all.

    - A Memory of Light, Tendrils of Mist

    But he was out-tricked by Mat.

    Another life of inquiry might begin by noting the odd fact that tricksters are ridden by lust, but their hyperactive sexuality almost never results in any offspring, the implication being that the stories are about non-procreative creativity...

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Most of our trickster figures have no children; their ‘children’ they create are objects such as weapons, songs or books. The races of the *Finns have obviously reproduced and now trickster Mat is going to become a father. As a mother Empress figure, Fortuona’s fertility has out-trumped Mat’s trickster characteristics. Trickster is child-like, and how can a child have children? This is a strong indication that Mat has grown through his marriage.


    Since they are captive to their desires and ambitions, tricksters can be fooled or gotten the better of by other tricksters, or by Fate. The Fool is outside the order of society, just as the Fool card is outside the run of trumps in a Tarot card deck, and Mat (and Fain too for that matter) plays the role of the Fool (see Fool and Joker essay). Mat is duped by the Eelfinn; and his wife Fortuona, who wants to tame him, is linked with Fate... (see Tuon essay).

    Mat in his turn duped the *Finns with his “instruments of fire,” and then he escaped them by using the very item they had given him previously:

    "Looks like the game can be won after all," he said. "Tell the foxes I'm mighty pleased with this key they gave me.”

    - Towers of Midnight, The One Left Behind
    Wannabe deity Shaisam was duped into thinking that Mat was dead, and so approached close enough to be killed. Verin often deliberately appears foolish. Noal and Thom do not, despite their efforts to be inconsequential. Vanin, the best scout, is shown up by an academic map-maker.

    Alhuin described Darkfriends as:

    Darkfriends are fools. Filthy fools, but fools.

    - The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft

    Fain, the renegade Darkfriend, is filthy body and soul, and completely insane; fools in the real world often have mental illnesses. His dirt also marks him as a trickster.

    The underdog who ends up lording it, trickster is a scruffy rogue beloved despite, or probably because of, his defects:

    He is ruthless, greedy, and a glutton and often outwits his opponent through a calculating suaveness combined with sheer lack of scruples.

    - Encyclopaedia Britannica

    Trickster does what his audience would love to do themselves but don’t dare; just don’t rely on him, he doesn’t like meeting expectations.

    Since balance is such a strong theme in The Wheel of Time, if there is such a figure as an anti-trickster it would be the Ogier, who are restrained, decorous, and careful, and always keep even their lightest word.

    The Wheel of Time world closely follows the pre-modern Western world-view:

    In the Indo-European tradition, the order of sacrifice and the order of the cosmos were meant to reflect one another, and, therefore sacrifice and theogony belong together.

    - Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World

    Rand and the Land are one and Rand’s sacrifice will save mankind from the Shadow and Heal the Land from its blighting influence.

    The trickster refuses to perform such a sacrifice and rebels against the order of cosmos. Lewis Hyde identifies three possible endings to the Trickster’s story:

    a) The trickster is eventually domesticated. This is what Tuon intends for Mat. Thom’s story seems to be heading this way.
    b) The trickster is killed, destroyed or bound. This is how Jain’s and Verin’s story ended (although in their cases with the added pathos of a noble or redemptive sacrifice) and is the likely fate of Fain.
    c) The trickster stays on the threshold so that their story has no final ending but consists of a sequence of tales like those of Coyote. This could be the fate of the Aelfinn and Eelfin, the Snakes and Foxes, of whose story we only see a few chapters. The Foxes are a direct link with Coyote, and one even stole Mat’s eye. Mat, too, wants to remain like Coyote “going along”.

    Jordan, master of sleight of hand as he was, intended the entire Wheel of Time series to follow this Pattern. The Wheel of Time turns...

    Written by Linda, June 2011 and updated December 2013


    Anonymous said...

    how long do these pages get?

    well going by this i am a trickster not sure if this a good thing or not but it works for me.

    playing the fool is useful sometimes makes it easy if people think your a moron to make them do stupid things while thinking they are making you look stupid

    Scooter said...

    Great work as always, Linda. Thanks again for your spectacular editing skills! I enjoyed that quite a bit.

    Linda said...

    Thanks very much Scooter. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    And yes, Anonymous some of the articles are long. This one is not the longest by any means.

    Vic said...

    You said the *finns were "probably lucky that Moridin did not do any more damage to their world or them apart from destroying the doorway from their realm to Tear while he was looking for Lanfear." Can you expand on that? Do you have a theory somewhere involving Moridin and the *finns?

    Linda said...

    Vic: Moridin went to the *Finns' world to search for Lanfear. Moiraine related that she heard a scary guy saying to them that Moiraine was not the one he wanted. Mat found that the doorway in Tear to the *Finns' world had been destroyed. I assume it happened on the occasion of Moridin's visit. The *Finns don't get many visitors.