Recommended Reading: The Tricksters

If you consider all paranormal fiction to be fluffy and escapist, I highly recommend you read Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters.

Of course you’ll want the synopsis:

As the Hamiltons gather at their holiday beach house, Carnival’s Hide, for their Christmas celebrations, the warm, chaotic familty atomosphere is chilled by the unexpected arrival of three sinister brothers. Who are they? Where are they from? Only 17- year-old Harry, the middle daughter, is close to seeing the truth. Are these brothers her own invention, or are they truly descendants of Teddy Carnival who drowned there many years earlier? As the brothers gradually reveal their purpose, long-hidden family secrets are also unfurled. No one emerges unscathed.

The novel is, obviously, about Tricksters and magic of (mostly) a sinister sort. But there’s so much more going on in this story than the intrusion of magic on the every day world. Mahy looks at the family dynamic, and the assumptions we make about the people we are closest too. She looks at the roles we cast for each other–the shimmering glamorous pretty one, the quiet unassuming brainy one, the detached clueless athletic one, the steady perfect father, the serene comfortable mother. She looks at the ways we sometimes alter our behavior to better fit the images our families project on us. And she looks at the ways the truth of ourselves will always find an outlet, sometimes with upsetting consequences.

And, as the best Trickster stories do, she shows us what happens when Trickster energy enters our lives.  Because Tricksters aren’t just deified comic relief.  They are the personification of chaos, and they teach us that chaos is never truly random. The chaos sweeps through, disturbs us, sometimes frightens us, angers us–and occasionally shatters our lives irreparably. And in the wake of that shattering we learn truths we would never have discovered without it.

Mahy’s writing makes me long to visit New Zealand, where the novel is set. That’s a big deal, considering that I really hate to travel. Take this line, for example: “The ragged crests of the waves drew light into themselves and advanced in lines of broken luminosity across the dark surface of the harbor.” As my friend Elizabeth said, “Whatever. Showoff.”

I’ve loved Mahy’s work since I read The Changeover when I was in Junior High, and I think The Tricksters is one of her finest novels.

And for a final note, if you’re interested in reading more about tricksters, there’s a wonderful article on the subject in the archives of The Endicott Studio’s Journal of Mythic Arts


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