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The Jesters

The divine world in almost every myth is more often than not a sombre place - constant wars, politics and sacrifices give off a monotonous vibe. So what better way to lighten the mood by having a trickster around? Tricksters are usually ambivalent figures in myths - sometimes helping humanity, sometimes stirring up trouble and often ending up a fool by their own horseplay. On that note, today we take a look at some of the major trickster figures in various myths.

What does a bored homeless person who lives in marketplaces or crossroads do to have fun? Stir up trouble between the high class, divine gods and the mortals of course. And that is just what Eshu, the trickster in African myths is said to do. Bored with the immutable order of night and day? Just convince the sun and moon to switch houses and voila - instant disorder. Bored again? Go and prophesise to the High God that his yams are going to be stolen. Then at night creep into his house, steal the yams, take his sandals and set up his footprints near the garden. Then accost him of stealing his own yams - of course the retribution of having to act as the messenger of the gods from then on is worth the look on his face. Got a new friend, Ifa perhaps? Steal a rooster, slay it and when covered with blood scare the daylights out of him by running towards him screaming death is coming. Of course, the stealing of the chicken means angry villagers chasing you. But what the heck, the tricks are worth it right? And to top it off, now the villagers are making sacrifices in your name - just to keep you from troubling them. Now that's the life.

North American Coyote/Rabbit/Spider
A trickster in the form of a rabbit, coyote or spider is ubiquitous in North American myths. Whatever be the animal, the stories are basically the same. The humorous stories of their mischief, which sometimes leads to their own death, at times border on vulgarity. Curiously enough, after resurrection, these figures go back to their previous mischief, none the wiser. In one story, the mischief actually is helpful to humanity. The coyote tricks a Giant into believing that if the giant builds a sweat-bath, he will have the coyote's swiftness. Once it is completed, to convince the giant of his magical powers, the coyote breaks a piece of deer leg claiming it to be his own. The giant, in the darkness of the room feels the broken leg, and after some rituals the coyote now shows the giant his own leg, proving that he indeed is a magical healer. So as initiation, he breaks the giants' leg, and tells him to continuously spit on it. Thus leaving the child-eating giant spitting away at a broken leg as the coyote quietly slips away.

Fire Stealers
The theft of fire is a common deed of tricksters in many myths. Among the Cherokee, it was believed that after many failed attempts to obtain fire by birds and snakes, the water spider stole fire and brought it to humanity. In North America, the Raven plays the part of the fire thief. In this regard the tricksters often trick the gods and help humanity.

This article would be worthless without mentioning Loki, the Norse trickster. No wonder this guy was shown to have been the creator of the Mask; his tricks sometimes turn out to be literally deadly. Most of the time he had the cunning to solve apparently hard problems. When Thor's hammer was stolen, it was Loki who thought of disguising Thor as a bride to get the hammer back. But his tricks got him into trouble at times. One day he must have gone 'Bah, who cares about the ruler of Asgard' and thus Loki made some blind guy kill Odin's son Balder who had just been brought back from the dead. This led to him being bound to three rocks with poison constantly dripping on his body. As revenge, on Ragnarok, Loki is to lead the giants to war against the gods, and it his children Fenrir - the wolf and the World Serpent that ultimately kill Odin and Thor. MESS WITH HIM!

By Moyukh

Fevre Dream by George RR Martin

The genre of vampire fiction, sadly, brings to mind too many exploitative stories that tend to use the 'vampire' as a gimmick to add that 'fantasy' feel. There are very few writers out there who can be safely said to have done justice to the whole legend of the vampire. Bram Stoker with his Dracula and later on Anne Rice; after that a few Hollywood takes such as the Blade and Underworld series (some would even say the TV series Angel) have in their own right added to the allure behind this mythical monster.

George RR Martin is considered to be one of the most decorated and most successful fantasy authors out there, if not the most per se. After Anne Rice took the world by storm with her “Interview with the Vampire” in 1976, it was Martin who came out with his own Fevre Dream in 1982, a wholly different take on vampires. This was before Rice's “The Vampire Lestat” and far before “Queen of the Damned”.

Martin decided to set his vampire story in the 1800s, along the Mississippi River, during the heydays of the American riverboats. We are introduced to the character Abner Marsh, the owner of a steamboat company who recently lost all but one of his ships to a series of unfortunate events. Marsh is one singularly ugly human being but he makes up for it by being a very good steamboat captain and being completely focused on rebuilding his steamboat company. It also helps that he happens to be a man who sticks to his ideals and his personal code. A man of honour, so to speak.

When a mysterious offer from an investor by the name of Joshua York comes his way, he is initially very suspicious. Mostly because he's asked to meet this mysterious stranger at midnight. However, once he meets this Joshua York, he's struck by the power and grace of the man. He finds that he cannot possibly refuse this charismatic, seemingly young, individual. And York seems to be the answer to all his problems.

Together, Marsh and York set out to rebuild Marsh's ailing steamboat company. And with York's help, Marsh finally realises his dream of building the biggest, grandest and fastest steamboat of them all, the Fevre Dream.

What follows is a chilling story along the old devil river. Marsh has to deal with his own failings as a human being as he finds that there are forces much, much older than him in the world and far stronger. He has to on occasion compromise his own ideals and York, the mysterious pale individual who refuses to talk about his past and his odd quirks, tests Marsh's idea of friendship to the most extreme.

George RR Martin paints a story that is largely atmospheric. You are introduced to a world that still has slavery; that is still on the verge of true civilisation but has yet to lose its primal, feral edge. The descriptions of the Mississippi, the ever-winding river and how steamers and riverboats worked this river are all historically accurate without being stuffy and pedantic. Martin never over-writes with his descriptions but still manages to convey the world this story inhabits.

The vampires who take centre stage in this story are at times akin to the terrifying myths of old and at times like an exiled brother waiting at the door to be let in. There is a human angle to them that truly endears the reader but you are never made to forget their beastly natures as well. At the heart, this is a story about friendship and the lengths to which one would go to preserve it.

If you like fantasy that is intelligent, that is not exploitative, that is not a cheap gimmick, give this one a try. If you want to read something that is beautifully written and one which truly does justice to the vampire genre, then this is for you. This book was also recently adapted into a seven part graphic novel series.

Martin is one of the most celebrated authors out there who has taken nearly every accolade available to a fantasy author and more. And from next week onwards, Rising Stars will begin reviewing his masterpiece, the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.

By Tareq Adnan


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