cover image Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art

Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art

Lewis Hyde. Farrar Straus Giroux, $26 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27928-8

Invoking examples from trickster mythologies around the world, poet and essayist Hyde (The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property) asserts that trickster figures, in ancient and modern times, ""keep our world lively and give it the flexibility to endure."" The trickster is ""the creative idiot, the wise fool, the grey-haired baby, the cross-dresser""; in Native American myth, he's Coyote and Raven; in India he's Krishna; in West Africa he's Eshu; in China he's the Monkey King; and in Europe he's the Greek Hermes and the Norse Loki. For Hyde, he embodies the disruptive imagination that inspires modern artists like Pablo Picasso, John Cage, and Marcel Duchamp, encourages ""border crossers"" like Frederick Douglass and ""unties the tongues"" of writers like Maxine Hong Kingston and Allen Ginsburg. Hyde begins the book with a little wink (""The first story I have to tell is not exactly true, but it isn't exactly false, either"") and clearly fancies himself a bit of a trickster, but he rarely takes readers by surprise. He politely retraces his argument in each section, taking us through all his impeccable and fascinating research. Though his thesis lacks urgency, Hyde's etymological flourishes, his charming translation of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes and his wonderful collection of epigraphs along with the lusty exploits of Coyote will keep the general reader on his toes. (Jan.)