Trickster and Hero: Two Characters in the Oral and Written Traditions of the World

Harold Scheub. Univ. of Wisconsin, $29.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0299290740
Throughout history, storytelling has been a primary means through which cultures impart meaning to their members. Scheub, a professor of African languages and literature, identifies the two indispensable figures of storytelling and lays out what they represent in their duplicity and glory, and how they reveal a particular people's view of human nature. With painstaking and complicated explanations, he isolates the nuanced differences between three different but interconnected forms: myths (metaphorical narratives often used to suffuse life with meaning), tales (stories of varying significance and bearing on reality), and epics (a blend of the two that links past and present through reality and fantasy). All three forms utilize men and beasts of earthly and divine descent whose strengths and flaws help make sense of the human experience and the establishment of identity. Regardless of variations in content, the stories share common structural elements like repetition and imagery in service of a common theme: the universal attempt to attach meaning to life. Daunting in parts and occasionally academic, Scheub's examinations of both trickster and hero are thoroughly relatable, remarkable, and infuse age-old figures with renewed vitality. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 02/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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