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Shennue: The Trickster God

Shennue, god of mischief, mayhem, and illusion is the second god readers meet in the Incarn Saga. He is a wonderful example of the trickster, a recurring and popular archetype in mythology and folklore. Clever and intelligent the trickster breaks rules and resorts to mischief, treachery and deceit either as a defense or to attain personal goals. However, this character is not inherently evil and his meddling can have positive results.

I have always been fascinated by immortal trickster gods whether Hermes/Mercury in Greco-Roman mythology, the Norse gods Loki and Odin, or ancient Egypt's Set. On the day of his birth, Hermes stole fifty oxen from his half-brother Apollo's favorite herd. What better way to identify one's true nature than one's initial act as a baby. Hermes continued to cause mischief for his own amusement without intending to harm his kin; he simply enjoyed a good prank. Yet this trickster was not defined only by his mischievous actions for he also served as a messenger god for his fellow Olympians. Case in point, in the 1997 Disney animated movie Hercules, Paul Shaffer is the voice for a scrawny Hermes with winged helmet, sandals and scepter who obediently follows Zeus's commands. In this movie, the god's trickster side is simply overlooked.

Loki is a different story. In Norse myth, he is a villain-like god who repeatedly causes mayhem within his pantheon for his own entertainment. This trickster is darker than his Greco/Roman counterparts. To Nordic people, Loki embodied everything that they viewed unmanly. In a time when gender roles were highly distinct, Loki not only cross-dressed but also changed gender. In one tale, this shapeshifter became a mare which gave birth to Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse. Loki also broke vows and acted dishonorably. Even his children were deemed monstrosities: Fenrir, the giant wolf: Jormungandr, the world serpent: and Hel, the corpse goddess of death.

As a result of his continued disrespect and unobstructed verbal abuse of his fellow gods, Loki eventually crosses a line an is sentenced to be chained in a cave for eternity. The details of the story are grim, and I will not mention the here. Although trapped for eons, at Ragnarok (the Apocalypse), it is foretold that Loki will escape and lead an army of giants to attack the gods in a final battle where everything in existence will be destroyed.

Compared to Hermes, Loki might be categorized as evil. Once again, this is not always the case. In comic books and movies, Loki often portrays a more pleasant persona. In the 1994 movie, The Mask, Jim Cary's character, Stanley Ipkiss, stumbles upon Loki's mask in which the spirit of the god fuses with the wearer and intensifies aspects of the wearer's nature. When Ipkiss puts on the mask, he becomes a comically romantic prankster with a do-good mentality. Yet when the villain, Dorian Tyrell, steals Loki's mask and wears it, the darker side of the god emerges.

Loki also appears in Marvel comic books and movies as the superhero Thor's archnemesis, fitting for a trickster god persona. Yet in the movie renditions, Loki, portrayed by Tom Hiddleston, shifts from villain to anti-hero. Hiddleston's version is not the tongue-in-cheek jester which Carey portrays so well. Instead, he is extremely smart and cunning, although circumstantially glum. Clearly not the hero, this Loki gains the sympathy if not the hearts of those who watch him struggle to find his place in an inhospitable universe.

Yet there is a second trickster god in Norse mythology, one almost never associated with this archetype--Odin, the Allfather. Though traditionally portrayed as king of gods and a great warrior, Odin uses deception for his own purposes. Unlike Loki, however, Odin only deceives those whose wisdom he seeks. His goal is to know everything, and he would do anything to achieve knowledge. Though still fitting into the trickster god category with his many disguises and ruses, Odin's cunning never finds the limelight as does Loki's.

In Egyptian mythology, Set is the animal-headed deity of desert, disorder, storms, violence, and foreigners. Clearly, he was not looked upon kindly in the majority of his tales. Set murdered his brother Osiris, the king of gods, in order to usurp his throne, only to have his nephew, Horus, overthrow him. Nonetheless, Set's good nature was manifested when he assisted the sun god, Ra, to combat the serpent of Chaos.

When developing the Incarn saga, I knew I needed a trickster god in the Theriomorph pantheon and so Shennue was "born." Although not inherently evil, he would be an entity with a predisposition to cause trouble, especially for Issaura. Like Hiddleston's Loki, Shennue is, in part, the way he is, due to his past, which will be revealed as the series progresses. His animal form is the jackal, giving nod to Set's jackal-like form. Lean and cunning, this animal works well with my version of Shennue. Yet with an immortal who is compelled to disrupt order, what sort of ill ripple effects will come from his tampering?


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