Every Thursday, Twitter is filled with folklore thanks to the Folklore Thursday hashtag. This week’s theme is anti-heroes, tricksters and villains, in honour of Krampus (aka the babysitter’s friend).
This helpful creature (half goat, half demon) scoops naughty children into a sack over the festive season, offering a ‘stick’ to Santa’s ‘carrot’ (in some cases literally, by beating the children with birch twigs). If the children are less fortunate (or perhaps naughtier), they are eaten, drowned or transported to hell. Krampus is one of my favourite villians, offering a dark side to the more saccharine celebrations of Christmas.
However, my favourite villain is far from villainous in my point of view. Medusa is presented as a monster, but her snake-hair and petrification abilities are the result of being cursed after she was raped in Athena’s temple (and deemed ‘too beautiful’). Austin Hackney tells the full story eloquently in this wonderful video. It’s hardly surprising that Medusa was angry after the unfair punishment. It’s a tempting myth to revisit.
And then there’s the Trickster. The first one I encountered was Enid Blyton’s Brer Rabbit, who I loved when I was young, rapidly moving on to the Anansi stories that were the source of Brer Rabbit’s tales.
As a child, the idea of a small but smart rabbit (or spider) getting by on its wits and challenging bullies appealed to me. I need to revisit the Anansi stories as an adult, as I’m sure there’s a lot of subtext I missed as a child. Anansi is also thought to be the god of all knowledge of stories (after winning them from the sky god using his usual guile): as a writer, this could be why he appeals.
Whether anti-hero(ine), villain or trickster, Medusa, Krampus and Anansi show that these labels are fluid: the hero of a story depends on the perspective you take.