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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

Muriel Gray’s novel explores the Trickster figure of Native North American mythology by placing this character in the late 20th century. The protagonist, Sam Hunt, is a Native American man whose encounters with the Trickster help and hinder his survival within dominant white society. The Trickster can adapt at will to diverse circumstances, often through assuming disguises. Its essential nature is to make mischief by deceiving those it encounters, both for its own benefit and to aid the unfortunate. Gray emphasizes the harmful aspects of the Trickster’s intentions and behavior.

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In her fictional treatment, the Trickster has been imprisoned in Alberta, Canada for nearly 100 years. It manages to escape and, using various disguises, begins to murder its enemies and random targets. At the same time, Sam Hunt, a Kinchuinick man, starts having blackouts. The author draws a parallel between his ambivalent attitude toward his Native identity and the Trickster’s changes in identity.

Sam, who works on the grounds of a ski company, is married to a white woman; they have two children. One of his burdens is the legacy of his shaman great-grandfather, who was partly responsible for incarcerating the Trickster. Even more problematic, he had been blamed for causing the death of several workers during railroad tunnel construction. Sam’s grandfather, also a Kinchuinick, continued the family’s shaman tradition. The great family tragedy, however, was that Sam’s father, an alcoholic, had killed his own father and abused his son. In his effort to escape and rebuild his life, Sam not only left the reservation but rejected his Native heritage. He even changed his last name from Hunting Wolf to Hunt.

These steps helped him avoid but not resolve his inner conflicts, which seem to be fueling the Trickster’s homicidal urges. The dreams that his son has, which connect Sam and the Trickster, imply that Billy has inherited shamanic gifts. Another elderly shaman comes forward to aid them in the struggle against the Trickster, which Sam must ultimately face alone and, in conquering it, resume his Native identity.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477

InThe Trickster, Muriel Gray uses the structure of the supernatural horror story to probe issues regarding Native North American identity in the twentieth century. The experiences of the novel’s protagonist, Sam Hunt, crystallize the problems of Native North Americans living in white society and general concerns about the ramifications of cultural assimilation.

The trickster, a creature mentioned in many tribal mythologies, is notorious for adopting disguises in order to deceive its victims. Although legends of the trickster often portray it as mischievous, Gray presents it as a malevolent meddler in conflicts of interest between Native North Americans and white society. The novel opens with the accidental liberation of the trickster from Wolf Mountain, a stronghold in the Alberta province of Canada where it has been imprisoned for nearly a century. In the guises of a number of different people, the creature embarks upon a rampage of gruesome murders, all of which coincide with blackouts experienced by Sam Hunt, a member of the Kinchuinick tribe whose ambivalence toward his tribal heritage is mirrored in the trickster’s shifting identities.

To all outward appearances, Sam is an easygoing man who is content with his job as a grounds groomer for the Silver Ski Company and his role as husband and the father of two children. Sam, however, is still struggling to deny his family’s history, which encapsulates the plight of Native North Americans in the twentieth century. Sam’s great grandfather, a Kinchuinick shaman, helped inter the trickster in 1907, but was blamed by a railroad magnate building a tunnel through Wolf Mountain for the deaths of several workers. Sam’s grandfather continued the family’s shaman tradition on the tribal reservation but was murdered by his own son, Sam’s father, an alcoholic who mercilessly abused Sam. Sam fled the reservation and repudiated his Kinchuinick heritage by shortening the family name from Hunting Wolf to Hunt and marrying a white woman.

As events force Sam to confront his past, he realizes that he still wrestles with many unresolved conflicts regarding his heritage. These conflicts are fueling the trickster’s murder spree. More important, Sam’s son Billy is having dreams and visions about the trickster’s hold on his father, which suggests that the family’s shaman trait lives on, despite Sam having turned his back on it. When Calvin Bitterhand, the shaman who was charged with instructing Sam in his grandfather’s skills, contacts Sam, Sam grudgingly accepts responsibility to help lay the trickster to rest.

The novel ends with a final battle between Sam and the trickster in the tunnels of Wolf Mountain. The battle recapitulates the experience of his great grandfather. Its resolution has as much to do with Sam coming to terms with his past and re-embracing the culture he has spurned as it is does with the exorcism of an evil spirit.

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