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The Tricksters, Margaret Mahy

April 30, 2011

The Tricksters Book blurb

Three strange men stood behind Harry.  They could have touched her if they had wanted to. ‘You’re alon on Teddy Carnival’s beach,’ said one, not asking a question but sounding as if he were giving her a warning.

As the Hamiltons gather for a celebration at their remote beach house, Carnival’s Hide, the warm, chaotic family atmosphere is thrown into turmoil by the unexpected arrival of three sinister brothers. Are they truly descendants of Teddy Carnival who drowned there many years earlier, or are they merely tricksters conjured from Harry’s wild imagination?

Like a misummer night’s tide, the strangers sweep through their lives, with irreversible consequences…”

[Back cover, Mahy, Margaret (2001) The Tricksters.  Collins Flamingo: London.]

The Tricksters First Page

“1. A Possible Ghost

Any Christmas visitor looking for Carnival’s Hide dropped down from the hilltops by a shingle road that elbowed its way across farmland already scrawled over by sheep tracks.  The visitor would have to open a five-bar gate, close it carefully behind him and trust the crinkling road a little further still.  Then, enclosed in a great, green, summer bouquet of poplars and silver birches, the steeply pitched, iron roof of the house, also green, rose up like a magician’s sign.

At the sight of it Harry’s blood skipped a little.

‘Something is waiting!’ she had cried to her mother many Christmases ago as the green peak came into sight.  This time she had nothing, but she knew the waiting was still going on.

Jack Hamilton, her father, sitting at the wheel of a car that seemed to be finding its own way down the hill, looked at the house, and then sideways at his guest, ….’

[p9, Mahy, Margaret (2001) The Tricksters.  Collins Flamingo: London.]

Themes in the novel

FAMILY; To be cont…

Possible directions for study/questions to apply to The Tricksters:


  • The difficulty of being part of a family is something Mahy keeps coming back to in her novels.  What kind of family is this? How does this family shape the story being told? Could the same story be told within a different social network?
  • How does this family see itself? How does the narrator portray their relationship(s)? Does the family’s knowledge of itself change over the course of the novel?
  • From the first page, many a reader will be wondering about ‘naming.’ Harry is a boy’s name, but this is a girl – it’s hard not to notice and pull up short, even if only briefly, but it begs the question, What is in a name?
  • How does the story of Ariadne (and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth) connect to the plot/structure of this novel?
  • Consider the mirrors and reflection imagery in the novel… how does this support the telling of this story?
  • How is ‘what is normaldisrupted in this novel? (eg. what is established as normal (family christmas, etc.) and how is this changed to create the story?) What is the result of this change? Are the results culturally acceptable in New Zealand society?
  • Is there a strong sense of place in this novel?
  • How important is the setting to the story told?
  • Are these characters strong/weak?… (how do you know this?) How does this shape the story being told? If strong – where do they get their strength from; if weak – where does this come from?
  • What would Freud say?
  • How does Mahy move between fantasy and reality in this novel? The story plays out at Christmas time in a family setting – what remains of this premise and what is made fantastical? Why?
  • ‘Local history’ contributes to the narrative… what role does local history or ‘History’ have in adolescent development?
  • Mahy’s stories often interact with traditional tales… This novel is titled ‘The Tricksters’ … do the characters/plot connect in any way to traditional Trickster stories?
  • What role do the Carnival brothers play in this story?
  • How are the Carnival brothers characterised?
  • Where do the main characters’ strengths/weaknesses come from/lie? Are they social, physical, internal, familial, communal, economic, spiritual, etc.? Do the characters have imagination, ‘inherent’ abilities, ‘taught’/’learned’ skills, ‘personalities’ to draw on…?
  • Mahy always uses language in a very playful, intricate fashion… what language does she make use of in this novel and how does it help tell this story? shape these characters?
  • Margaret Mahy has written a number of essays and been interviewed numerous times.  In these she gives her opinions on various things… what does Mahy herself say about these themes (story, family, the supernatural, etc)? Does this inform one’s reading of The Tricksters?
  • To be cont…
Meanwhile, look at other blogs on Margaret Mahy and her work etc.

Texts that invite comparison

Basically forthcoming…

Other Margaret Mahy books, …

Bernard Beckett’s Malcolm and Juliet?

There’s a list of NCEA level 1 books online in which The Catalogue of the Universe is included… perhaps there is something that links all these… still thinking…

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please do!

Mahy’s The Tricksters: a History

Awards won:  

None that I know of…

Publishing History:

First published by J. M. Dent & Sons, Orion Children’s Books (1986), the book is now published by CollinsFlamingo, an imprint of Harper Collins.

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • Winters, Sarah Fiona.: “Aliens in the landscape: Maori space and European time in Margaret Mahy’s fiction.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly (33:4) 2008, 408-25. (2008)
  • Lovell-Smith, Rose.: “On the gothic beach: a New Zealand reading of house and landscape in Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters.” In (pp. 93-115) Jackson, Anna; Coats, Karen; McGillis, Roderick (eds). The gothic in children’s literature: haunting the borders. London; New York: Routledge, 2008. pp. viii, 254. (Children’s literature and culture, 43.)
  • Collins put out a set of teaching notes for Margaret Mahy
  • Hale, Elizabeth; Winters, Sarah Fiona (eds). Marvellous codes: the fiction of Margaret Mahy. Wellington: Victoria UP, 2005.
  • Babette Puetz  ‘Carnival’: More than a jolly name: Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters and Mikhail Bakhtin’s Carnival Theory ‘ Papers: explorations into children’s literature (freely available download)
  • Elliott Gose ‘Fairy Tale and Myth in Mahy’s The Changeover and The Tricksters.’  Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 1991, pp. 6-11
  • Anna Lawrence-Pietroni  ‘The Tricksters, The Changeover, and the Fluidity of Adolescent Literature.’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 21, Number 1, Spring 1996, pp. 34-3
  • Christie Wilkie-Stibbs The Feminine Subject in Children’s Literature
  • A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Fiction, by Anna Jackson, Geoffrey Miles, Harry Ricketts, Tatjana Schaefer, and Kathryn Walls (Victoria University Press: Wellington). This work considers a variety of New Zealand YA texts from a thematic point of view and references are scattered throughout.
  • there’s quite a bit of academic criticism that’s been done on Margaret Mahy’s oeuvre (much of which would inform a reading of The Tricksters) – but I need to suss it out more (26 April 2011).
  • There are also a number of interviews and reviews around the place (see HarperCollinsPublishers, for example).
  • Margaret Mahy lesson plans (freely available download).

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy

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