Cover image for Clowns & tricksters : an encyclopedia of tradition and culture
Clowns & tricksters : an encyclopedia of tradition and culture
Christen, Kimberly A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Denver, Colo. : ABC-CLIO, [1998]

Physical Description:
xix, 271 pages : illustrations ; 27 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GR524 .C48 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



Clowns and tricksters are well-known figures in cultures throughout the world. In Western culture the clown conjures up images of carnivals and foolish characters in face paint. In non-Western cultures, clowns hold privileged status in religious ceremonies and origin myths. Tricksters on the other hand are identified as disobedient, obscene, disrespectful, funny, powerful, paradoxical characters in almost every culture in which they are found.

Author Notes

K'mberly Chr'sten

K'mberly A. Chr'sten 's adjunct 'nstructor 'n the Rel'g'ous Stud'es Department at Ar'zona State Un'vers'ty. She 's also a doctoral cand'date 'n the Rel'g'ous Stud'es Department at the Un'vers'ty of Colorado, Boulder.

Sam G'll

Sam D. G'll 's Professor of Rel'g'ous Stud'es at the Un'vers'ty of Colorado, Boulder.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Although they are archetypical figures and appear in nearly every culture, there are few reference works that attempt to give a broad overview of clowns and tricksters. The author, an adjunct instructor in the Religious Studies Department at Arizona State University, has produced a one-volume encyclopedia on these characters. Her introduction outlines the figure types and discusses how they vary from culture to culture. Also presented is a broad overview of scholarship in the field, ranging from the reports of seventeenth-century missionaries to the classic work of Franz Boas and Paul Radin, among others, and the work of such contemporary researchers as Barbara Babcock-Abrahams. The body of the encyclopedia consists of more than 150 lengthy A^-Z entries on multicultural tricksters and clowns from antiquity to the present. There are articles on Hermes and Isaahkawuattee (Crow Indian creation figure), Bugs Bunny and Ken Kesey. Each entry begins by noting the cultural origin of the character, as well as the geographic location. The entry then describes the character, details how the traits are displayed or manifested, and generally contains one or two stories demonstrating the character's personality. Important entries contain see also references to other entries on related topics, and each entry has one or more references that refer the reader to the detailed "References and Further Reading" list at the back of the book. In addition to entries on characters, there are also some entries on concepts, such as healing and ritual performance. An important feature of this volume is the "Cultural Topic Finder," which permits users to locate clowns or tricksters of different cultures by geographic region (Africa, Asia, Europe, Arabic countries, etc.) and then by individual country and cultural group. The extensive 17-page bibliography contains articles, books, and chapters and could serve as a selection guide for further materials on the topic. The index helps to link entries on character types. For example, a reader who wants all the information on spider tales would find the relevant entries listed under spider in the index. With every undertaking of this scope there will be omissions. There is no entry for the raven figure; only by looking under raven in the index can the reader find references to the raven in Northwest Coast Indian cultures. The index listing for spider does not include a citation to the entry Brer Anancy. The cross-referencing needs to be more consistent. The entry rabbit guides the reader to several examples, such as Palu and Zomo, but not to Brer Rabbit or Bugs Bunny, although these are listed under rabbit in the index. These shortcomings notwithstanding, the entries are readable, enjoyable, and informative; the bibliography is helpful; and the arrangement is logical. High-school libraries, public libraries, and academic libraries where there is interest in the topic will want to have this title in their collections.

Library Journal Review

Christen (religious studies, Arizona State Univ.) and Gill (religious studies, Univ. of Colorado), a scholar who has written many works on Native American religion and mythology, have created a reference to tricksters and clowns, figures found in cultures and myths worldwide but whose characteristics differ according to the culture in which they originate. The work lists 185 cultures by geographical area, followed by a main section consisting of 194 alphabetically arranged entries related to tricksters and clowns; the entries, which are heavily cross-referenced, cite the name of the character with its culture or country of origin followed by stories or other information. The entries conclude with bibliographic citations, and there is a comprehensive bibliography as well. The scope of this work is vast, covering clowns and tricksters from the ancient world to the present and including some references to cultures that no longer exist as well as material from current popular culture. As the introduction states: "This volume is meant as a general introduction to both the characters and the people who see the world through their eyes." It succeeds admirably. For public and academic libraries.ÄJoan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Christen's unusual encyclopedia describes almost 200 characters from myth, ritual, and folktale and explains how they function in their respective cultures. In her succinct but highly informative introduction, she surveys the literature, largely anthropological and theoretical, concerning clowns and tricksters; although both vary greatly from culture to culture, they possess common attributes. Christen explains that tricksters have dual roles; they are obscene but powerful, jesters but culture heroes, and can be both respected and condemned by society. Clowns may be not only funny and foolish, but participate in religious rituals and play important parts in creation myths. According to Christen, tricksters and clowns both epitomize antisocial behavior virtually wherever they appear. She arranges the entries alphabetically by the characters' names. An "Entry List," arranged by cultures within areas of the world, provides a means of identifying characters by specific cultures. Each entry concludes with two or three references to the 16-page bibliography at the end of the volume, and there is an index of subjects, names, clowns, and the like. Highly recommended for public and university library social sciences collections. C. J. Busick University of Colorado at Boulder