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Laughing with the Trickster: On Sex, Death, and Accordions

de Tomson Highway

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371675,632 (4.1)Cap
Brilliant, jubilant insights into the glory and anguish of life from one of the world's most treasured Indigenous creators. Trickster is zany, ridiculous. The ultimate, over-the-top, madcap lunatic. Here to remind us that the reason for existence is to have one blast of a time, to laugh ourselves to death. Ever the trickster, Tomson Highway brings his signature irreverence to an exploration of five themes central to the human condition: language, creation, sex and gender, humour, and death. A comparative analysis of Christian, Classical, and Cree mythologies reveals how they have given form and substance to Western thought, life, and culture. Yet Indigenous mythologies provide unique, timeless solutions to our modern problems. Tomson Highway offers generous personal anecdotes, including of his beloved accordion-playing father, and plentiful Trickster stories as guides through such crises as climate change, economic disparity, racial intolerance, and all-out unhappiness. Laughter is medicine. Within the endless circle of life in Indigenous mythologies, the Earth is a garden of joy unlimited. A world we must protect as the birthright of future generations. Laugh with the legendary Tomson Highway as he illuminates a healing, hilarious way forward.… (més)
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Laughing (and some Crying) at Life and Death
Review of the House of Anansi paperback edition (September 2022)

It was not long into his childhood education at an Indian Residential School that author Tomson Highway began to perceive that there was something wrong with the teachings of the monotheistic religion which the Catholic priests were promoting in class:

As have, surely, my mother and father. No one deserved entry into heaven more than they, except that my father was an accordionist not a harpist, as I inform the priest in class that day.
"Will God let my father in?" I ask this Father Cheepootaat*-which-rhymes-with-eemataat (which is what I sometimes call him to myself).
"No," snaps Father Cheepootaat. "Sorry, Accordions are not allowed in heaven."
Distraught that my father might have to change instruments or go to hell, I vow to help him keep his accordion.


In Laughing with the Trickster, Highway examines the history and humour of the Cree language, and especially its reliance on jokes and laughter based on its central mischievous Trickster character. This thesis is built around the theme of pantheistic Indigenous mythology, where God is in everything whether it be a ray of sunshine, a blade of grass, an animal, a rock or a human being. This is in contrast with other pantheistic mythologies such as those of the Greeks and Romans where mostly the only non-serious exceptions were the messenger god Hermes/Mercury and the revelry god Dionysus/Bacchus. It is especially in contrast with the mythology of the monotheistic Christian God where no humour exists at all.

See photograph at https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FdaosaGXEAE3eNu?format=jpg&name=large
Photograph of author Tomson Highway delivering the 5th and final lecture of 5 in the "Laughing with the Trickster" series as part of the CBC Massey Lectures on September 23, 2022 at Koerner Hall, Toronto, Canada. Photograph by Karan Aquino sourced from Twitter.

Laughing with the Trickster covers this wide-ranging set of themes with Highway's personal anecdotes of his upbringing and life interspersed with various Trickster stories and jokes. The overall subject matter is actually more serious than the title of the lecture series might suggest. HIghway delivers it all with his trademark zest for life and humour which leaves you both enlightened and entertained. I also had the pleasure to attend the finale of the lecture series at Toronto's Koerner Hall.

Trivia and Links
* Cheepootaat was the closest equivalent that the Cree children knew from their own language, in order to pronounce the name of Father Thiboudeau at the residential school where Tomson Highway was sent in his childhood.

Author Tomson Highway was interviewed on CBC Radio on the subject of his 2022 CBC Massey Lectures and you can hear the interview on CBC Metro Morning with Ismaila Alfa.

Massey College, along with CBC and the House of Anansi Press, co-hosts the Massey Lectures, widely regarded as the most important public lectures in Canada. Established in 1961 by the CBC to honour the former Governor-General of Canada, the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, the College’s Founder and first Visitor, these annual lectures are given by a noted scholar or public figure. They are broadcast by the CBC from cities across Canada, and published at the same time by House of Anansi Press. ( )
  alanteder | Sep 25, 2022 |
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Brilliant, jubilant insights into the glory and anguish of life from one of the world's most treasured Indigenous creators. Trickster is zany, ridiculous. The ultimate, over-the-top, madcap lunatic. Here to remind us that the reason for existence is to have one blast of a time, to laugh ourselves to death. Ever the trickster, Tomson Highway brings his signature irreverence to an exploration of five themes central to the human condition: language, creation, sex and gender, humour, and death. A comparative analysis of Christian, Classical, and Cree mythologies reveals how they have given form and substance to Western thought, life, and culture. Yet Indigenous mythologies provide unique, timeless solutions to our modern problems. Tomson Highway offers generous personal anecdotes, including of his beloved accordion-playing father, and plentiful Trickster stories as guides through such crises as climate change, economic disparity, racial intolerance, and all-out unhappiness. Laughter is medicine. Within the endless circle of life in Indigenous mythologies, the Earth is a garden of joy unlimited. A world we must protect as the birthright of future generations. Laugh with the legendary Tomson Highway as he illuminates a healing, hilarious way forward.

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