Faculty and Staff

Can Eden Robinson’s TV trickster help us progress from truth to reconciliation?

December 15, 2020
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By Geoff Gilliard

Eden Robinson is one of four Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellows in the Humanities for 2020-2021. The terrain and circumstances surrounding Robinson’s fiction, along with the road she walks with her community and its history, gives her much to offer while at SFU where she is being hosted by the Department of Indigenous Studies.

Robinson is an acclaimed author who is best known for her bestselling Trickster trilogy which centres on Jared Martin, the teenaged son of Wee’git, the Trickster from her Haisla and Heiltsuk traditions. She found it surprisingly easy to write from the point of view of her protagonist Jared, a young man who's trying to find his way while coming to terms with his supernatural powers.

“I guess inside I’m a 17-year-old dude,” Robinson says. “I have lived with the character for about 10 years so I’m very familiar with his quirks.”

Maybe too familiar. Robinson tends to write slowly, averaging about three pages of rough material for every one that is published. That means she’s written around 3,000 pages of Jared.

Robinson says the Trickster series will end at three. Return of the Trickster, the last book of the series, will be released on March 2, 2021.

Robinson’s first draft of the book reflected the love she developed for the cast of characters she’d created and lived with for almost a decade.

“I didn't want them to get hurt so everyone had a lovely ending and everyone got healing and everything was just sweetness and light,” she says. “My editor said, 'That's lovely, but kind of boring.'”

Robinson began her second draft of Return of the Trickster as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic crested last March, coinciding with the worst time of year for her allergies. Her runny nose, red eyes, sneezing and breathing difficulties left her unsure if the cause was pollen or the virus.

“So in the headspace that I might have COVID and I might die, I wrote the second draft,” she says. “It was a lot more intense and violent. When I got the notes back from my editor she asked, can we have some people live?”

“For the third draft I had come back to Kitamaat Village (home community of the Haisla people on British Columbia’s North Coast) and by then we knew a lot more about COVID and the way it operated. So not everybody dies. They don't all live. But they don’t all die.”

TV Trickster

It’s not a spoiler to say that Jared lives on in television. This fall, CBC TV launched an adaptation of Trickster. What effect could a TV show by an Indigenous person about Indigenous people featuring Indigenous actors have?

“Most of the Indigenous representation currently is on APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) and a lot of the shows that I watch on there don't get a broad audience. To have a show that's on one of the big networks is a huge step forward just in being able to see ourselves. I think a lot of Canadians don't really know Indigenous people so it's easy to ‘other’ us. It's easy to make us scary or angry or all these negative things whereas when you know someone, when you know their strengths and their weaknesses, it's a lot harder to ‘other’ them.”

And could CBC’s Trickster move the needle on reconciliation in Canada?

“I don't think we've gotten to reconciliation yet,” Robinson says. “I think we’re still stuck in the truth part. And that's where the TV show comes in. Because it's a huge cultural difference between myself and almost everybody else.”

That cultural difference is also noticeable in how the Trickster stories are steeped in magical realism and strewn with supernatural creatures that can transform and travel between dimensions of time and space.

“I think culturally I have a different relationship with the supernatural and fantasy elements,” she says. “Growing up here (in Kitamaat Village), the supernatural were just considered your neighbors. There’s not the schism between reality and the supernatural that it is in mainstream belief systems.”

The TV show has been well received and CBC has approved a second season of the series.

“And the otters are coming back,” Robinson says. “That was CBC’s biggest audience complaint: Where’s the otters?”

Shadbolt Fellows Events

Join us online at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 to meet the Shadbolt Fellows in a panel discussion moderated by Stephen Collis (professor, SFU Department of English) and June Scudeler (assistant professor, SFU Indigenous Studies). This event is hosted with the support of SFU Public Square. Register on Eventbrite

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