Monday, July 11, 2022

Stories told by Monsters - Part 4.1 Lukas the Trickster - Meet the Jackalwolf

The following is the sixth entry in a 13-part article series. Click here for an overview and a table of contents with links to the various parts.

4. Lukas the Trickster - Questioning narratives to enrich stories

Josh Reynolds’ 2018 novel Lukas the Trickster can serve as fertile ground for an exploration of concepts, philosophy and individual practices of narrative therapy, especially a postmodern way of thinking and a striving towards rich and complex over thin and unquestioned self-narratives.

After a short summary of the literary and fictional background of Lukas and his peers, the plot of the novel will be summarized, after which the narrative themes and concepts present throughout Lukas the Trickster will be discussed. The analysis will start with a short discussion of one of the central themes of Dan Abnett’s novel Prospero Burns (2011), set nearly ten millennia before the events of Reynolds’ novel, through the lens of postmodernism.

A Wolf to the Wolves - The Vlka Fenryka and Lukas the Trickster

“We are stories, Jackalwolf. We are sagas unwritten...” - Kjarl Grimblood to Lukas (Lukas the Trickster, p.53).

The concept of stories sits at the heart of the Warhammer 40.000-universe, and there is probably no other faction that engages so heavily in the act of telling and re-telling stories, legends and myths than the Space Marine Chapter known as the Vlka Fenryka, the Rout, the Sons of Russ, or, as their original denominator goes, the Space Wolves.

Being already present in 1st Edition, getting their first Codex in 1994 for 2nd Edition and being conceptually based around Norse mythology and culture, the Wolves are, among fans of the fictional setting as well as in the fictional universe itself, one of the oldest and most famous Space Marine Chapters of the Imperium. It ties in player popularity probably only with the Blood Angels and the Ultramarines and has been explored in a host of different novels, dating back to one of the very first publications of Black Library, Space Wolf by William King (1999).

They have since been explored as protagonists in several novels (Prospero Burns, 2011, Battle of the Fang, 2011; Stormcaller, 2014; Ragnar Blackmane, 2015; Wolfsbane, 2018; others) and regularly appear as supporting characters or antagonists (Battle for the Abyss, 2008; The Emperor’s Gift, 2012*; The Crimson King,* 2017; others).

The Wolves are characterized by “their anti-authoritarian ways”, “the embrace of their homeworld Fenris' savage barbarian culture” and “their extreme deviation from the Codex Astartes in the Chapter's organisation” (Wikia, 2018b). They are known as blood-thirsting, hypocritical savages by some and honourable, unflinching defenders of the people of the Imperium by others (two of the many assessments and opinions on the Wolves that don’t necessarily exclude each other).

The hero of the novel that will first be discussed here is as much an oddity among the Wolves as the Wolves are amongst the rest of the Imperium.

Lukas the Trickster was introduced in 2009 in the Codex: Space Wolves rulebook for the 5th Edition of the game. His nicknames beside “The Trickster” include “the Jackalwolf”, “the Strifeson” and “the Laughing One”. His character has many similarities with the Norse deity Loki, a trickster god of lies and deceit, with which he shares the nature of being an outsider, misfit and mischief-maker amongst a race of warrior-gods, who is nevertheless sometimes working as a valuable ally precisely because his talents and character are so different from those of the other gods.

The Warhammer 40.000-Wikia describes Lukas as “a raucous and ebullient figure who defies the authority of his superiors just as willingly as he defies the enemies of the Chapter. The glories sought by other warriors of the Chapter matter not one jot to Lukas, who cares neither for advancement to the veterans of the Wolf Guard, nor for the approval of his peers. Instead, his greatest desire is the freedom to work his unparalleled mischief upon whomever he fancies, preferably killing as many of the Chapter's foes as he can along the way” (Wikia, 2018a).

He wears the pelt of a nigh-invisible Doppengangrel, being the only man known to have bested such a creature, and has a series of stories about tricking his enemies to their doom attached to him (Codex Space Wolves 5th Edition, p. 52).

In an interview with the review-website Track Of Words (2017), Josh Reynolds explained that he sees Lukas as:

essentially a clown, but not a circus clown. He’s a clown in the folkloric sense, which means he’s a figure of upheaval. He’s a character who exists to take the traditions and cultural underpinnings of a tribe or group of people, and throw them into the air to cause them to question themselves, and question what they’ve always believed. And to lose their patience with how things are and how things work.

In short, Lukas is someone who points out gaps and inconsistencies in the stories people tell themselves, so that they might change.

Hloja. Laugh! - A Summary of the novel Lukas the Trickster

The plot of Reynolds’ novel Lukas the Trickster is basically a full length account of an incident mentioned on Lukas’ character page in the 5th Edition Codex, about how he replaced his secondary heart with a time-freezing bomb and started a life-long feud with a murderous Drukhari corsair, “the Serpent” Duke Sliscus.

During Helwinter, the turn of the seasons on Fenris, it is tradition to assign Lukas, an eternal annoyance to the Wolf Lords, to a new company, so that another Wolf Lord has to take responsibility for him and endure his shenanigans until next Helwinter. This process is being overseen by the old Wolf Priest Galerunner, who views Lukas as a necessary evil for the Wolves, as exhausted as he might be of his troublemaking. The lot falls to Wolf Lord Kjarl Grimblood and Lukas, as usual, quickly establishes himself as the leader of a pack of Blood Claws, young warriors from Grimbloods’ company still trying to make their mark.

After a perceived injustice by Grimblood, who takes the credit for the slaying of a Kraken that Lukas feels has been earned by his young pack-mates, he and his pack pull an embarrassing prank on Grimblood as revenge and consequently get banished into Fenris’ wilderness – a series of events that Lukas is intimately familiar with.

Meanwhile, the eternally bored corsair-lord Duke Sliscus of the Drukhari wants to host an extravagant hunting event for friends and foes alike and chooses Fenris as the hunting ground, which is isolated due to the natural upheavals during the season of Helwinter and home to a host of monstrous creatures and warlike people. Lukas and his pack are the first to discover the hidden raids of the Drukhari on the woefully unprepared tribes of Fenris; they go out to protect the people of Fenris and manage to inform Grimblood of the looming threat.

Lukas and his pack, together with survivors from the human tribes, start a series of escalating traps and surprise attacks on the raiders, which draw the attention of Sliscus, who senses a prey worthy of his skills. A member of Lukas’ pack dies in a counter-trap set by Sliscus, but Lukas and the rest of the Chapter manage to force the Drukhari to retreat, and in a show-down on the Dukes’ flagship the Jackalwolf and the Serpent finally go toe-to-toe. During the battle, Sliscus gets badly scarred, but manages to rip Lukas secondary heart out of his chest, fulfilling a prophecy earlier told to Lukas by Grimblood.

Lukas falls from Sliscus’ ship before it escapes from Fenris, gets rescued and replaces his missing heart with an experimental time-freezing bomb, which will go off if his primary heart ever stops beating – a final joke on the one unlucky enough to eventually kill the Jackalwolf.

Continue with 4.2 Mjod Tales and Post-Modernism

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