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The Green Man: What Reading Khiḍr as Trickster Evinces about the Canon

Jibril Latif


The Green Man is a deictic trans-historical figure and motif shared by both interconnected canons and folklores, as well as those seemingly disparate. Revered in varying capacities in mythology, literature, and architecture, the figure’s analogs and accretions have manifold associations to religiously significant personalities like St. George, Elijah, Gilgamesh, Buddha, Christ, and Melchizedek. Often bridging the sacred and profane, the figure’s literary function is unusually polyvalent and associative readings flexibly range from prophetic guide and reconciler of paradoxes, to boundary-crossing and subverting trickster. However, the trickster figure archetypally imparts moral lessons by upsetting conventions and norms; he can teach his lessons through terror, but he can also beguile. If this is the case only because his telos redounds to a pantheon of polytheism, how do these features obtain when bound by monotheistic-based canons? The enigmatic character in the Qurʾān, dubbed al-Khiḍr and revered in canonical contexts, similarly has a didactic trickster-like encounter with Moses, whom he guides on a journey of paradoxes and reconciliations. As they manifest in other contexts, various permutations are only reconciled if a division is based on telos because the character’s abundantly operative meaning is predicated on the realism of established canonical boundaries, which evinces why nominalist ontology struggles to cohere with various folkloric interpretations. Consequently, despite the recent pushback against canons, making such a compulsory distinction for a boundary-crossing character argues for affirming the continued relevance of such boundaries.


Al-Khiḍr, Green Man, trickster, Sufism, canon, folklore

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