Thursday, 5 September 2013

Foxes In Fiction - Rosie Best - Skulk Blog Tour

I'd like to give a big welcome to Rosie Best, the author of the fabulous Skulk published by Strange Chemistry on October 1st this year. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Skulk which is oh so good, look out for my review in a couple of weeks! Anyway, here's Rosie to talk about foxes and her love for some of our favorite fictional characters.

Five Fictional Foxes

Several people have asked me why I decided to have Meg, the heroine in Skulk, shapeshift into a fox. Why not a wolf or a cat or something more exotic? The honest answer is that the inspiration for the whole book came from the title. I was looking up the plural names for various animals - I can't remember why, now - and came across the fact that a group of foxes is a Skulk. I knew that I just had to write the book to go with that title. It would be an urban fantasy, with a group of people who were also foxes, and a lot of skulking around in the shadows.

I do love foxes. I love their beautiful faces, their bright orange coats and their bushy tails. I love the way they wander around London as if they own the place. They make their homes in the scrubby, neglected corners and raid the bins of the unprepared, but they also brazenly wander wherever they like. I'm pretty sure that, even though it was released there as part of an art installation, this fox in the National Portrait Gallery is actually James from Skulk scoping out the location for future heist purposes. And that's nothing compared to Romeo, the fox who genuinely lived on the 72nd floor of the under-construction Shard for two weeks.

The fox is also one of those animals who has a bit of a cultural reputation. In fiction and mythology they're often sneaky and deceptive - the archetypal sly fox. My five favourite fox characters all have more than a little bit of that archetype in them.

Aesop's Fox

The fox in Aesop's Fables is flighty and contradictory, and often a little bit stupid, but he's endearing to me as he never seems to admit defeat. He's not a creature who has elaborate plans like some of these other fox characters - instead he thinks on his feet and often comes up smiling. In The Fox & The Goat he's trapped in a well and tricks a goat into jumping down into the well so he can climb on its back and escape. The moral of the story is that the goat shouldn't have trusted an blatantly dodgy fox with nothing to lose, but like a lot of Aesop's Fables, it's hard not to sympathise with the anti-hero fox as much as the poor gullible goat.

Reynard the Fox

In medieval France and Germany, myths about Reynard the Fox involved a war between Reynard and Isengrim the Wolf and/or the noble king Lion. The fox is generally the wily underdog who gets one over on the powerful but gullible ruling class. He's sometimes seen as a peasant and sometimes as a priest but he's pretty much always going to talk or trick his way out of trouble. Unfortunately, in 1940 Holland this Reynard took on a horrible second life as the 'hero' of an anti-Semitic children's book. To me, this seems particularly criminal: Reynard was always the rebel, generally kicking upwards against the ruling wolves and lions, and it's pretty sickening to realise that that was how the racists and supporters of genocide who wrote and filmed that book might have seen themselves.


Reynardine is a character in an English ballad (although a late Victorian one, rather than a really old folk tale). Again, this fox is not a hero in any sense - he's a kidnapper and seducer (and sometimes a murderer too), waylaying pretty girls on their way over high mountain passes and charming them into trusting him with their lives. In early versions he was just a man, but later he morphed into a fairy were-fox with sharp teeth and sly eyes. That's the Reynardine who features in this creepy but brilliant version of the song by Fairport Convention.

There's something great about a smooth-tongued rogue, even though we know that we wouldn't want to meet him down a dark alley, or up a high mountain, or preferably at all.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl is one of the greatest children's books ever written (and a lot of Dahl's work would be on that same imaginary and very long list). Again this fox is a trickster, but this time he's a character who has a brilliant plan: to steal the food that the horrible farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean have been stockpiling for the winter. Interestingly, despite Dahl's tendency to write grim stories about horrible people, Mr Fox is a far more straight-forward hero than many other fox characters - sure, we're expected to accept and sympathise with the fact that's he's been stealing from the farmers for years, but he only launches into his fantastic plan when the farmers dig into his home and set up camp outside the front door with their guns. He protects his wife and cubs, and shares his spoils and his dream of a Utopian underground society with the other burrowing animals who help him, even the rabbits.

Robin Hood

Another trickster anti-hero, another fantastic fox character. Of course, it's only the Disney version, but I think it was a stroke of genius for them to have spotted the foxy traits in the existing legend. I wonder if the Disney team did their Reynard research - this fox hero is also fighting a lion king and an evil sheriff wolf. This is another fox who steals with flair, dances with chickens and hands out coins to rabbits. You could call it Disneyfication of nature, but I think that's the whole point of the Robin Hood legend and the friendly fox - if you're on the side of good you'll be fine but if you're bad you'd better watch out. The fox is going to come along, with his charming grin and his brilliant plan, and you won't even know you've been outwitted until he's far, far away.

Thank you Rosie! I think you mentioned some great fox characters, I'd forgotten about Disney's Robin Hood so I'm off to watch it again!

Skulk - Rosie West @ Twitter
ISBN - 9781908844699
Publisher - Strange Chemistry
Expected release date - October 1st 2013
Find - Book Depository/Goodreads


  1. I got this book as an ARC too! I can't wait to see the review! Great post :)

    -Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

  2. I got an ARC of this book too! Can't wait to see your review! And I love this post :)

  3. I had no idea they'd released a fox in the national portrait galley? I'm sure all the pro-animal charities just loved that (not) to say nothing of art lovers. Foxes are incredible, but a country fox always looks healthier than a city fox - city foxes, like the ones who live by the river in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow, always make me sad. This book sounds pretty cool, I hadn't heard of it before now. You'll have to poke me when your review comes out because I'd quite like to pre-order this but I want to see at least one review first. :-)


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