237. Reynard the Fox (late 12th century)

Source : Reynard the Fox : a new translation / James Simpson, published by Liveright, 2015.

Thoughts : Okay, so this post is chronologically a teensy bit early but I seem to have hit that May-June slump and needed something quick and light to keep motivated.

I was expecting an easygoing children’s parable about a clever but lovable rogue fox outwitting the bad animals. Instead what I got was a clever and ruthless criminal and murderer who lies, cheats, steals, flatters and kills to escape justice time and again, and a not too subtle satire on the clergy, royal court and law courts of medieval Europe.

Reynard is called before King Noble the Lion to answer charges of murder, rape and  theft but manages to wriggle out of each accusation by playing on the other animals’ greed, vanity and foolishness. The humour is fairly earthy (the cat accidentally castrates a priest in her desperate attempts to escape the trap Reynard leads her into) and definitely intended for an adult audience. While certainly a trickster character, he is not lovable like Brer Rabbit or Bugs Bunny, yet he always ends up extricating himself from danger to assume a more powerful or respected position. Sort of a reverse parable, warning us of how certain men can still succeed in the world by lying and cheating, and their religious absolution allows them license to continue sinning.

Simpson’s chapters are rarely more than a few pages long and so the book is quick to read. The black and white line drawings carry a certain truthful ugliness which magnifies the crimes of Reynard.

Favourite quotes/scenes:

“How do you like my children Rosel and Reynkin? – they’ll be sure to bring honor to our lineage … for they can play angry, and when they hate someone they can appear friendly and lighthearted. With these tricks they bring prey underfoot and bite throats clean in two. This is the fox’s nature. They’re certainly eloquent speakers which pleases me well.”   (page 140)

“The world returns to me and will have me for itself. The flesh wants to live in pleasure, and puts so many temptations in my way that my good thoughts and intentions vanish completely … I hear that the prelates and rich curates preach one thing, but think and do altogether another. So I learn the lies that are most commonly found in the courts of nobles”   (page 145)

Personal rating:  6/10

Kimmy’s rating: Lots of animals to look at, but a little scared of the violent duel between the wolf and the fox. Not to mention lions and bears (oh my)

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