Reynard the Fox, by Anne Louise Avery. Pub 2020
I have been following @AnneLouiseAvery on Twitter for a little over a year. In her tweets (and now also on Patreon) she tells delightful little stories about animals living in and around a small village in Southern England. Centred around Old Fox and his wise and whiskery ways, Wolf and Pine Marten and Mouse and Ermine and Sea Otter have all become real through her tales, and their courage and challenges through “the great sickness” as she calls it have been a comfort and inspiration over the past year. There are a few kindly humans in the stories as well, that help to make the animal stories more real. Avery uses paintings and photos to bring the stories to life, and sometimes diverges a bit into art and fashion history.
This book was released late 2020. I had ordered it in January, but due to the great sickness, the release was delayed and delayed such that my copy didn’t arrive until December.
As indicated by the title, the stories are about Reynard the Fox, a legendary animal in the Kingdom of Gent (in Holland or Belgium) in the late middle ages. Like Avery’s modern-day stories, these are populated primarily by animals, with a few people mentioned but treated as outside beastie society. Reynard is a noble trickster, always getting up to mischief but able to wile his way out of almost any scrape. In story after story, Reynard deviously engineers traps for his enemies, treats for his friends and family, and escapes from trials. Like with the Twitter tales, we get to meet others in the menagerie, including Isingrim the Wolf (a baddie), Grimbart the Badger (a friend of Reynard), and King Noble, a lion that rules over this animal society with a firm but lazy hand.
The tales are delightful, and the writing as sweet and elegant as the Twitter tales. I do think I enjoy the shorter stories more, as these longer stories feel sometimes over-long, with many paragraphs of speechifying and layered stories from Reynard and others. Near the end, the last story about the final combat between Reynard and Isingrim was thrilling, edge-of-your-seat stuff, which made the finish of the book very satisfying.
The Reynard stories are old, and the book’s lengthy introduction does an excellent job of tracing the line of the stories from ancient times. While not a translation exactly, Avery’s version is a retelling of the old tales, and is likely just an excerpt of all the available stories. Like many other folklore tales, the animals represent human characteristics as well as their animal ones. The fox is sly, the rabbit is nervous, the bear slow and hungry, and the cat is curious (to its detriment but not death). The book also includes an extensive glossary of the less familiar words and terms used throughout, with some deliciously descriptive words to add to one’s vocabulary. Keytyf is a villian or wretch, sweven is a dream or vision, and eme is an old friend.
I did enjoy the book, but more in small bites than a good long read. It is a book that deserves a kind and gentle reader who can believe in fairy tales, which perhaps is not me (at least not beyond a short story).
Fate: I’ll hang on to it for a bit, until I find the right person to have it.
1 – a book in which there is a murder (quite a few)
4 – a book published in 2020
8 – a book by a female author
13 – a book set in a place I’ve never been (The Netherlands/Belgium)
14 – a book with a name in the title
18 – a book of short stories
25 – a book by an author I’ve never read (assuming tweets don’t count)