Guest Blogger: Fantastic Mr Fox – A Fable for Our Times?

Good morning all, and happy Friday.

Today we bring you a guest post from one of our favourite like-minded wordpress bloggers, Animalista Untamed. Be sure to click on that link for some un-censored yet beautifully-articulated animal rights blogging goodness. We promise you’ll learn something!

Animalista was kind enough to enter our realm of analyzing children’s lit, with a fabulous animal welfare tie-in. We hope you enjoy the result as much as we did.

– erm & three

Subversive is the word for Roald Dahl. That’s what he is. His stories’allure for kids (and for us adults of a more rebellious inclination) lies in his demolition of accepted social norms with a few deft flicks of the pen. His fiction inhabits a realm that the ‘acceptable’, ‘normal’ grownup world frowns upon, but a realm we wish real life resembled and into which we can momentarily escape. That’s why kids love him. He’s the merry Lord of Misrule.

“Fantastic Mr Fox” is as subversive as they come, and a pretty near perfect fable for our times. Just as in Dahl’s story, the real foxes, the badgers and just about everything else that lives and breathes in our country, are right now being persecuted by an unholy triad – the NFU, the Countryside Alliance and the Tory party – blinded by self-interest, enthusiastic fox hunters and badger killers all. Well, not quite all. That’s not fair to the Blue Foxes.

I love love love that “Fantastic Mr Fox” doesn’t open with the hero, as you might expect, but with The Enemy.

Fantastic Mr Fox 1

Down in the valley there were three farms. The owners of these farms had done well. They were rich men. They were also nasty men. All three of them were about as nasty and mean as any men you could meet. Their names were Farmer Boggis, Farmer Bunce and Farmer Bean.

I see them as stalwarts of the NFU, the CA and the Tories, “the nasty party” to quote our PM in her former incarnation.

On the very first page our author makes me hate them! And no-one could accuse Mr Dahl of political correctness – he’s unsparing in his description of the villainous trio’s grotesque physical appearance.

As well as being cruel, mean, greedy and intemperate, they accumulate their riches by legal but utterly unethical means. In a scenario with which we are unhappily familiar in real life, they each factory-farm thousands of ‘poultry’ birds. (Although if we must be fair to the loathsome Bean, his turkeys seem at least to be free range.) Sadly the hens, ducks, geese and turkeys only make an appearance in the story as food for the Fox, Badger and Weasel families. The Moles confine themselves to worms, and the Rabbits are we vegans’ sole carrot-crunching representatives.

When Badger queries the ethics of stealing the birds from the vile trio (just the stealing, not the eating – these animals do after all consume flesh in the wild) Mr Fox’s justification is, “My dear old furry frump, do you know anyone in the whole world who wouldn’t swipe a few chickens if his children are starving to death?” So the ethic of parental care overrides the principle of property ownership. Surely only the heartless could disagree with that.

And heartless they are, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. They have no such ethical concerns, sharing an attitude that sadly can sometimes be found amongst their real-life counterparts. Property ownership is ALL and woe betide any creature that gets in their way. Their only concern is to exterminate the creature – “He must be killed!” –  who might deplete their PROFITS by a few miserable pence. And the extreme lengths they go to to this end indicate their thoroughly warped perspective on life.

Once again fiction is mirroring fact, because this could not be more distressingly topical on the eve of this year’s badger cull. In the words of Mr Fox’s friend Badger, “There are men with guns all over the countryside! None of us can get out, even at night!” Dahl got it so right.

There are a couple of things he didn’t do so well though. For example, he paints a pretty sexist picture of the Fox family. Mr Fox is the daring, clever, brave and indomitable breadwinner. Mrs Fox is a stay-at-home mum, caring for the cubs, making the family meals, and looking up to her man in admiration. She it is who dubs him fantastic – Fantastic Mr Fox. She it is who dissolves into sobs when danger comes near in the form of Boggis’s, Bunce’s and Bean’s terrible shovels. And she it is who stays behind, too frail and weak to take part in the plundering raids. The same sexist pattern is replicated in the Badger family:”My poor wife up there is so weak she can’t dig another yard.”

Speciesist too.

Fantastic Mr Fox 2

Rat, unlike the rest of the animals in the tale, is a baddy not a goody: sharp-faced, snappy, bad-tempered, shrieking and drunk. He and his family are not invited to the triumphal feast.

So going back to the toxic threesome Boggis, Bunce & Bean. Have you noticed how mindless they are about destroying things? They all have guns. And guns exist for no other purpose but to snuff out life. The guns represent their sense of entitlement and their failure to acknowledge the rights of other lives to share the land. But guns are of no use against a fox deep down in his den. With another unhappy parallel to real life, the turpitudinous trio resort to digging the foxes out with shovels.

But mere men, even ones as loathsomely determined as these, cannot outsmart the cunningest creature in the land. Mr Fox is still one step ahead. So with their own brains devoid of anything except £ signs, they continue to pursue their heartless agenda with even greater obstinacy, and a soulless disregard for the living land. They bring in The Terrible Tractors.

Fantastic Mr Fox 3

Well, talk about a whopping ecological footprint! The destruction is wholesale. “The big tree under which Mr Fox had dug his hole … was toppled like a matchstick. On all sides, rocks were sent flying and trees were falling and the noise was deafening.” In the end, “the hole the machines had dug was like the crater of a volcano.”  Just as in the real world modern farming methods degrade the land that’s farmed, so do Boggis, Bunce and Bean wreak havoc on the very land they’re seeking to ‘protect’ from insignificant predation.

Fantastic Mr Fox is the story’s vulpine Robin Hood, using his cunning and daring to steal from the villainous rich to give to the poor. Who doesn’t love Robin Hood!

We absolutely need a Mr Fox/Robin Hood-type hero for our times. Society is still cruel and unfair. The rich are still getting richer and the poor poorer. Plus ça change ….eh?  So could Jeremy Corbyn perhaps turn out to be Fantastic Mr Fox made flesh, the righter of wrongs, the redistributor of ill-gotten gains? Mmm, he’s maybe a tad too serious for Mr Fox, and much as I love the man, has not anything like enough pzazz. Fantastic Mr Fox is a dashing fearless hero, a sexist meat-eating one admittedly, but nevertheless a true winner. I hope JC will emulate him in respect of that last characteristic, at least!

So, in spite of the worst that Boggis, Bunce and Bean (with all qualities of the NFU, the CA and the Tories rolled into three) can do, Robin Hood in the guise of Fantastic Mr Fox prevails. And the ill-gotten gains of the rich are taken and given to the poor in the shape of the persecuted and displaced wildlife of the wood on the hill above the valley.

“Everyday I will go shopping [!] for you all. And everyday we will eat like kings”  declares Mr Fox to his guests at the feast.There is no other way to respond to such a speech but as the animals did – they cheered and cheered. So as the story ends there is hope. Natural justice prevails, and one day will for us too. We hope!

Fantastic Mr Fox 4
Fabulous illustrations by Quentin Blake

About the Author:

Animalista is who I am. And my passion for the animals and my desire to fight for them is still untamed, just as they should be – wild and free. And even in my latter years, I’m not to be silenced.

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