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Monday, February 4, 2013

Project Fairy Tale: Mr. Fox

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
"Like the old tale, my lord: "it is not so, nor `t was not so; but, indeed, God forbid it should be so."

This fairy tale, collected by Joseph Jacobs, is probably the one mentioned in Shakepeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" (as quoted above) and is a variant of the Grimm Brothers' "The Robber Bridegroom."  What do these two tales have in common?
  1. An engaged female visits the home of her betrothed
  2. She is warned away by signs/birds
  3. She hides herself in fear when her betrothed comes home
  4. She sees her betrothed chop a finger off a dead woman to get a ring
  5. The ring/finger lands in her lap
  6. She takes it home and tells her story as a dream the next day
  7. She produces the ring/finger triumphantly as proof of her tale
  8. Everybody dies (Well, just the bad guy(s))
Where "Mr. Fox" differs is really in the agency of the heroine.  In the fairy tale Lady Mary initiates the visit to Mr. Fox's house, uninvited and even in the very beginning, she is the one who has chosen to accept his suit.  In "The Robber Bridegroom", the father accepts the bridegroom's suit for his daughter.  The maiden (she is unnamed) is invited to visit his house (which makes it a little odd that he would invite his robber friends to his house the same day).  The maiden is helped by an old woman who tells her that she will die if she is seen.  In Mr. Fox, Lady Mary much more dramatically sees the bodies of women in a room (à la Bluebeard) and then hides when she sees Mr. Fox dragging in a woman.  In a way "Mr. Fox" is made a simpler tale because Lady Mary is the one who initiates all the action.  She is more empowered, while the maiden of the Grimm tale is helped along by the old woman.  I'm not sure why there is this difference in the stories - I think it might be an interesting insight into the two different cultures of the time, or at least the evolving views on women through time, but I'm only hypothesizing! Lest I give the story too much credit though, I should note that in the end, it is the male relatives who avenge Lady Mary.

"Mr. Fox" has a nice blend of romance, danger, horror and justice, with a strong, fearless heroine.  The writing is concise and lyrical, with the repeated warnings more memorable I think than the version in "The Robber Bridegroom."  It's a dark tale that warns of the danger to young women who trust too much in superficial charm and manners.  Tomorrow I'll review "English Fairy Tales" by Joseph Jacobs.

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  1. Reminds me a bit of Bluebeard! :) Very cool and looking forward to your retellings! I know you are reviewing one by Neil Gaiman!

    1. It is a bit Bluebeard-ish! Neil Gaiman referred to it as the English Bluebeard in the intro of his book - so far really enjoying the Gaiman book! :)

  2. I haven't heard of this tale, although I do agree it sounds a bit reminiscent of Bluebeard. Can't wait to see what retellings you'll look at!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I have only half of the retellings read so far, but so far so good! :)