Camilla Swift Camilla Swift

Tales of Mr Tod

Roald Dahl helped rehabilitate the fox in the popular imagination, according to Lucy Jones — but most of us remain wary

Have you ever considered tying a fox’s penis to your head? Well no, nor have I, but if you suffer from migraines, perhaps you might give it a shot. The fox, in fact, was thought to be a cure for any number of maladies in the 1600s. Fox ashes dunked in wine were recommended as a cure for asthma, their brains were thought to be useful in treating epilepsy, and making a necklace of fox testicles for a child was billed as a surefire cure for toothache. It sounds like quite the fashion statement.

This book — Lucy Jones’s first — is a fascinating discussion of the history of our attitude to the fox, and if you want to know more about the red creature that wakes you at 3 a.m. with its baby-like screaming, then this volume is sure to keep you occupied for a while at least. It’s certainly interesting to learn how our attitude to the animal has altered. The author thanks Roald Dahl and his Fantastic Mr Fox for changing our perception of the fox from crafty trickster to hero. After all, if you look at 19th- and 20th-century literary depictions of foxes — or even back to Aesop and the Bible — they are almost always seen as dangerous, crafty and clever. Consider the way we use phrases such as ‘cunning as a fox’ or  ‘you sly fox’. Even now our language depicts them as being intelligent but untrustworthy.

But while Jones highlights the fact that foxes have always been respected for their craftiness, the entertaining ways in which they were used in the 1600s didn’t exactly demonstrate that respect. Fox-tossing was a popular pastime in which a fox (or another animal — wildcats, badgers and hares were also popular props) was bounced high into the air off a tight piece of material.

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