Foxes live throughout the world in widely different habitats from forest to desert to the Arctic. What is surprising, though, is that scientists admit that very little is actually known about the lives and habits of foxes. The reason, which this book explores in depth, is that foxes are almost universally despised as being wicked. From the time of Aristotle, naturalists have succumbed to the general bias against foxes, either openly asserting that foxes are barely worthy of consideration or worrying about the health threat they pose. While this low regard is understandable, since foxes steal chickens and have a strong odour, they are strikingly beautiful animals possessed of a startling intelligence.
Throughout Europe and Asia, folk tales and myths have built up around the fox, depicting it variously as unrepentant thief and seducer, shapeshifter and deceiver, as an outlaw whose primary purpose is to disrupt human social order. The fear and loathing people feel (paradoxically mixed with fascination) toward foxes are reflected in the many fox-terms that have entered different languages. In Japan, for example, various plants are identified with fox-names to indicate how they are supposedly used by foxes in an alternate universe. The contradictory attitudes toward foxes are exemplified in America and Europe by their classification as vermin at the same time as they are preserved and propagated by foxhunters and fur trappers, and depicted as loveable furry creatures in the movies.
Wallen's treatment of his subject maximises the fox's glamour while raising some intriguing questions about cross-cultural and transhistorical meanings. Anthrozoos
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Martin Wallen is Professor of English in the Department of English, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. He is the author of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: An Experimental Edition of Texts and Revisions (1993) and City of Health, Fields of Disease: Revolution in the Poetry, Medicine, and Philosophy of Romanticism (2004).