The other day I wrote a blog about a fox I found living in my garden. Today I’m going to talk about a specific fox known as Reynard. Now, Reynard isn’t a real fox, he’s an anthropomorphic fox. That’s a big word anthropomorphic, isn’t it? What the devil does it mean? Well, it means ‘having human characteristics’. Most animals in children’s stories are anthropomorphic, from Peppa Pig to Peter Rabbit to all the animals in The Muppets.
Reynard the fox is a character in European folklore and fables, specifically during the Middle Ages. He lives in a forest where he thinks of himself as the boss, although the other anthropomorphic (there’s that word again!) animals in the forest are not in agreement with him. He’s somewhat of a trickster (perhaps that’s why these days we use the expression ‘as sly as a fox’), but not seen as evil – more deceptive, clever and cunning (and there’s another word we associate with the fox).
His main rival is a wolf called Ysengrim who is also his uncle. Other forest animals include Baldwin the ass, Bruin the bear and Tybalt the cat. Stories about Reynard and ‘friends’ are not necessarily for children. Most of them are satirical aimed at the aristocracy and clergy of the day – not the stuff of your average children’s story!
Reynard was so popular that over time the French word for fox, goupil, became renard. If you’re studying Chaucer at school, you’ll find Reynard hidden in one of his Canterbury Tales. In The Nun’s Priest’s Tale he’s known as Rossel and the ass is called Brunel. Whilst you might think Reynard’s reign is long gone, he still pops up on a regular basis. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – which is a late 14th century romance and one of the most well-known Arthurian stories – he appears in the third hunt. Remember the cat Tybalt? You may have heard the name before, especially if you have read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He’s in there, but not as a cat this time, although Mercutio calls him ‘Prince of Cats’. He can be found in films and TV series, plenty of books, music, advertising, comics, video games and even art.
Anthropomorphic characters are great for encouraging children to read and there are many other tactics you can use too. For hints and tips, check out the Knowledge Bank. You’ll also find answers to questions about parenting and education. It’s a collection of informative articles which aim to help parents through the challenges of child raising.
By the way, if you’d like to read the full story about Reynard, it can be found in this link. Be warned – it’s not a short read!