Reynard the Fox, also known as Renard, Renart, Reinard, Reinecke, Reinhardus, Reynardt and by many other spelling variations, is a trickster figure whose tale is told in a number of anthropomorphic tales from medieval Europe.

History of the legend

He seems to have originated in French folklore. An extensive treatment of the character is the Old French Le Roman de Renart written by Perrout de Saint Cloude around 1175, which sets the typical setting. Reynard has been summoned to the court of king Noble, or Leo, the Lion, to answer charges brought against him by Isengrim the Wolf. Other anthropomorphic animals, including Bruin the Bear, Baldwin the Ass, Tibert (Tybalt) the Cat, Chantecler the Rooster and Hirsent the She-wolf, appear to give testimony against him, which Reynard always proves false by one stratagem or another. The stories typically involve satire whose usual butts are the aristocracy and the clergy, making Reynard a peasant-hero character. Reynart's principal castle, Maleperduys, is available to him whenever he needs to hide away from his enemies. Some of the tales feature Reynard's funeral, where his enemies gather to deliver maudlin elegies full of insincere piety, and which features Reynard's posthumous revenge. Reynard's wife Hermeline appears in the stories, but plays little active role, although in some versions she remarries when Reynard is thought dead, thereby becoming one of the people he plans revenge upon.

Reynard appears first in the medieval Latin poem Ysengrimus, a long Latin mock-epic written ca. 1148-1153 by the poet Nivardus in Ghent, that collects a great store of Reynard's adventures. He also puts in an early appearance in a number of Latin sequences by the preacher Odo of Cheriton. Both of these early sources seem to draw on a pre-existing store of popular culture featuring the character.

The 13th century saw the light of a Middle Dutch version of the story (Van den vos Reynaerde, About Reynard the Fox), comprised of rhymed verses (scheme AA BB). Very little is known of the author, Willem, other than the description of himself in the first sentences: This would roughly translate as:

Willem, die Madoc maecte, Daer hi dicken omme waecte, Hem vernoyde so haerde Dat die avonture van Reynaerde In dietsche onghemaket bleven (Die Arnout niet hevet vulscreven) Dat hi die vijte van Reynaerde dede soucken Ende hise na den walschen boucken In dietsche dus hevet begonnen. Willem who has made Madoc, and suffered many a sleepless night in doing so, regretted that the adventures of Reynaert had not been translated in Dutch (because Arnout had not completed his work). So he has researched the story and in the same way as the French books has he written it in Dutch.

Who this Willem was, remains a mystery. Madoc of which he here spoke, probably another one of his works, is also still an unknown text to this day. Illustration from Ghetelen in Reinke de Vos (1498)

Geoffrey Chaucer used Reynard material in the Canterbury Tales; in the “Nonne Preestes Tale”, Reynard appears as “Rossel” and an ass as “Brunel”. In 1485 William Caxton printed The Historie of Reynart the Foxe, which was translated from a Dutch version of the fables. Hans van Ghetelen, a printer of Incunabula in Lübeck printed an early German version called Reinke de Vos in 1498. It was translated to Latin and other languages, which made the tale poplular across Europe. The character of Tybalt in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is named for the character Tibert/Tybalt the “Prince of Cats” in Reynard the Fox. Goethe, also, dealt with Reynard in his fable Reinecke Fuchs. Reynard is also referenced in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the third hunt.

Modern Adaptions

Rénert the Fox

Rénert the Fox was published in 1872 by Michel Rodange, a Luxembourgish author. An epic satirical work, an adaptation of the traditional Dutch fox epic to a setting in Luxembourg, it is known for its insightful analysis of the unique characteristics of the people of Luxembourg, using regional and sub-regional dialects to depict the fox and his companions.

[edit] Stravinsky's Renard

In 1916 Igor Stravinsky composed Renard (aka The Fox), “histoire burlesque cantée et jouée” (burlesque in song and dance), a one-act chamber opera-ballet. Stravinsky's text was in Russian, and based on Russian folk tales from the collection by Alexander Afanasyev.

[edit] Vixen Sharpears - The cunning little Vixen

Rudolf Těsnohlídek's 1920 Liška Bystrouška (“Vixen Sharpears”, a comic in a Brno newspaper) provided a female version of “Reynard”. The story was taken up by Leoš Janáček, turning it into an opera, The Cunning Little Vixen (1923). In 2003, the BBC produced and animated film version of Janáček's opera.[1]

In Max Brod's German translation of the opera, the Vixen's counterpart introduces himself as “Reineke aus dem Stamm der Herrn von Goldentupf von und zu Tiefengrund”, where “Reineke” is of course Reynard, and the rest of the make-believe noble title a reference to the foxes golden hairs (“Goldentupf”), and obscure provenance (“zu Tiefengrund”, translated as from Deep Hollow).[2]

[edit] Van den vos Reynaerde

Van den vos Reynaerde, (About Reynard the Fox) was an anti-semitic children's story, written by the Dutch-Belgian Robert van Genechten, and named after the mediaeval Dutch poem. It was first published in 1937 in Nieuw-Nederland, a monthly of the Dutch national socialist movement NSB. In 1941 it was published as a book.

The story features a rhinoceros, neushoorn in Dutch (literally : “nose horn”), referring to the perceived typical Jewish nose. His name is Iodocus, which refers to the Dutch word for Jew: jood, pronounced somewhat like the “Iod-” in Iodocus. The story also features a donkey, Boudewijn, occupying the throne. “Boudewijn” happens to be the Dutch name of the contemporary Belgian crown prince. This is a reference to the Belgian Nazi leader Léon Degrelle, leader of the Rex-movement (“Rex” is Latin for “King”).

In the story, Iodocus the rhinoceros arrives at the kingdom of the late King Nobel. The kingdom is under a power struggle, because the king's son, Lionel the Lion, is too weak to preserve power. The throne is captured by the donkey, Boudewijn.

Iodocus claims he has been persecuted in other countries because he cultivated a remarkably fine breed of thistles. He wants to stay in the kingdom in some modest place and grow his thistles. Boudewijn lets Iodocus stay.

But soon Iodocus introduces some new ideas - about liberty, equality and fraternity. The animals of the kingdom start believing him, and soon the natural way of live is perverted: the animals start mating with other species and sick combinations of species evolve. Because the animals don't recognise each other, they eat their own children.

Iodocus starts collecting taxes with the help of his relatives, which he has secretly sent for in the east. The country is covered with thistles.

The animals become dissatisfied, and Reynard is called to destroy the rhinoceroses. Reynard rounds them up and kills most of them, including Iodocus. Lionel takes the power back.[3]

[edit] Advertising

Bevo, a popular U.S. brand of near beer, advertised with Reynard the Fox in the 1910s and 1920s.

[edit] The film

Van den vos Reynaerde was also released as a cartoon film by Nederlandfilm in 1943. The film was mostly paid with Nazi German money. It was never presented publicly, possibly because most Jews of Netherland were already transported to the concentration camps. In 1991, parts of the film were found again in the German Bundesarchiv. In 2005, more pieces were found, and the film has been restored. This film, among other war movies, will be shown again during the 2006 Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands.[4]

[edit] Other adaptations, versions and references

[edit] In movies and television series

Ladislas Starevich's 1937 puppet-animated feature film, Le Roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) featured the Reynard character as the protagonist.

The documentary film “The Black Fox” (1962) parallels Hitler's rise to power with the Reynard fable.

Disney produced an anthropomorphic animated version of Robin Hood in which Robin and Maid Marian were depicted as foxes, and other characters from the tale depicted as other animals (including a wolf as Sheriff of Nottingham and lions as both Prince John and King Richard). This treatment would also appear to owe something to the Reynard trickster fables. In 1985, a French animated series, “Moi Renart” (I Reynard) was created which was loosely based on Reynard's tales. In it, the original animals are anthropomorphic humanoid animals and the action occurs in modern Paris with other anthropomorphic animals in human roles. Reynard is a young mischievous fox with a little monkey pet called Marmouset (an original creation). He sets into Paris in order to discover the city, get a job and visit his grumpy and stingy uncle, Isengrim, who is a deluxe car salesman, and his reasonable yet dreamy she-wolf aunt, Hirsent. Reynard meets Hermeline, a young and charming motorbike-riding vixen journalist. He immediately falls in love with her and tries to win her heart during several of the episodes. As Reynard establishes himself into Paris, he creates a small company at his name where he offers to do any job for anyone, from impersonating female maids to opera singers. To help with this, he is a master of disguise and is a bit of a kleptomaniac, which gets him trouble from police chief Chantecler (a rooster) who often sends to him police cat inspector Tybalt in order to thwart his plans.

In 2005 a Luxemburg based animation studio released an all CGI film titled “Le Roman de Renart”, obviously based on the same fable.

[edit] In literature and comic strips

In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, there is a character resembling Reynard.

A fox called Reynard is a central character in John Crowley's 1976 novel Beasts.

In the 2006 novel, Echo Park, by Michael Connelly, the villain is styled–and named–after Reynard the Fox.

British novelist Michael Moorcock introduced Lord Renyard, a man-sized talking fox, well-versed in 18th Century Encyclopedist philosophy, in his 1986 fantasy “The City in the Autumn Stars”.

In the Fables comic book, Reynard the Fox is one of the non-human Fables who lives on “the Farm”—the part of Fabletown reserved for Fables who cannot pass as normal humans, due to its secluded location in upstate New York State. He is opposed to the attempted overthrow of the Fabletown government, and works with Snow White—saving her life while flirting with her mercilessly. Although Snow White offers him no encouragement, he continues to hope for a relationship with her.

In the Swedish children's comic Bamse, a new villain is introduced in Issue 7 (2006): a fox named Reinard, who attempts to impress other ne'er-do-wells with his cunning trickery (including dispatching hero Bamse to a remote region of Sweden so that he can pursue a museum raid without hindrance).

In Friedrich Nietzsche's The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche uses Reynard the Fox as an example of a dialectician.

Science Fiction/Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman wrote a story in verse about Reynard in his collection “Smoke and Mirrors”.

[edit] In music

Julian Cope, a rock musician whose work often incorporates British Isles folklore, titled a song after Reynard on his album Fried.

Scottish indie/country band Country Teasers have a song titled “Reynard The Fox” on their 1999 album, Destroy All Human Life. (Fat Possum Records)

English band Angelica had a song titled “Reynard The Fox” on their 2002 album, The Seven Year Itch.

France and the legend

The patrimonial French word for “fox” was goupil from Latin vulpecula. However, mentioning the fox was considered bad luck among farmers. Because of the popularity of the Reynard stories, renard was often used as an euphemism to the point that today renard is the standard French word for “fox” and goupil is now dialectal or archaic.


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