OUTLAWS #3: REYNARD THE FOX
Part Brer Rabbit, part Jack Reacher, Reynard is one of the greatest and evilest characters in medieval popular literature
At the Bodleian library in Oxford there is an exhibition running about the late-medieval outlaw-anarchist Reynard the Fox. I haven’t been to the show (yet) but this week I looked it up online. From what I can tell, the Oxford retelling of Reynard’s story appears to be aimed towards children.
On one level I suppose that makes sense: Reynard the Fox is, well, a fox. He’s cheeky prankster, and the point of his story is that he lives on his wits, constantly and amusingly getting the better of the other more ponderous or guileless characters in the story, particularly his nemesis Isengrim/Ysengrin the Wolf.
His is a story in which animals take the place of humans, and to the modern mind that means it’s a cartoon. Cartoons are for kids, right? Well, sometimes. Nearly a hundred years ago Walt Disney experimented with developing a Reynard the Fox film. But if we go back to the original stories from the Middle Ages, we will find that the outlaw tales of Reynard are closer in spirit to South Park than to Peppa Pig. Reynard lies, dissembles, cheats and consistently wriggles his way out of trouble.
In this post I want to show you just how amoral and entertaining he can be.