What Does the Fox Say? A Simple Tale with a Plethora of Possibilities

By Maryann Henck

When I first read George Saun­ders’ fable-like tale, Fox 8, I ini­tial­ly felt amused, then sad, and final­ly out­raged. I also felt a blog brew­ing – not of the book review vari­ety but of the teach­ing tool/creativity cor­ner vari­ety. For starters, Fox 8 is less of a charm­ing bed­time sto­ry for chil­dren – who will no doubt enjoy it – and more of a dark­ly com­ic cau­tion­ary tale for adults. The tit­u­lar first-per­son nar­ra­tor takes the read­ers on a jour­ney through his life as a fox who lives and for­ages with his fel­low fox­es in the for­est. Fox for­est life is run­ning smooth­ly until Fox 8 has his first con­fus­ing encounter with humans, which results in con­flict­ing feelings.

Pos­si­bil­i­ty #1 – Teach­ing Tricky Vocabulary
What­ev­er you do, make sure you read the sto­ry aloud since the fox narrator/writer feels chal­lenged by the ortho­graph­i­cal vagaries of the Eng­lish lan­guage. But then again, Eng­lish spelling is not exact­ly “strate for­word,” as Fox 8 would write. Not only ESL stu­dents, but also native speak­ers grap­ple with tricky spelling, often in the form of pesky homo­phones – words that sound alike but are spelled dif­fer­ent­ly (e.g., male – mail, peek – peak). So, of course, this was the first pos­si­bil­i­ty that popped into my mind: Fox 8 as the per­fect ingre­di­ent to spice up a les­son on “Set­ting Things Straight: Homonyms, Homo­phones, and Homographs.”

Pos­si­bil­i­ty #2 – Teach­ing Nar­ra­tive Shifts in Perspective
The sto­ry has much greater poten­tial – espe­cial­ly in the realm of prompts for cre­ative writ­ing exer­cis­es, many of which involve shift­ing nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive (first/second/third per­son) or gen­der (he/she/they). How­ev­er, I decid­ed to opt for the species shift (human/animal/plant).

Here are the easy direc­tions for “Cau­tion­ary Tails: What Did the Fox Say?” from my Impromp­tu Writ­ing course:

  1. Read the fol­low­ing excerpt from Fox 8, start­ing with “Deer Reed­er: First may I say sor­ry for any werds I spel rong” on page 3 up to page 4.
  2.  It’s fine to include the pic­ture on page 5, but stop there. Page 6 con­tains spoilers.
  3.  Now con­tin­ue the sto­ry where Fox 8 leaves off: “But one nite I herd some­thing that made me think twise about Yumans.”
  4. Yes, the pun and the mini-prompt in the title “Cau­tion­ary Tails” are intend­ed. The stu­dents’ tales need to incor­po­rate a warn­ing of sorts. (I’m still won­der­ing if the name Fox 8 is also a pun, since the fox­es are con­stant­ly in search of food – Fox Ate?)

Pos­si­bil­i­ty #3 – Teach­ing Human-Ani­mal Studies
Last but not least, the shift in species per­spec­tive lends itself won­der­ful­ly to an explo­ration of human-ani­mal rela­tions as a kick-off crit­i­cal think­ing exer­cise in a sem­i­nar on that topic.

Ethics and the envi­ron­ment are promi­nent themes in Fox 8, so you might want to cut the sto­ry off at a lat­er point if you’d like your stu­dents to con­tem­plate press­ing con­tem­po­rary issues such as habi­tat dis­place­ment and loss, a top­ic that caught my atten­tion in a recent New York Times post on Insta­gram, “Ani­mals Are Run­ning Out of Places to Live”.

So, now, “deer reed­er” – if I may quote Fox 8 – this blog must come to an end so that you have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to read a few of my stu­dents’ tales as well as my own. But don’t for­get to read the excerpt first. Since some of my stu­dents chose to fol­low the fox’s lead in orthog­ra­phy, you might want to read those sto­ries aloud. Enjoy these adven­tures in writ­ing and reading!

“Prof. Dr. Fox” (Char­li­na Strelow)

The lady had teers in her I’s, try­ing to xplane to her chill­dren y she had to leaf tom­moro mourn­ing. I leened for­ward, try-ing to show my simp-aty for her sitooa­t­ion. It is all­ways hart to leaf them cubs alone, butt a nest has got­ta be built, there’s no going around it! Fud needs to be bro­ht into the hous, and it’s a par­ents’ doote to do tat. Evry­one nose tat. Butt then — and u will knot beleaf dis – she sad she has to go wor­ck in a mark-etting firm? It’s her jobb? No, I have not hurd of that before I‑ther … She xplaned to her cubs: she thinks about katchee xongs, and then all the yumans here the xongs and by the things in the xongs. I thought yumans were just like us, but now I know they r les smart. Xing­ing has pow-er over them! They just do any­thing if its inna xong! Like a hip-nose-sis. I am gonna lurn moore yuman to studee them moore. Tom­moro, I am gonna start an xper­i­ment. I will sneek to the cubs. I will play a difrent xong for eech of them. Like Beethoven and Ramm­stein. And may-bee one of the cubs is go-ing to gro fast­ter than the oth­er? Just like plants! Tom­moro I will sea.

“Out­fox­ing the Human” (Maryann Henck)

The human men­tioned fox­glove, which rhymes with love. At first, I thought oh, how nice. She even said she loved her fox­glove and told her pups that she would go out into the gar­den to fetch some. Each pup should have their own fox­glove. Then I thought, “Wait, Fox 8, what does she mean by fox­glove? A glove made from a fox? A fox fur glove?”
My fur began to stand on end. I won­dered if this human had seen me and was plan­ning to kill me for my fur. I had heard tales of fox­es that had been cap­tured for their fluffy, shiny fur so that humans could wear fan­cy coats in the win­ter. But I always thought this was a scary fairytale.
Before I could make my escape, the human was already prowl­ing around in the gar­den in search of fox­glove. Since it was already dark, she used a spe­cial light. She even shined it in my direc­tion, blind­ing me for a sec­ond. But she did­n’t even notice me. She kept mum­bling some­thing to her­self. It went like this:

Fox glove
Pure love
Petals so bright
What a delight
I’ll con­coct a tea
That they’ll drink for me
Unaware that my brewing
Will be their undoing
For the drink they cherish
Will cause them to perish

I could not believe my fluffy ears. Did this human want to kill her own pups? No fox moth­er or father would do such an evil deed. Then I recalled my mother’s tales from the old­en days, humans called the plant by this name because they thought fox­es wore the bell-shaped flow­ers on their paws to sneak silent­ly through the woods. And then I remem­bered her warn­ing: No fox in their right mind should wear fox­glove because it was poi­so­nous. It could make your heart stop beat­ing. Fox­glove was not pure love.

I watched the human as she cut the fox­glove and then placed it in a bas­ket. I knew what I had to do. It was time to be Fox 8, the Hero. I crept up behind the human – she didn’t seem to hear me. Mama Fox was right – Fox­es didn’t need fox­glove to creep silent­ly. Mama Fox was also right about going for the jugu­lar. I leapt, I bit, I killed. Now I just need­ed to bring the pups to the safe­ty of the fox den. I ruf­fled my fur, marched toward the open win­dow, and jumped in. Fox 8 to the res­cue again.

“Four the Luv of Mon­ny” (Veroni­ka Heinrich)

I herd how the par­ents of the pup want­ed to sel it to the king. It wuld maek gret mon­ny and they reely need­ed it. I meen, I dont under­stand what this mon­ny is. But it must be some­thing very gud if they give there pup for it. So I want­ed to find out what mon­ny is. Maybe is some­thing nise to eet. Maybe mon­ny is the most tasti fuud on erth.

So I jumpt into the win­dow and into the hous. The pup was there and start­ed to screem. When the par­ents came, one of them had a big long stick in his hands. I knew those sticks. They maid loud noise and maid fox­es hurt so I ran away. Behaind me, I herd the moth­er sai, “You fuul. That fox would have lookt gret in Hana’s cape. We wud have safed so mutch mon­ny.” And I think I belive thei said thei want­ed to hunt more fox­es now. I’m sad. I don’t want to see the Yumans again.

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