Last week, I found myself with a long drive coming up and no audiobooks on hand! So I dropped by my library and impulsively picked up The Fantastic Mr. Fox, without realizing that it was actually read by Roald Dahl himself. I’m calling a talking fox appropriate for Once Upon a Time too. I had a good time listening–but also came to the conclusion that I’m just too old for this story.
I had seen the movie already (and by the way, great choice of casting with George Clooney as the voice of Mr. Fox) and found the book to be more or less the same storyline. Boggis, Bunce and Bean are poultry farmers, and rather an unpleasant bunch. Mr. Fox routinely steals from the three of them to feed his family, until Boggis, Bunce and Bean strike back, first with guns and then trying to dig or starve the Fox family out of their hole.
It’s an enjoyable, exciting story, with lots of Dahl’s flair for language and rhyme. There are tense moments and humorous moments and a few gross moments, of the kind aimed at kids. All in all, it is fun. And I might have quite liked it if I had read it when I was younger and more willing to take matters at face-value.
But. The trouble is, I can’t get behind Mr. Fox as a hero. Because he is stealing from Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Dahl tells us that they’re terrible people, but I don’t see much actual evidence of that. Yes, they’re rather rude, unhygenic, and ruthless in hunting down the Fox family…but you can’t steal from someone just because they’re rude and don’t bathe often enough. This isn’t Robin Hood stealing from the oppressive Sheriff of Nottingham.
Even the villains’ ruthlessness towards the foxes is an uncertain indicator, because it’s not quite clear what they understand about the foxes’ intelligence and level of civilization. Using lethal force to defend property is going too far, but that’s when applied to humans. Shepherds and farmers have defended crops and livestock from predators since time immemorial. As an animal lover, I’d rather they let the animals live, but I can’t say they’re evil if they take extreme measures.
So while I’m supposed to be cheering on crafty Mr. Fox, I never could quite avoid seeing Boggis, Bunce and Bean as honest (if unpleasant) businessmen taking necessary steps to defend their livelihoods from a persistent and unrepentant thief.
The situation is made worse because at one point Badger asks Mr. Fox if the stealing bothers him. Mr. Fox jumps on something of a soapbox about how he’s only trying to keep his family from starving (because they’re under seige at this point) and after all, Boggis, Bunce and Bean want to kill him and he doesn’t want to do any such thing to them, so stealing is comparatively minor. Which is all well and good except he’s ignoring the larger cause and effect. He didn’t start stealing because they were hunting him. They started hunting him because he was stealing.
I should note that I do like the occasional roguish hero–Captain Jack Sparrow is one of my all-time favorite characters. But Mr. Fox does not have the charm of a Captain Jack, or the noble ideals of a Robin Hood, and at the end of the day…he was just not that fantastic.
But the audiobook only took an hour of my life (while driving), and it was well worth the time just to satisfy my curiosity about the book. And I did enjoy listening–even if it had some issues!
The best part, though, was that the book was read by Roald Dahl. And somehow, he just sounded the way I would expect Roald Dahl to sound. 🙂
Author’s Site: http://www.roalddahl.com/
Buy it here: Fantastic Mr. Fox (CD)