Today’s book is short but it’s a classic and it packs a lot of action and eccentricities into 82 pages. I’ve covered Roald Dahl’s The BFG in a previous article and my son and I are equally fans of his The Fantastic Mr. Fox. As with many Dahl stories, it doesn’t shy away from the grisly or the violent. I mean, the book is literally about three farmers who are so tormented by a thievishly cunning fox that they stage an all-out war against every single animal living under the ground that their farms are situated on. So I’m just saying, know your audience if you’re considering this story.
Also adapted by Wes Anderson into a very charming movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox is centered around, well, Mr. Fox, or Foxy. He is a husband and father of four who wants more for his family, even if it means putting their very lives in danger. He is constantly breaking into the farms and warehouses of the hideous farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. These terrible men create a ghastly trio that the reader will absolutely root against, even if technically, Mr. Fox is wrong in stealing from them, day in and day out. As Foxy says in the movie version of the story, ‘comme ci, comme ca’, which translates to ‘so-so’ or ‘neither good nor bad’ in French, which seems a fitting description of our protagonist.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox live with their four small foxes in a hole under a huge tree on a hill in a valley. Every evening, Mrs. Fox tells her husband what she plans to make for dinner and off he goes to fulfill her order from one of the farmers stock. He’s very careful to always approach the farms with the wind blowing in his face so he would be able to smell anyone ahead of him.
However, as it turns out, the three foul farmers are not as dumb as they seem. Bean tells the others that rather than try to catch Mr. Fox on their lands, they should just wait for him to emerge from the hole that they know he lives in. Then BANG! No more problematic fox. They set their plan in action and the following evening when Foxy goes to leave his nest, the farmers fire on him as planned.
But… they only manage to shoot off his tail! Mr. Fox retreats to safety where his wife tends to his wound. Above ground, the terrible trio decides to machiner to dig the family out. The Fox family is jolted by the sound of metal scraping the ground. Eventually, the sharp end of a shovel pierces the ground directly above their heads and they go into autopilot mode, using their paws, made to dig, to outpace the farmers.
The sun rises on the farmers who have been digging all night. They have made a whole large enough for a house to fit into. Furious that they’ve been outfoxed (see what I did there?), they decide to use excavators to reach the fox family. As the hours drag on, the farmers create craters in the countryside but still, the foxes remain elusive. Overcome by madness, the men refuse to give up the hunt, vowing to keep at it until Foxy is captured.
By nightfall, they have set up three tents above the entrance to the family’s hole. They intentionally eat their dinners next to the hole in an attempt to drive them to the surface. When this plan doesn’t work, Boggis asks Bean what’s to keep the family from burrowing all the way across the hill and out the opposite side? Bean pretends that he’s considered this possibility and replies that they’ll round up all 118 men who work on their farms and arm them each with flashlights and guns. If the perimeter of the hill is surrounded, surely there is no escape.
The waiting game plays out for 3 days and nights before the family is forced to try a new plan. Mrs. Fox is too weak to participate but Mr. Fox, and the small foxes blindly following his lead, end up directly under Boggis’ Chicken House #1 where one small fox sneaks several fat hens back to the foxhole where Mrs. Fox is fading away. She is revived by the delivery of fresh meat and the family prepares for a feast that will renew their energy to fight the farmers.
Meanwhile, the remaining small foxes and Mr. Fox run into Badger in the tunnels. He and his family have also been trying to find a way to escape for the past 3 days but Mrs. Badger is too tired to go on. Mr. Fox tells one of the small badgers to run back to bring his mother to the foxhole, where they will all partake in the future feast. The others continue on to a floorboard that is directly under a giant storehouse belonging to Farmer Boggis.
So as not to arouse suspicion, they only take a few items, careful not to make a mess that will alert the farmers to the break in. They take geese and ducks, hams and bacon, and carrots for the Rabbit family that has also been invited to the feast. Two small foxes return to the foxhole with the loot while Foxy, Badger and one small fox continue to their last checkpoint… Bean’s Cider Cellar.
Badger is uncertain; he feels that they have already taken enough risks and will surely be caught if they push forward. But because he is so charismatic, Mr. Fox is able to convince Badger that one last heist is no more dangerous that what they’ve already done. However, upon their arrival, they are met by a Rat who feels the others are intruding. They also happen upon a human in the cellar, however she is completely oblivious to what is going on right in front of her face, allowing the gang to escape with several bottles of cider to complete their feast.
Upon their arrival at the foxhole, they are greeted by a heartwarming sight. Gathered around the dining table are the joyful (if starving) faces of 29 animals, foxes, badgers, rabbits, moles and weasels. The table is overflowing with food and the poor animals were already digging in, they just wait any longer. Both Badger and Foxy give toasts and Foxy invites the animals to remain underground where they can be safe an eat like kings forever.
Now that they have safe tunnels to each of the three great storerooms above, they can stay below, safe, happy and well-fed. The book ends with the three farmers still sitting around the hole with their guns, as rain begins to fall and water pools in their shoes. They conclude that the fox will soon come out of the hole, he has to, after all and when he does – they’ll be waiting.
I highly recommend this book, as well as the movie version. They both have a lot of charm and are enjoyable for both children and parents. Enjoy!