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A Black Fox Running by Brian Carter

A Black Fox Running by Brian Carter
4.5
Book Name: A Black Fox Running
Author: Brian Carter
Publisher(s): J. M. Dent Ltd.
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Animals
Release Date: 1981

*Spoiler Warning*

This review contains minor spoilers. Please read with caution if you have yet to finish the book.

“Man is lord in this world, Wulfgar. That’s why we skulk and hide and run by night.”

I love foxes and never understood how anyone could kill such beautiful creatures. Though, by the end of the novel I began to understand what could drive man to conduct such evils.

Brian Carter’s story of a fox struggling to survive on the Dartmoors, with the looming winter of 1947, is both a poetic tale of mysticism and wonder, as well having tones that harken back to one of Jack London’s novels of survival. Ultimately, at the heart of BFR is a strong voice against killing these beautiful animals, the evils of man, the threat man imposes on wildlife, and a view into the life of a fox struggling to live despite life’s trials.

We follow Wulfgar, a black fox at odds against an alcoholic hunter, Scoble, who is set on killing him. Alongside Wulfgar is the philosophical and wise Stargrief who preaches the teachings of the foxes’ deity Tod, as well as Wulfar’s mate, the naïve and hopeful Teg. Carter skillfully immerses us into the wilds of the Dartmoors, interweaving plant and animal life that is both believable and surreal. Throughout the story you will read everything from how Wulfgar and other creatures hunt, right down to the animals marking their territory or relieving themselves. To be honest, I was never bothered by the “unsavory” details of the narrative. In fact, I applaud Carter on not holding back in the slightest, for it really elevates the realism of these animal’s lives.

BFX can be a slow read at times, since it does have lengthy descriptions of the wilderness, the animals traversing said country, Scobe’s inner reflections and justifications on “man’s right to kill” and the lives of the people of the Dartmoors. Although, some might find these philosophical insights interesting enough, and I personally wasn’t bothered by the illustrations of the wild either. The novel can be viewed as a time-capsule of what life was like for animals and man in the year of 1947, with the backdrop of those learning to live after the trials of a devastating war.

Death seems to be the cornerstone of the BFR’s theme, especially since it’s the constant obsession of both the protagonist and antagonist throughout. Wulfgar deals with death through losing those he holds dear, all while facing death himself by being hunted. It can be a very grim narrative, but it’s such a beautiful little novel that adeptly deals with this demoralizing theme with grace, that I find it hard to believe it’s not solidly incorporated into the reading curriculum.

One scene in particular artfully deals with the question of an afterlife and the mysterious powers of a deity:

“He’s supposed to loosen snares and trick the hounds and perform all sorts of miracles,” Teg said.

“Cub stuff,” Wulfgar said. “Stargrief says it’s too simple.”

“How does Stargrief know?”

“He has visions.”

“Anyway, Holy Tod let the hawk snatch the coney from the vixen’s jaws,” Teg sighed. “And he didn’t loosen the wire that choked the life out of my mother.”

“It’s a daft idea, Teg. Tod speaks to foxes like Stargrief in dreams and visions. He doesn’t interfere with individual lives. Loosen one snare and you’ve got to loosen the lot.”

“My mother said we just had to pass through the seasons and we would come to the Star Place without any fuss. I’m not sure I want all the answers before I get there.”

“Maybe there aren’t any questions,” Wulfgar said.

Teg frowned. “Yes, I see what you mean,” she said. “Loving is enough.”

Yes, finding peace within after a traumatizing experience of the evils of man by loving is also a central theme, directly paralleling surviving despite the odds. Whether it’s through finding faith in a higher power or through the power of love. To further this point, on the polar end of love is the central theme of hate, to which the antagonist, Scoble, exhumes profoundly. The man had faced death during WWI and has since harbored a hatred of foxes after witnessing his mount being devoured by them. The binary of Scoble’s only means of dealing with his past trauma by killing is set against Wulfgar’s journey of loving despite his own trauma.

While I do not agree at all with Scoble’s hatred against these animals, I do encourage you to treat this as an examination of the “evil” in man, as well as the other sides justifications of their cruel actions. It’s too easy to simply think ,“I cannot understand why such evil exist in our world,” and after coming to understand Scoble’s objectifications of his harsh actions, you too might be able to comprehend how this evil is able to manifest, even in the best of people.

If you’re a parent wanting to read BFR to your kids, make sure they are old enough to understand the underlying themes of the novel, in particular the theme of death. Personally, I read similarly grim books growing up, such as White Fang by Jack London. But there are other elements within the story that might give you or a parent pause, such as reproduction and the previously mentioned defecating and urinating, but I advise you treat it as a portrayal of realism. BFR is a stark novel of reality, right down to the gritty details. But in no way do I discourage you from reading it to your kids, especially if you use it as a valuable tool of life’s trials and tribulations.

If anything, A Black Fox Running is mainly about living one’s life despite fear of death and not allowing happiness to pass one by. While Wulfgar struggles to deal with loss, he also comes to know and accept love. And Brian Carter’s little book on Wulfgar is a treasure in its examination of morality and finding peace to be happy despite past heartache.

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