“There was once an old fox with nine tails, who wished to put his wife’s affection to proof.”
This tale, [which I first thought was] separated into two sections, is not the most spectacular tale in the Grimm collection, but the rhyming sequences at least make parts of it fun to read.
We begin with Mr. Fox, who, as the first sentence explains, wants [for some reason] to test his wife’s fidelity. So he pretends to die, and Mrs. Fox grieves her loss. Word gets around about his “death”, and fox suitors show up to try and win Mrs. Fox’s love.
“She is sitting upstairs in her grief,
And her eyes with her weeping are sore;
From her sorrow she gets no relief,
Now poor old Mr. Fox is no more!”
She objects to eight of them for not having nine tails, but when a nine-tailed fox shows up, she is overjoyed and tells her maid (a cat) to remove Mr. Fox from the house, where he has apparently laid still as death while all of this was going on.
Except of course, Mr. Fox is not actually dead, and he jumps up to expose his plot and turns everyone out of the house, including Mrs. Fox. That is where part one ends.
It was odd to me that part two seemingly picked up after Mr. Fox’s actual death, and after Mrs. Fox and her cat maid have returned to the house (no sign of the nine-tailed suitor from part one). However, I have since learned that “part two” is a second version of the tale, and thus is not a continuation but its own story. Spoiler alert: this one concludes much more positively for Mrs. Fox.
This time, a variety of animals come to court Mrs. Fox, like a wolf, dog, stag, hare, bear, lion, “and several other wild animals.”
“Won’t she take another spouse,
To protect her and her house?”
Up went the cat, pit-a-pat, pit-a-pat.
She knocks at the door, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat!
“Mrs. Fox, are you there?”
“Yes, yes, pussy dear!”
“There’s a suitor below,
Shall I tell him to go?”
But because “all of them lacked the good endowments possessed by the late Mr. Fox”—”red breeches and a sharp nose”—she refuses them all. Then a fox shows up with those endowments and Mrs. Fox is again overjoyed; this time the story ends happily.
So she was married to young Master Fox with much dancing and rejoicing, and for anything I have heard to the contrary, they may be dancing still.
There’s not much I have to say about this tale, apart from what I mentioned about the fun-to-read rhyming sequences. But what is interesting to me is the nine-tailed foxes that appear in the story.
The nine-tailed fox was first seen in the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a millenia-old collection of Chinese mythology and symbols (a version of which Penguin Random House publishes). This fox can be considered as a good or bad omen depending on the story, and does not just appear in Chinese folklore; it is also present in Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese folklore, literature, and mythology. As for the specificity of “nine”—I’m barely a novice in numerology, and I don’t have adequate resources at my fingertips for really studying this. But I do enjoy reading what other people, who are fascinated by and more educated than me on a topic like this, compile and write here on the interwebs (see below in EXTRAS), and it seems like nine crops up in various cultures throughout history. Its relation to the number three—an even more common number in the folklore and myths I’ve read—is hard to ignore; I really should turn to books on folklore analysis and investigation more often. Do you have any recommendations?