“A wolf and a fox once lived together. The fox, who was the weaker of the two, had to do all the hard work, which made him anxious to leave his companion.”
I am unaware of any evidence pointing to this tale as the origin for the term “sly fox,” but it is certainly a perfect exemplification of that epithet.
Going into this tale, I thought for sure the wolf was going to take advantage of the fox/be the antagonist, especially after reading the previous fairy tale. And while the wolf is definitely not a positive figurehead in the story, the fox is more cunning than that first sentence would have the reader believe.
Before delving into my discussion, though: the details in this tale are a little more intricate, so as for other similar tales, I’m foregoing a complete summary here in my post. Instead, I have linked the full tale HERE so you can get all those details in full.
The gist of the story is: wolf is hungry, wolf demands the fox find food for him, fox discovers food source and brings to wolf, wolf wants more food and tries to get it the way the fox did, wolf is discovered by whomever the food actually belongs to, wolf gets injured (and ultimately, killed) for being sneaky/a thief, fox gets away unscathed.
This sequence of events happens thrice, which quite clearly reflects that “rule” of threes in folklore – the first time the fox finds food, and subsequently the first time the wolf gets into trouble, is our introduction to the pattern and theme of the story. The reader can see the second round coming, although certain specifics vary and the consequences are heightened. Finally, the third trial contains more risk, and although repetitive, the stakes are high enough that the tale does not feel boring; the end may be shocking but as such, it is not dull (despite the repetitive setup).
Speaking of the conclusion, we explicitly find out in the last lines of the tale that the fox has really just been wanting to rid himself of the wolf’s company/demands – whereas in the beginning, “the fox, who was the weaker of the two, had to do all the hard work, which made him anxious to leave his companion.” The wolf could not escape the final time because he had become too greedy, but what of this change in the fox? Did those opening lines simply not tell the whole story? Was each round of food collection a stepping stone to confidence for the fox (the wolf was clearly the confident one from the beginning – which was sort of his downfall in each confrontation)? Did that confidence breed the cunning actions of the fox, or, again, was the fox really cunning all along? The latter just might be a scenario I’m creating to make sense of the brutality of the whole situation, especially because the fox does come off as cunning and aware of the consequences throughout the story. I’m going back and forth because the very first sentence sets up the fox as being vulnerable, while the last sentence ends on an happy note for the fox (by the use of the word “rejoiced”), even though just moments before the wolf met a terribly end.
“Friend fox,” said the wolf, “pray tell me why you are so fidgety, and why you run about in such an odd manner.” “I am looking out, lest any one should come,” replied the cunning creature. “Come, are you not eating too much?”
“I am not going away,” said the wolf, “until the tub is empty; that would be foolish!”
In the meantime, the farmer, who had heard the fox running about, came into the cellar to see what was stirring, and upon the first sight of him, the fox with one leap was through the hole and on his way to the wood. But when the wolf attempted to follow, he had so increased his size by his greediness, that he could not succeed, and stuck in the hole, which enabled the farmer to kill him with his cudgel. The fox, however, reached the wood in safety, and rejoiced to be freed from the old glutton.
As I hope I’ve sort of implied, I can’t help but feel a little bad for the wolf, and not totally cheer on the fox for trying to better his own life. Although at the same time, the fox did find his happiness and was able to free himself from the wolf, through cleverness (playing into the confidence of the wolf and his greedy nature) and slightly indirect trickery.
Are you team wolf or team fox? Team excruciatingly undecided like me or Team just pick a side for heaven’s sake!? Sound off in the comments!
- Watch the Grimm’s Fairy Tales Classics rendition of The Wolf and the Fox (in which the wolf is portrayed as a terrifying menace towards the animals of the forest, from which the fox saves them with his cunning smarts)
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – 41: The Wolf Overeats in the Cellar (or pantry)