Foxes in popular culture, films and literature

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Monument of Bystrouška, Janáček's opera The Cunning Little Vixen at Hukvaldy, Janáček's hometown

The fox appears in the folklore of many cultures, but especially European and East Asian, as a figure of cunning, trickery, or a familiar animal possessed of magic powers. The fox is also sometimes associated with transformation. This folkore is found in literature, film, television, games, and music, and elsewhere.

The term "foxy" in English ("having the qualities of a fox") can also connote attractiveness, sexiness, or being red-haired. The term "to outfox" means "to beat in a competition of wits", similarly to "outguess", "outsmart", and "outwit".

In folklore and wisdom[edit]


In Dogon mythology, the fox[1] is reported to be either the trickster god of the desert, who embodies chaos[2] or a messenger for the gods.[3]

There is a Tswana riddle that says that "Phokoje go tsela o dithetsenya [Only the muddy fox lives] meaning that, in a philosophical sense, 'only an active person who does not mind getting muddy gets to progress in life.'


Kuma Lisa is a female fox from Bulgarian folklore and Russian folklore who usually plays the role of the trickster. Kuma Lisa is encountered with another character known as Kumcho Vulcho - a wolf which is opposite to her and very often suffers from her tricks.

In Scotland, the trickster figure of the fox (or tod in traditional Scots) was represented as Lowrence, as in the Morall Fabillis of Robert Henryson.

In Finnish mythology, the fox is depicted usually a cunning trickster, but seldom evil. The fox, while weaker, in the end outsmarts both the evil and voracious wolf and the strong but not-so-cunning bear. It symbolizes the victory of intelligence over both malevolence and brute strength. In Northern Finland, the fox is said to conjure the aurora borealis while it runs through the snowy hills. When the fox’s fur touches the snow it creates magical sparks and sets the sky ablaze. Still today, the Finnish word for the aurora is “revontulet” which literally translates to “fox-fires”.

An Occitan song dating from the Middle Ages, Ai Vis lo Lop, features a wolf (lo lop), a fox (lo rainard) and a hare (lebre) dancing and circling a tree. It has been suggested that the three animals represent the King, Lord and Church who were responsible for taxation (the lyrics go on to refer to money gained over the year and how nothing was left after seeing 'the wolf, the fox and the hare').

In Europe, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, foxes, which were associated with wiliness and fraudulent behavior, were sometimes burned as symbols of the Devil.[4]


In the ancient Greek story of the Teumessian Fox, the god Dionysus sends a giant fox as punishment to eat the children of Thebes. To defend the children, Creon, the leader of Thebes, sends a dog with special powers to catch the giant fox. Zeus then intervenes and turns both animals into stone and throws them into the sky, where they become the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor.[5]

Middle East[edit]

In early Mesopotamian mythology, the fox is one of the sacred animals of the goddess Ninhursag. The fox acts as her messenger.

The Bible's Song of Solomon (2:15) includes a well-known verse "Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom" which had been given many interpretations over the centuries by Jewish and Christian Bible commentators.

To the Jewish sage Matteya ben Heresh, of the 2nd century CE, is attributed the maxim: "Meet each man with friendly greeting; be the tail among lions rather than the head among foxes".[6] "The head among foxes" in this context is similar to the English expression "A big fish in a small pond". "Fox fables" are attributed to Rabbi Meir and Johanan ben Zakai, and appeared in a large compilation by Berechiah ha-Nakdan; the term in fact refers also to fables featuring animals other than foxes.

East Asia[edit]

Prince Hanzoku terrorized by a nine-tailed kitsune (fox spirit). Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 19th century.

In Classic of Mountains and Seas (edited by Liu Xiang in Han Dynasty and probably composed by people before Qin Dynasty), foxes eat people, and predicts war. In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklores, foxes (huli jing in China, kitsune in Japan, and kumiho in Korea) are powerful spirits that are known for their highly mischievous and cunning nature, and they often take on the form of female humans to seduce men. In contemporary Chinese, the word huli jing is often used to describe a mistress negatively in an extramarital affair. In Shinto of Japan, kitsune sometimes helps people as an errand of their deity, Inari.


The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often depicted the fox in their art.[7] The Moche people believed the fox to be a warrior that would use his mind to fight. The fox would not ever use physical attack, only mental.

In the Uncle Remus collection of 19th-century African-American folktales adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, "Br'er Fox" is a major character, often acting as the antagonist towards the stories' main character, "Br'er Rabbit".

In language[edit]

As an epithet[edit]

The Medieval Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard was nicknamed "Robert the Fox" as well as the Resourceful, the Cunning, the Wily - underlining the identification of such qualities with foxes.

During the American Revolution Continental Army Officer Francis Marion became so adept at attacking and ambushing British forces in the swamps of South Carolina that he became known as the “Swamp Fox”.

During World War II, the German commander in North Africa, Erwin Rommel, was grudgingly nicknamed the "Desert Fox" by his British adversaries, as a tribute to his cunning and skill in operational art.

The Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) in his Trattato di Sociologia Generale (1916) developed the concept of an elite social class, which he divided into cunning 'foxes' and violent 'lions'. In his view of society, the power constantly passes from the 'foxes' to the 'lions' and vice versa.

Figures of speech[edit]

The words fox and foxy have become slang in English-speaking societies for an individual (most often female) with sex appeal. The word vixen, which is normally the common name for a female fox, is also used to describe an attractive woman—although, in the case of humans, "vixen" tends to imply that the woman in question has a few nasty qualities.

The word shenanigan (a deceitful confidence trick, or mischief) is considered to be derived from the Irish expression sionnachuighim, meaning "I play the fox."[8]


(in chronological order)
This Japanese obake karuta (monster card) from the early 19th century depicts a kitsune (fox spirit). The associated game involves matching clues from folklore to pictures of specific creatures
The Fox and the Cat in Pinocchio, as drawn by Enrico Mazzanti.
  • 1881-1883 - The Fox and the Cat (Italian: Il Gatto e la Volpe) are a pair of fictional characters who appear in Carlo Collodi's book The Adventures of Pinocchio. Both are con-men who lead Pinocchio astray and unsuccessfully attempt to murder him. They pretend to have disabilities - the Fox to lameness and the Cat to blindness. The Fox is the more articulate, the Cat usually limiting itself to repeating the Fox's words.
  • 1894 - "Scrapefoot". A tale with a fox as antagonist that bears striking similarities to Robert Southey's "The Story of the Three Bears" was uncovered by the folklorist Joseph Jacobs and may predate Southey's version in the oral tradition. Some sources state that it was illustrator John D. Batten who in 1894 reported a variant of the tale at least 40 years old. In this version, the three bears live in a castle in the woods and are visited by a fox called Scrapefoot who drinks their milk, sits in their chairs, and rests in their beds.
  • 1905? - Ernest Thompson Seton, The Biography of a Silver-Fox, Or, Domino Reynard of Goldur Town: Realistic story with author's drawing, later made into a feature film.
  • 1909 - L. Frank Baum, The Road to Oz: Fox king Dox of Foxville changes a boy's head into fox's.
  • 1920 - Rudolf Těsnohlídek, Liška Bystrouška (Vixen Sharpears or The Cunning Little Vixen).
  • 1922 - David Garnett, Lady into Fox[9] is about transformation into animal, first physical then mental.
  • 1924 - Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle's Circus - Doctor Dolittle, the animals' friend, hides the vixen Nightshade and her cubs in his jacket, to save them from fox hunters.
  • 1932 - Niimi Nankichi, Gon, the Little Fox: The fox was misunderstood, and it was shot. The moral of result of revenge.
  • 1938 - B.B., Wild Lone: The Story of a Pytchley Fox: A novel about a fox's life in Northamptonshire, the home of the Pytchley Hunt.
  • 1943 - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince: A fox indicates the true value of friendship.
  • 1957 - Ted Hughes, The Thought-Fox: A poem featured in Hughes's The Hawk in the Rain.
  • 1960 - Vercors, Sylva, inspired by David Garnett where a fox changes into a lady.
  • 1965 - István Fekete Vuk, about life of abandoned fox and his revenge on a hunter. Also made into an animated film.
  • 1967 - Daniel P. Mannix, The Fox and the Hound stars a fox named Tod as one of the two protagonists. Made into an animated film by Disney.
  • 1976 - John Crowley, Beasts features a genetically-engineered half-human-half-fox named Reynard as one of the main characters.
  • 1977 - Richard Adams, The Plague Dogs has a protagonist named "The Tod" who helps out Snitter and Rowf along in their adventures.
  • 1986–2011 - Brian Jacques, Redwall series: Fox characters include Fortunata, Sela, Chickenhound/Slagar, Urgan Nagru, Silvamord, Nightshade, Vizka Longtooth, and Rasconza. An animated television series based on three of the books was also produced.
  • 1989 - Garry Kilworth, Hunter's Moon: The life and tragedies of a fox family which describes foxes' own mythology.
  • 1989 - William Wharton, Franky Furbo: A magical fox rescues an American soldier and then journeys in search for proof of the unusual story.
  • 1994 - Gillian Rubinstein, Foxspell, in which a fox's god propose that a young boy become a fox in favor to proper burial of dead fox's body.
  • 1995 – Lajos Parti Nagy, Fox Affair at Sunset (lit. "Fox Object at Sunset"), a postmodern death poem with nostalgic irony.[10]
  • 1998 - Elizabeth Hand, Last Summer at Mars Hills: An Indian boy has magical amulet which allows him change into a fox.
  • 1999 - Kij Johnson, The Fox Woman, in which one of the protagonists is a fox woman named Kitsune.
  • 2001 and 2003 - Mordicai Gerstein, Fox Eyes and Old Country, in which anyone can switch bodies with fox if he looks into their eyes long enough.
  • 2002 - N. M. Browne, Hunted: A comatose girl wakes up in a fox's body in a fantasy world.
  • 2005 - Victor Pelevin, The Sacred Book of Werewolf: The kitsune A-huli searches for a path to Nirvana for were-creatures.

Children's books[edit]

"Brer Fox Tackles Brer Tarrypin", from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, by Joel Chandler Harris. Illustrations by Frederick Stuart Church and James H. Moser. 1881.

Film and television[edit]



Feature film[edit]


Popular music[edit]

Folk music[edit]

  • - "The Fox" - 15th century folk song about the animal that has been adapted and recorded by many performers
  • - Mr Fox 1970s folk rock band.
  • - June Tabor - Reynard The Fox

Other media[edit]

Video games[edit]

Comics and visual novels[edit]


Card games[edit]

  • In the trading card game Magic: The Gathering, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is a legendary fox monk of great power and purity.

Performance arts and opera[edit]



The fox and castle on the coat of arms of Châteaurenard, France
Reynard and vixen supporting the arms of La Boussac, France



Sixteen ships and two shore establishments of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Fox, after the animal. Also vessels of other navies and civilian ships bore such a name.


  1. ^ "Pale Fox - Mysterious Fox of the African Desert - pictures and facts".
  2. ^ "OGO - the Dogon God of Chaos (African mythology)".
  3. ^ "Dogon restudied: A field evaluation of the work of Marcel Griaule". 18 October 1991.
  4. ^ Benton, Janetta Rebold (1 April 1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings. Abbeville Press. pp. 82. ISBN 978-0-7892-0182-9.
  5. ^ Stanton, Kristen M. (6 July 2020). "Fox Symbolism and Meaning". UniGuide.
  6. ^ "הוה זנב לאריות, ואל תהי ראש לשועלים".
  7. ^ Katherine Berrin & Larco Museum (1997). The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson.
  8. ^ "Shenanigan dictionary definition | shenanigan defined".
  9. ^ Garnett, David; Garnett, R. A. (Rachel Alice) (1 November 2003). "Lady into Fox" – via Project Gutenberg.
  10. ^ "Babel Web Anthology :: Parti Nagy Lajos: Fox affair at sunset (Rókatárgy alkonyatkor in English)".
  11. ^ Tyner, Adam (5 May 2008). "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Ylvis - The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?) [Official music video HD]". YouTube.
  13. ^ "Vulpix (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  14. ^ "Ninetales (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  15. ^ "Zorua (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  16. ^ "Zoroark (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  17. ^ "Fennekin (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  18. ^ "Nickit (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  19. ^ "Thievul (Pokémon) - Bulbapedia, the community-driven Pokémon encyclopedia".
  20. ^ Benton, Janetta Rebold (1 April 1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings. Abbeville Press. pp. 83. ISBN 978-0-7892-0182-9.

Further reading[edit]

  • Johnson, T. W. "Far Eastern Fox Lore." Asian Folklore Studies 33, no. 1 (1974): 35-68. Accessed July 1, 2020. doi:10.2307/1177503.
  • Krappe, Alexander H. "Far Eastern Fox Lore." California Folklore Quarterly 3, no. 2 (1944): 124-47. Accessed July 1, 2020. doi:10.2307/1495763.
  • Van Deusen, Kira. "The Fox-Wife." In Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins, 234-57. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2009. Accessed July 1, 2020.
  • Ting, Nai-tung. "A Comparative Study of Three Chinese and North-American Indian Folktale Types." Asian Folklore Studies 44, no. 1 (1985): 41-43. Accessed July 1, 2020. doi:10.2307/1177982.

External links[edit]