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The Fox at the Manger by P. L. Travers

The Fox at the Manger (1963)

by P. L. Travers

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  1. 00
    I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge (bmlg)
    bmlg: old-fashioned English stories about children and humble gifts at Christmas, with an undercurrent of sadness

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P.L. Travers, author of the beloved novels about that magical nanny, Mary Poppins, turns her attention to the Christmas story in this lovely little volume. Narrated by an unnamed woman - perhaps Travers herself? - The Fox at the Manger details how three young boys are brought to St. Paul's cathedral in London, shortly after the end of World War II, to attend the traditional Christmas Eve service there. The first part of the book concerns the service itself, and the (hilarious) questions the boys have about what they are experiencing. Responding to the hymn of The Friendly Beasts, which forms an important part of the service, and of the narrative, the boys afterward question the narrator, wanting to know whether the wild animals also brought gifts to the Christ Child. There follows an inset story, told by the narrator to the boys, concerning the Fox, and the extraordinary gift he gave...

Such is the beauty and power of Travers' tale here, and such was the strength of my response to it, that when I finished reading it yesterday, sitting in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, I could only sit there, gazing into space. I had planned, as is my custom on the weekend, to spend the entire day reading various titles, designated as in-library use only, but after The Fox at the Manger I found that I simply couldn't stomach the idea of reading anything else at that moment. I needed time to digest. Time to ponder. Travers' narrative is beautifully written, with passages I needed to read time and again, to appreciate them fully. The scene in which the narrator imagines London past, present and future, with all the times and generations bleeding into one another, and co-existing, was magical. The entire story of the fox, with its references to Reynardian lore, and its sensitive understanding of the conflicting and yet complementary nature of wild and domestic animals, was poignant and powerful. As someone with an interest in foxes - I wrote my masters dissertation on retellings of the History of Reynard for English-language children - I was pretty much guaranteed to find this one interesting. What I didn't expect was to find it so beautiful, so moving, and so thought-provoking. I have never seen Christ compared to a fox before, but when the vulpine character here tells the Child that "it is you who are the fox now, alone against the world," it felt so perfectly right! I had never really considered the meaning and significance of those Biblical passages which speak of the "lion lying down with lamb," but Travers made me think of them, and invested them with a power of which I had not dreamed. Here, from the concluding scenes of the Fox's tale, are some passages that spoke to me most directly:

"His yellow eyes were fixed unblinkingly on the Child and the Child's eyes shone unblinkingly back at him. With a look that seemed to unwind time the two gazed at each other. What they said in that look no one can tell. They might have lived a lifetime in it - thirty-three years of life maybe - stretching away from this winter night to a far-off day in spring."

"This is the way the wheel turns, coming at last to full circle, with wild as well as tame at the crib; lion and turtle-dove together and barnyard beasts lying down with the fox. For wild and tame are but two halves and here, where all begins and ends, everything must be whole."

There is a sharpness of pain here, and an understanding of sacrifice, that make The Fox at the Manger one of the best Nativity Stories I have ever read. I am so very glad that, after many years of meaning to get to this one, I finally did, and I know that it will linger with me for a long time. ( )
1 vote AbigailAdams26 | Dec 24, 2018 |
Liked this better than Mary Poppins. I am going to read this every December. I swear.
1 vote MissItaly | Jan 28, 2016 |
Very charming! Maybe not so great for children, but delightful for adults. A sweet Christmas story with some funny insights from a mom about her kids. I just stumbled onto this and picked it up because it was Travers. I'm very glad I did. Short and sweet just the right flavor for the Christmas season. ( )
1 vote njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
P. L. Traversprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bewick, ThomasIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To C. to remind him
of his childhood
First words
No-ow-ell, No-ow-ell,
No-ow-ell, No-ow-eh-eh-ell
Born is the ki-ing of I-is-ra-el..

sang the choir, like musical new-boys, flinging their glad tidings all around the cathedral and up into the great dark dome.
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Book description
Three young boys in postwar London at Christmas time hear a story of the fox who came to the manger to see the Christ Child, and defended to the other animals his right to be there and his gift for the child.

For the first time since the war, the Christmas peal is ringing at St Paul's Cathedral. There is joy. There is new hope. It is Christmas Eve, the carol service has ended and a woman with three small boys leaves the cathedral, the children swooping like pigeons.

" 'Why weren't there any wild animals at the crib? Haven't they got something to give? And I heard myself say, 'Yes, they have.' Was it true, what I had told them? Did I dream it? Where it came from I do not know but I seemed to remember every word, just as if I had heard it..."

Outside St Paul's, the children are told the nativity story from a unique perspective: that of a fox. Despite the scorn of the other animals, he enters the stable to offer the child a gift that he alone can give.
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