Apr 22, 2013

The Biography of a Silver Fox

by Ernest Thompson Seton


This Seton book tells the life story of a beautiful, rare melanistic phase of red fox with unusually dark fur. Like most animal stories it starts with the fox's childhood, shows how he grows up and learns the ways of wild foxes. Much of the story is about his evasions of man's attempts to trap him, and of dogs that hunt him, especially one particular hound. There's also an interesting bit about a deer. The dark fox happens upon a fawn hidden in the grass one day, and is surprised because where he lives deer are rare, so he's never seen one. The doe attacks him with ferocity, and when she runs across him again later in the story, her aggressiveness this time is good fortune for him.

The fox becomes noted in the local community for his beautiful dark fur, and is a particular target for trappers and small boys alike who try to catch him over and over again. He finds a mate and raises cubs, and the last few chapters describe a particularly long hunt in which he must flee for his life from not one but two packs of hounds (he escapes one group to run into another in a different area far from home) then finally when exhausted is tracked by his nemesis the loud-voiced hound dog. Happily the fox escapes with his life (I won't tell you how though, in case you read the book- it's quite a dramatic scene!) which is not always the case at the end of Seton's animal stories.

My copy of this book is an older edition as pictured above, but I do like the cover of this one, which shows the notable dark fox standing next to his mate with the more common red fur coat. As always I really enjoyed the artwork in the book; Seton was an accomplished wildlife artist and illustrated all his own stories. There are beautiful plates of drawings (I cannot quite tell if these are paintings which have been reproduced in black-and-white, or etchings, or very fine pencil drawings. If they were originally paintings I would dearly like to see the works in color!) and the margins are decorated all over with line drawings in his remarkably spare, descriptive style. Some of these are purely academic showing poses or footprints of the animals, others are more humorous, all wonderful to look at.

I didn't find the story quite as amusing and engaging as the prior collection I read, but it's still a very good book and one that will have a permanent place in my collection. Curiously, I read in the little forward that Seton published this book at the same time that Charles Roberts published his story Red Fox. Seton defended the case that some of the incidents in the lives of the foxes in these two books were very similar, saying that Neither has read the other's story and This means simply that we have independently learned of traits and adventures that were common to the Foxes of New Brunswick, New England, and farther west. I happen to have a copy of Roberts' Red Fox and have read it a few times myself, but I don't recall any particular adventures the two books have in common. I'm curious now to re-read Red Fox yet again and see if I can pick out the episodes that other readers noticed similarities in, so long ago!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 218 pages, 1909

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