Sep 27, 2016

Silver Boy

The Gray Fox of Topanga
by Vance Joseph Hoyt

This book came into my collection over the weekend (a library sale find) and went into the swap box just as quickly. Which is kind of sad. I have a fondness for animal stories in older books and out-of-print junior fiction. Some of them I enjoy for the storytelling, even if the events are improbable. But in other cases- like this one- it seems the author was trying hard to write an authentic nature story, but got some key details so wrong that it totally lost me.

The story is about an avid naturalist in California (near Los Angeles) who so admires a wild gray fox he plans to trap it and keep it as a pet. Supposedly the author himself once had a pet fox and based a lot of his story on first-hand observations of wildlife. He describes trapping the fox and slowly gaining its trust so he can let it roam his cabin, and can hold and pet it (although the fox doesn't seem to enjoy this). Then the fox kills a rattlesnake that found its way into the cabin, and the man is so grateful he feels guilty for keeping the animal captive. He lets the fox go and continues to observe it in the wild, knowing where the den is.

His next venture is to trap a wild condor, in order to send it to a zoo. The strange thing is that the condor was described as a "modern roc" terrorizing all the small animals of the canyon. While the physical description of it was accurate, the bird's behavior was not. In the story it would stoop to catch prey like a falcon, and chase it actively like a hawk, using its talons like "grappling irons". Um, no. Condors are vultures, they eat carrion, already-dead animals. They don't actively hunt the way this story describes. Unfortunately that inaccuracy was so ludicrous, it killed my interest in reading any more of the book.

Abandoned       265 pages, 1929


Thistle said...

Huh. I had guessed this was a really old book based on your description, but I hadn't realized how old. He published books in the late 1920s! I'd be interested in checking something out from him just based on that alone. I wonder if the realism issues are based on how very dated it is? Maybe people really did think that about condors back then.

Jeane said...

Probably. It is an impressively large bird. And it is a symbol of strength and power in some countries. But I read in a few places that the author based his fiction on personal observations of wildlife. So did he misunderstand what he saw, of condor behavior? or mis-identify a bird he was watching? I'm not sure.

Apparently he was a popular author and wrote quite a few books about wildlife. I've seen one about a deer as well. But now I am not that interested in reading it. Ernest Thompson Seton wrote similar types of books around the same timeframe- and he's a much better storyteller and more accurate as well (I'm collecting all his works).