BOOKS: Fox & Cat

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:

Fox, by Martin Wallen, & Cat, by Katherine M. Rogers
Reaktion Books Ltd. (33 Great Sutton St., London
EC1M 3JU, U.K.), 2006. 206 pages each,
paperback. $19.95.

Fox and Cat are the most recent editions
to a Reaktion Books series now including 21
Martin Wallen, an English professor at
Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, presents
not a book about fox behavior by an expert on
animals, but rather a study of the relationship
between fox and human as gleaned from books,
history, and film. Although Wallen offers a
taxonomical look at the fox family tree, he
mostly deals with myths, folk tales, and

Perhaps the most unusual belief about
foxes is the notion that they can assume human
form, occuring in several cultures, apparently
persisting today in remote parts of Japan.
Foxes have historically been identified
by the superstitious with evil, though evil
deeds involving foxes have always been the work
of humans, with foxes the victims. For
instance, the Biblical warrior Samson is
supposed to have burnt 300 foxes alive in order
to set fire to Philistine cornfields.
A chapter on fox hunting takes a
dispassionate look at the history of foxhunting
in England, its ritual importance to the
aristocracy and social climbers, and the
dishonesty of the pro-hunting arguments. But
Wallen might be stretching the political
psychology of the 2005 British ban on foxhunting
when he writes that “In banning fox hunting their
intention is not to save the foxes, but rather
to realign control over the countryside. Just as
Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers slaughtered the King’s
stags in order to end Royalist control over the
land, so Labour has again stymied the
aristocratic regulation of the landscape through
the institution of fox hunting.”
While there was an element of class
struggle in the ban on fox hunting, animal
welfare was clearly a central concern; and the
ban applies to working class varieties of hunting
with dogs such as lamping and lurching, as well
as to the pursuits of those who can afford to
keep horses.
Wallen reviews the history of how wearing
fox fur began, the rise of fur farms, and the
present tension between the fur industry and
anti-cruelty campaigners.
“But the ubiquity of fox fur,” Wallen
concludes, “especially as it has come to be
disguised as unreal fur, reminds us that,
however we condemn them, torment them, trap
them and exploit them, foxes live close to human
culture by defining the limits of that culture.”
What exactly that means is anyone’s guess.
Cat author Katherine M. Rogers reviews
the cultural history and symbolic meanings of the
domestic cat, deified as the Goddess Bastet in
ancient Egypt but persecuted with horrifying
cruelty in medieval Europe.
In contrast to European attitudes,
Mohammed taught that Allah requires kindness to
all creatures, and was especially fond of cats.
Cat purges in Europe at least twice preceded
devastating outbreaks of bubonic plague, carried
by the fleas on rodents. Plague also ravaged
southern China after cat-eating started circa
1350. The Islamic world, however, remained
relatively healthy.
After the last of the major cat purges,
in the early17th century, Europeans began to
accept cats as house pet, as attested in many
paintings by famous artists. In recent decades
cats have surpassed dogs in popularity in both
the U.S. and Britain, coinciding with female
economic emancipation and a surge in the number
of female-headed households.
Cats have always been more closely
associated with women in symbolic terms,
especially in representing seductive traits. And
even the street-wise slob tomcat Garfield
dominates by wile a mild-mannered man.
Cats have also always been seen as more
independent than dogs–and this may suit the
Rogers maintains that as we become less
comfortable with a hierarchical society, we
expect cats (and dogs) to be equal companions
more than property, and we have began to use
terms such as “guardian’” rather then “owner,”
to emphasize a cultural shift away from expecting
that pet keepers should dominate and control
their animals, instead of simply appreciating
–Chris Mercer

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.