Reynard the Fox  

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Lords, you have heard many tales,
That many tellers have told to you.
How Paris took Helen,
The evil and the pain he felt
Of Tristan that la Chevre
Wrote rather beautifully about;
And fabliaux and epics;
Of the Romance of Yvain and his beast
And many others told in this land
But never have you heard about the war
That was difficult and lengthy
Beween Renart and Ysengrin

Related e



The Reynard cycle is a literary cycle of allegorical French, Dutch, English, and German fables largely concerned with Reynard, an anthropomorphic red fox. Geoffrey Chaucer used Reynard material in the Canterbury Tales; in "The Nun's Priest's Tale", Reynard appears as "Rossel" and an ass as "Brunel". Reynard appears first in the medieval Latin fabliau and mock epic Ysengrimus, a long Latin mock-epic written ca. 1148-1153 by the poet Nivardus in Ghent, that collects a great store of Reynard's adventures. He also puts in an early appearance in a number of Latin sequences by the preacher Odo of Cheriton.

Reynard is known as a picaro avant-la-lettre.


In medieval European folklore and literature

The figure of Reynard is thought to have originated in Alsace-Lorraine folklore from where it spread to France, the Low Countries, and Germany. An extensive treatment of the character is the Old French Le Roman de Renart written by Pierre de Saint Cloud around 1175, which sets the typical setting. Reynard has been summoned to the court of king Noble, or Leo, the Lion, to answer charges brought against him by Isengrim the Wolf. Other anthropomorphic animals, including Bruin the Bear, Baldwin the Ass, Tibert (Tybalt) the Cat, all attempt one stratagem or another. The stories typically involve satire whose usual butts are the aristocracy and the clergy, making Reynard a peasant-hero character. Reynard's principal castle, Maupertuis, is available to him whenever he needs to hide away from his enemies. Some of the tales feature Reynard's funeral, where his enemies gather to deliver maudlin elegies full of insincere piety, and which feature Reynard's posthumous revenge. Reynard's wife Hermeline appears in the stories, but plays little active role, although in some versions she remarries when Reynard is thought dead, thereby becoming one of the people he plans revenge upon.

Reynard appears first in the medieval Latin fabliau and mock epic Ysengrimus, a long Latin mock-epic written ca. 1148-1153 by the poet Nivardus in Ghent, that collects a great store of Reynard's adventures. He also puts in an early appearance in a number of Latin sequences by the preacher Odo of Cheriton. Both of these early sources seem to draw on a pre-existing store of popular culture featuring the character. In 1174, the first branch or chapter of the Roman de Renart appears, written by Pierre de St. Cloud (though in all French editions it is designated as Branch II). Pierre wrote a sequel in 1179 (called Branch I) but between that date and after many French authors composed their own adventures for Renart li goupil (the fox). There is also the text Reinhard Fuchs by Heinrich der Glïchezäre.

Pierre de St. Cloud opens his work on the fox by situating it within the larger tradition of epic poetry, the fabliaux and Arthurian romance:

This would roughly translate as:

Seigneurs, oï avez maint conte
Que maint conterre vous raconte
Conment Paris ravi Elaine,
Le mal qu'il en ot et la paine,
De Tristan que la Chievre fist
Qui assez bellement en dist
Et fabliaus et chançons de geste
Romanz d'Yvain et de sa beste
Maint autre conte par la terre.
Mais onques n'oïstes la guerre
Qui tant fu dure de gran fin,
Entre Renart et Ysengrin.

Lords, you have heard many tales,
That many tellers have told to you.
How Paris took Helen,
The evil and the pain he felt
Of Tristan that la Chevre
Wrote rather beautifully about;
And fabliaux and epics;
Of the Romance of Yvain and his beast
And many others told in this land
But never have you heard about the war
That was difficult and lengthy
Between Renart and Ysengrin

A 13th century Middle Dutch version of the story (Van den vos Reynaerde, About Reynard the Fox), is also made up of rhymed verses (the same AA BB scheme). Like Pierre, very little is known of the author, Willem, other than the description by the copyist in the first sentences:

This would roughly translate as:

Willem, die Madoc maecte,
Daer hi dicken omme waecte,
Hem vernoyde so haerde
Dat die avonture van Reynaerde
In dietsche onghemaket bleven
(Die Arnout niet hevet vulscreven)
Dat hi die vijte van Reynaerde dede soucken
Ende hise na den walschen boucken
In dietsche dus hevet begonnen.

Willem who has made Madoc,
and suffered many a sleepless night in doing so,
that the adventures of Reynaert
had not been translated in Dutch
(because Arnout had not completed his work).
So he has researched the facts of Reynard's deeds
and in the same way as the French books
has he written it in Dutch.

"Madoc" is probably another one of Willem's works, but is lost.

Geoffrey Chaucer used Reynard material in the Canterbury Tales; in "The Nun's Priest's Tale", Reynard appears as "Rossel" and an ass as "Brunel". In 1481 William Caxton printed The Historie of Reynart the Foxe, which was translated from a Middle Dutch version of the fables. Also in the 1480s, the Scottish poet Robert Henryson devised a highly sophisticated development of Reynardian material as part of his Morall Fabillis in the sections known as The Talking of the Tod. Hans van Ghetelen, a printer of Incunabula in Lübeck printed an early German version called Reinke de Vos in 1498. It was translated to Latin and other languages, which made the tale popular across Europe. Reynard is also referenced in the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight during the third hunt.

Modern treatment

Rénert the Fox

Rénert the Fox was published in 1872 by Michel Rodange, a Luxembourgish author. An epic satirical work, an adaptation of the traditional Dutch fox epic to a setting in Luxembourg, it is known for its insightful analysis of the unique characteristics of the people of Luxembourg, using regional and sub-regional dialects to depict the fox and his companions.

Antisemitic version

Van den vos Reynaerde, (About Reynard the Fox) was an anti-semitic children's story, written by the Dutch-Belgian Robert van Genechten, and named after the mediaeval Dutch poem. It was first published in 1937 in Nieuw-Nederland, a monthly of the Dutch national socialist movement NSB. In 1941 it was published as a book.

The story features rhinoceroses, neushoorn in Dutch (literally : "nose horn"), referring to the perceived typical Jewish nose. One of them is called Iodocus, which refers to the Dutch word for Jew: jood, pronounced somewhat like the "Iod-" in Iodocus. The story also features a donkey, Boudewijn, occupying the throne. "Boudewijn" happens to be the Dutch name of the contemporary Belgian crown prince. This is a reference to the Belgian Nazi leader Léon Degrelle, leader of the Rex-movement ("Rex" is Latin for "King"). In the story, Reynard rounds up and kills most of the rhinoceroses, including Iodocus.

Van den vos Reynaerde was also released as a cartoon film by Nederlandfilm in 1943. The film was mostly paid with Nazi German money. It was never presented publicly, possibly because most Dutch Jews had already been transported to the concentration camps. In 1991, parts of the film were found again in the German Bundesarchiv. In 2005, more pieces were found, and the film has been restored. The reconstructed film was shown during the 2006 Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands.


Bevo, a popular U.S. brand of near beer, advertised with Reynard the Fox in the 1910s and 1920s.

Other adaptations, versions and references

In movies and television series

Ladislas Starevich's 1937 puppet-animated feature film, Le Roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) featured the Reynard character as the protagonist.

The documentary film "The Black Fox" (1962) parallels Hitler's rise to power with the Reynard fable.

Disney produced an anthropomorphic animated version of Robin Hood in which Robin and Maid Marian were depicted as foxes, and other characters from the tale depicted as other animals (including a wolf as Sheriff of Nottingham and lions as both Prince John and King Richard). This treatment would also appear to owe something to the Reynard trickster fables. Indeed, Disney had years before attempted making a movie based on Reynard, but the project was eventually cancelled, due to concerns that he was not suitable as a hero. Many elements were lifted for the Robin Hood movie.

One character in Disney's Gargoyles is named Fox Renard. She is a trickster by nature and a thief at her first appearance. She has a fox's face tattooed over her right eye.

In 1985, a French animated series, "Moi Renart" (I Reynard) was created which was loosely based on Reynard's tales. In it, the original animals are anthropomorphic humanoid animals and the action occurs in modern Paris with other anthropomorphic animals in human roles. Reynard is a young mischievous fox with a little monkey pet called Marmouset (an original creation). He sets into Paris in order to discover the city, get a job and visit his grumpy and stingy uncle, Isengrim, who is a deluxe car salesman, and his reasonable yet dreamy she-wolf aunt, Hersent. Reynard meets Hermeline, a young and charming motorbike-riding vixen journalist. He immediately falls in love with her and tries to win her heart during several of the episodes. As Reynard establishes himself into Paris, he creates a small company at his name where he offers to do any job for anyone, from impersonating female maids to opera singers. To help with this, he is a master of disguise and is a bit of a klepotomaniac, which gets him trouble from police chief Chantecler (a rooster) who often sends to him police cat inspector Tybalt in order to thwart his plans.

In 2005, a Luxemburg based animation studio released an all CGI film titled "Le Roman de Renart", obviously based on the same fable.

The 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough featured a villain named named Renard. Renard had no sense of touch due to a bullet lodged in his head. True to the etymology of the name, Renard was steady under a rain of blows, as he felt no pain.

In literature

The character of Tybalt in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is named for the character Tibert/Tybalt the "Prince of Cats" in Reynard the Fox.

Goethe dealt with Reynard in his fable Reinecke Fuchs.

In Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, there is a character resembling Reynard, Rinehart - a man whom the protagonist is often mistaken for; who is either a pimp, or a preacher, or both.

A fox called Reynard is a central character in John Crowley's 1976 novel Beasts.

In the 2006 novel, Echo Park, by Michael Connelly, the villain is styled—and named—after Reynard the Fox.

British novelist Michael Moorcock introduced Lord Renyard, a man-sized talking fox, well-versed in 18th Century Encyclopedist philosophy, in his 1986 fantasy "The City in the Autumn Stars".

In the Fables comic book, Reynard the Fox is one of the non-human Fables who lives on "the Farm"---the part of Fabletown reserved for Fables who cannot pass as normal humans, due to its secluded location in upstate New York State. He is opposed to the attempted overthrow of the Fabletown government, and works with Snow White---saving her life while flirting with her mercilessly. Although Snow White offers him no encouragement, he continues to hope for a relationship with her. Centuries earlier, in the Fables Homelands, it was Reynard who devised the elaborate trick that enable King Noble the Lion's subjects to escape after their land was conquered by the Adversary. Reynard then led them to freedom in the Mundy world. A later book (9) briefly features Isengrim, the wolf.

Author Robertson Davies, in the Deptford Trilogy, has a magician take on the stage name 'Magnus Eisengrim'. The spelling is different, but there are references to 'eisengrim the wolf.'

In the Swedish children's comic Bamse, a new villain is introduced in Issue 7 (2006): a fox named Reinard, who attempts to impress other ne'er-do-wells with his cunning trickery (including dispatching hero Bamse to a remote region of Sweden so that he can pursue a museum raid without hindrance).

In Friedrich Nietzsche's The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche uses Reynard the Fox as an example of a dialectician.

Science Fiction/Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman wrote a story in verse about Reynard in his collection "Smoke and Mirrors".

In the last issue of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, one of the side characters is named Reynard, in reference to the original folktales.

Reynardine is a character in the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court. He is a creature that can possess others by entering their bodies through the eyes, although at the time of the story he is trapped in the body of the protagonist's stuffed wolf doll.

Rogue Reynard (1947) is a young adult book written by Science Fiction/Fantasy writer Andre Norton early in her career. Norton, who was working at the time as a children's librarian at the Cleveland Public Library, apparently felt that there would be a market for a simple, accessible young-people's version of the tales of Reynard.

L. Frank Baum's story "The Road to Oz," (1909) little Dorothy encounters Renard, the King of the Foxes.

In Sophie Masson's book about Marie De France, "Forest of Dreams' Marie is lured into the world of shape shifters by Renart, a fox like shape shifter who holds much authority in the Underworld.

In music

In 1916 Igor Stravinsky composed Renard (aka The Fox), "histoire burlesque cantée et jouée" (burlesque in song and dance), a one-act chamber opera-ballet. Stravinsky's text was in Russian, and based on Russian folk tales from the collection by Alexander Afanasyev.

"Reynard the Fox" is the opening song on Julian Cope's album Fried (1986). Cope often incorporates folklore into his work. The song describes Reynard fleeing from "redmen" who have killed his wife and child and then ritually sacrificing himself on a hill near Polesworth.

Reynard is a common name for the fox in English folk songs; there are several versions of "Reynard the Fox", with significant variations in both lyrics and melody. Usually the fox here is a predator being hunted down, although most of the tale is told from Reynard's point of view.

Nic Jones recorded a version on "Ballads & Songs" (Trailer Records, 1970).

Scottish indie/country band Country Teasers have a song titled "Reynard The Fox" on their 1999 album, Destroy All Human Life. (Fat Possum Records)

English band Angelica had a song titled "Reynard The Fox" on their 2002 album, The Seven Year Itch.

"Reynardine" is another English folk song, of later composition. "Sly bold Reynardine" here is an outlaw and possibly a shape-shifter, seeking refuge and romance with a girl he meets "along the mountains high". Fairport Convention (Liege & Lief, Island Records) and John Renbourn have recorded versions of this song.

In French

The traditional French word for "fox" was goupil from Latin vulpecula. However, mentioning the fox was considered bad luck among farmers. Because of the popularity of the Reynard stories, renard was often used as an euphemism to the point that today renard is the standard French word for "fox" and goupil is now dialectal or archaic.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Reynard the Fox" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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