The Yarf! reviews by Fred Patten
Note: This is a fraction of the entire listing. If youre on broadband, you might want to try the high speed version instead.
Welcome to the Pattens reviews wing of the Anthro Library! Since this is a collection of columns from a dormant (if not dead) furzine called YARF!, a word of explanation might be helpful: In its day, YARF! (aka The Journal of Applied Anthropomorphics) was perhaps the best-knownand best in qualityof furry zines. Started in 1990 by Jeff Ferris, YARF!s roster of contributors reads like a Whos Who of furdom in the last decade of the 20th Century. In any issue, the zines readers could expect to enjoy work by the likes of Monika Livingstone, Watts Martin, Ken Pick, and Terrie Smith; furry comic strips such as Mark Stanleys Freefall
and Fred Pattens reviews of furry books and comics.
Unfortunately, YARF! has been thoroughly inactive since its 69th issue, which was released in September 2003. We cant say whether YARF! will ever rise again but at least we can prevent its reviews from falling into disremembered oblivion. And so, with the active cooperation of Mr. Patten, Anthro is proud to present Mr. Pattens review columnsincluding the final one, which would have appeared in the never-printed YARF! #70.
Full disclosure: For each reviewed item, weve provided links you can use to check which of four different online booksellersAmazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and Powells Bookstorenow has it in stock. Presuming the item in question is available, if you buy it Anthro gets a small percentage of the price.
#51 / Dec 1997
|Title:||The Bear Comes Home|
|Publisher:||W. W. Norton & Co. (NYC), Jul 1997|
|480 pages, $25.00|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
It has been debated for centuries whether the ethereal beauty of music can be expressed in words. Zabor does a good job of it in this sometimes-hauntingly mystical, sometimes-raunchily earthy tale of a Bear who longs to become an alto saxophonist in the contemporary East Coast jazz scene.
The Bear is a mutant, or, to get away from the mecha-sci-fi connotations of that term, a freak.
The same genetic crapshoot that had enlarged and detailed his brain had laid a set of opposable thumbs on him, which was cool, but his paws did not have the degree of articulation those nightmare wormy hands would have taken for granted. Was that the point? Was it a saxophone dream? It didnt feel like a saxophone dream. The Bear often played saxophones in his dreams. On occasion he had made love to saxophones in his dreamstell it like it is: he had fucked them, with a ruthlessness hed never have directed at another living being, and then would wake amid sheets of sound or cotton gone sticky thinking, How perverse. (pg. 30)
When the Bear was a cub in a circus, his trainer had lost him in a poker game to Jones, a well-meaning but weak-willed drifter around New Yorks popular music world. Jones vaguely intended to keep the animal as a pet while he was small (a great conversation piece and a way to meet women); by the time the cub manifested his intelligence, they were good buddies. The Bear appreciates the way that Jones treats him as an equal, and they work out a sidewalk dancing-bear act that pays the rent. But the Bear gets restless:
We got any decent wine in the house?
I think an okay Italian red.
Lets hear it for an okay Italian red, the Bear said dully.
Bored? Jones asked him.
To death, said the Bear, and downed the mound of steak tartare in two large mouthfuls. I mean, dance is all right, even street dance. Its the poetry of the body, flesh aspiring to grace or inviting the spirit in to visit. But music. He shook his big head side to side. Thats different. Thats one level more subtle. I mean, if the universe is vibration, and after Einstein whos gonna deny it, energy sifts down matter and before it gets there it manifests as sound. So playing musicplaying music well, he corrected himself, its like taking an active part in the future Jones? You with me here? Do I detect a glazed look about the eyes?
Its a little obscurant for me, Jones admitted amid rising veils of steam. [ ] (pgs. 13-14)
At this beginning, the Bear has only one other human friend:
Iris had been a biochemist friend of Jones left him from his college days, and after the bear he had won in a card game began talking a blue streak and developing a musical gift of surprising proportions, Jones had called her in to test the animals capacities. [ ] Soon Iris was hanging out at the apartment, staying for dinner and sitting up talking with the Bear late into the night, the radio on, the ashtray filling, and Jones trying to sleep in the next room, bothered by the sound of their laughter, their equable, affectionate conversation. What had emerged from the genetic inquiry was not a pat quotidian answer to explain the Bear away but an intimacy that surprised the Bear and Iris both, and as it deepened, as the correspondences between them multiplied and wove them closer, they found that the obvious next step was one they were too shocked or surprised to take. [ ] (pg. 47)
The Bear cant take the cabin fever of staying hidden in Jones apartment, emerging only to play a trained dumb animal, which is getting increasingly impractical as he matures into a brown bear too massive to look safely cute any more. He is tormented between common senseits too risky to reveal himself; hell end up shot or disappeared into research laboratories or at best shunned as a grotesque freakand the desire to get together with his own people.
But who are his own people? His advanced intelligence in an ursine corpus has given him instinctual mixed allegiances. Other bears have an appreciation of the poetry of nature: moss and moldering earth, a continuous undercurrent of insect life, the green difference between the smell of treeleaves and the lolling ferns that found sufficient reason for being in the medallion light that dappled down to the ground through the cover of the oaks and maples. (pg. 232) But other bears are stupid and brutish; besides, who wants to spend the rest of their lives shitting in the woods and hiding out during hunting season? His intellectual peers are those who share his understanding of the poetry of music, especially jazz; the current heirs of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and their brethren. But they tend to be alcoholics or dopers who burn themselves out early; besides, who wants to spend the rest of their lives in the overcrowded, polluted concrete jungle getting fucked over by the cold-eyed Corporate Suits who control the music industry? Also, does the Bear really have the talent as well as the appreciation to join the musicians as a true colleague? And if he does, will they accept him as an equal or as a mascot, a novelty act?
All of these themes are explored at length, with many unexpected twists and turns, in Zabors flowing prose. Fans of Beauty and the Beastthe TV series with Vincent and Catherinewill appreciate the emotionally confused relationship and romance between the Bear and Iris. Fans of jazz will appreciate the realistic portrait of that world and industry, both cynical and idealistic. A word of warning: Zabor is a jazz musician and journalist, so there is a lot of jazz talk here. But The Bear Comes Home is a bona fide anthropomorphic story set within that milieu, and one that does justice to both to a much better degree than, say, Space Jam does to either funny animal movies or to sports movies.
Anthropomorphic novel? Since there is no formal definition of that term, it is a matter of individual taste. I do not want to impose my tastes on Yarf!s readers, so here are a couple of novels which are not anthropomorphic enough for me, but you may feel otherwise.
|Title:||The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat|
|Author:||Susan Fromberg Schaeffer|
|Publisher:||Alfred A. Knopf (NYC), Sep 1997|
|166 pages, $18.95|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
This diary of a housecat is basically a feline Black Beauty. The animals talk to each other, but otherwise they do nothing that real cats and dogs would not do.
If Foudinis story differs much from that of any normal housecat, it is in his origins. He is not a house- or kennel-born kitten; his mother is a feral alley cat who raises him in hiding in an apartment houses laundry room, giving him street-wise advice:
I said, Tell me about dogs, and my mother said, You hear that loud voice barking? That is the voice of a dog. Some dogs are so big that you can run between their legs and never brush against their stomachs. And they have big teeth! Very big teeth! Stay away from dogs!
Will they eat me up? I asked her.
If they can, she said. (pg. 19)
She disappears when he is just a few weeks old. Foudini is caught and adopted by an animal-loving young couple, who already have a large friendly dog. It takes the incredibly patient humans and wise old dog several months to gain the trust of the skittish kitten, whose ability to disappear in a locked room gains him the reputation of a feline Houdini.
This is a mousey house, I thought as the woman carried my cage through the rooms. I like this house better than the city house. I will escape soon and hunt for mice.
But the woman knew my intentions. She took me to a small blue room and set my box on the floor. I saw the door to the room and thought, As soon as she opens my box, I will escape through that door.
The woman pulled the door until it clicked shut, and then she opened my box. I looked around carefully before I was ready to climb out. The woman watched me. Then I saw the chest of drawers and scurried over to it and squeezed myself under it.
Not again, said the woman. (pg. 21)
Foudini and Sam the dog begin to hold real conversations and plan some activities together. Foudini is kept locked indoors, and when Spring comes and the snow melts, he is fascinated by the green stuff that he sees through the window sprouting out of the ground and on bushes. He wants to see it up close.
If thats all you want, said the dog, I can easily take care of that when I go outside. Ill roll over and over, and the green things will stick to my fur, and when I come back in, you can pick them out with your tongue. (pg. 67)
About a year later, when Foudini is a more dignified adult, the man and woman get another kitten, Grace. It is now Foudinis turn to be exasperated by the wild scamperings of a headstrong kitten who refuses to listen to his wise council.
The narrative does grow exotically surrealistic when Foudini records his dreams and the dream cats whom he meets in them: Cleopatras cat, Snow Whites cat, and Freuds cat. Since they tell him things which are beyond his experience (he does not know what they are talking about, but the reader will), they must be real supernatural cats and not just his subconscious.
So this novel is a plausible anthropomorphization of the thoughts of an average suburban pet cat. It is enjoyable on that level, and is therefore successful on its own terms. It is not very exciting for readers looking for a more dramatic adventure than the life of a pampered parlor pussy.
|Title:||The Collector Collector|
|Publisher:||Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co. (NYC), May 1997|
|221 pages, $23.00|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
The know-it-all narrator of this wittily erotic fantasy is a Mesopotamian clay bowl from 4500 B.C. being bought by a rich London art collectorthe umpteenth collector who has owned the bowl during its existence:
Everything. Been it. Seen it. Mean it. [ ]
Now, Ive been used: abused, disabused, misused, mused on, underenthused, unamused, contused, bemused, and even perused. Any compound of used, but chiefly used: shaving bowl, vinegar jar, cinerary urn, tomb good, pyxis, vase, rattrap, krater, bitumen amphora, chamber pot, pitcher, executioner, doorstop, sunshade, spittoon, coal scuttle, parrot rest, museum exhibit, deity, ashtray. If youre quiet, dont fuss and take it, its staggering what people will dump on you. If its vile, Ive had a pileand I know more than five thousand languages (even if you want to get dainty about whats a language and what isnt). (pg. 5)
The bowl has been a silent eavesdropper on 6,500 years of human history; a collector of its collectors: temple priests, merchants rich or poor, farmers, prostitutes, painters, ship captains, and more. And does it have stories to tell of what its seen! Mostly stories of sex: Amorous sex, exhibitionistic sex, neurotic sex, vengeful sex, sex as a power trip, kinky sex, sex facilitated or interrupted by frozen iguanas. (Its amazing how these iguana-cicles keep popping up at the most unexpected moments down through the ages.)
While the boastful bowl babbles incessantly to the reader, it is quiet as a quahog to the cast. However, the bowl is handed to Rosa, a 26-year-old art appraiser to authenticate; and Rosa turns out to be a type of human new to the bowl: A genuine psychic who can tell the true age of objects just by touching them. Rosa is fascinated by the past she can see by holding the bowl (she doesnt realize that the bowl is sentient and is deliberately feeding her selected memories), so she keeps it longer than usual to run tests on it.
As Rosa observes the past through the bowl, the bowl observes Rosa and her acquaintances at their daily life. Rosa is desperately trying to get laid. Nikki is a nymphomanic/kleptomaniac who seems determined to fuck every Jehovahs Witness (of either gender) in England; she can bedazzle them and have them undressed in under ten minutes, singly or in pairs. Lump, a muscular Amazon, claims to have returned from the dead (and considering the other fantasies in this novel, she probably has); she is now above sex, but not above gleefully embarrassing would-be macho studs whenever possible. Lettuce is a non-stop kvetcher who constantly whines about nobody loving her, but who still has better luck at finding bedmates than Rosa does.
It gets wilder. One of the statements above turns out to be deliberately misleading, but which one cant be revealed without becoming a spoiler. But one thing that The Collector Collector doesnt get is anthropomorphic, except for the bowls constant back-patting monologue.
If a novel about a talking bowl turns you on, heres another book you may want to watch for. Science Fiction Chronicle, October 1997, pg. 20, reports the recent sale to the London publisher J. Cape of two novels by Bo Fowler, the first of which is narrated by an intelligent supermarket trolley (Brit-speak for shopping cartFP), in a 6-figure deal .
|Title:||The Long Patrol: A Tale of Redwall|
|Publisher:||Hutchinson Childrens Books (London), Jul 1997|
|358 pages, £12.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
Jacques tenth annual Redwall novel plays up the Long Patrol, the legendary army of fighting hares who loyally serve the mighty badger ruler of the rocky natural castle of Salamandastron.
Tamello Tussock, the teen son of a retired Long Patrol Colonel, runs away from home to join the Patrol and win fame & glory as his jolly old pater did, sah! He is taken under the paw of Russa Nodrey, a hardbitten squirrel wanderer who teaches the naïve hare some basic woodcraft and scouting techniques so he wont embarrass himself too badly when he reaches Salamandastron to enlist. In fact, they run into a scouting mission of the Patrol first, on the trail of Mossflowers latest horde of invading savage vermin, the Rapscallions led by Damug Warfang (a Greatrat), their bloodthirsty Firstblade (king). Tammo and Russa find themselves serving with the Patrol in deadly guerrilla fighting much sooner than expected. Meanwhile, the evil Rapscallion army, looking for easy conquests and rich looting, is headed toward Redwall Abbey; and the peaceful animals of Redwall, now several generations older, discover that the entire south wall of their fortification is crumbling.
The Long Patrol follows Jacques tried-&-true Redwall formula of feasts and riddles at the Abbey, treacherous backstabbing amongst the cutthroat villains, and desperate missions by this volumes heroic animal fighters; with all the exaggerated British accents of upper-class silly twits (the hares), incomprehensible Yorkshire yeomen (the moles), rough Scottish bullies (the vermin), and so on. This is set a couple of generations after the previous volume, The Pearls of Lutra; its animal children are now Redwalls wise elders. The investigation of their ancient walls by Abbess Tansy (hedgehog), Foremole Diggum, Craklyn the Recorder (old squirrel), Friar Butty (young squirrel), and Shad the guard (otter) gives some perspective as to how much time has passed since the events in the first two or three volumes took place.
|Title:||The Wolves of Time: II, Seekers at the WulfRock|
|Publisher:||HarperCollinsPublishers (London), May 1997|
|489 pages, £16.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
Over two years after its first volume, the conclusion of The Wolves of Time has finally been published. In this two-volume novel, Horwood does for wolves both more and less than what he did for moles in his Duncton hexology. The six Duncton volumes comprise an awesomely sweeping epic of the politics, passions, and religious wars of the moles of the English countryside, unnoticed by the rest of the world. In The Wolves of Time, wolves regain dominance of the whole world from humanity. But, compressed into only two volumes, the epic seems shallow and unfinished, with gaping plot holes and unresolved questions.
The Wolves of Time: I, Journeys to the Heartland establishes that humanity had virtually destroyed the earth during the Dark Millennium, and a rapidly approaching apocalyptic war would finish the job. It is time for the cosmic balance to shift back in favor of the more noble wolves, in harmony with nature. But wolves, along with practically all other wild animals, are virtually extinct. Nine wolves among the pitiful remnants of those barely surviving throughout Europe and Central Asia receive a supernatural summons to migrate to wolfdoms mystical Heartland in the Carpathian Mountains and reform the legendary Master Pack, the Wolves of Time. There one of the cubs to which they will give birth will be the reincarnation of their god, Wulf, who will return from the Otherworlds to save them from the Mennens deluge of pollution and militaristic doom. The nine wolves have desperate adventures in their treks from Spain, Scandinavia, Italy, Khazaria (Kazakhstan), and elsewhere in Eurasia to the High Tatra mountains within the Carpathians, where they finally retake the Heartland from the evil Magyar wolf pack which already occupies it.
Seekers at the WulfRock opens with a 44-page retelling of the last days of the Mennen by Matthius Wald, an elderly shaman of the humans of the new world who follow the wolves. I was born in Anno Lupi 12, or A D 2023 by the old Gregorian Calendar, which I believe some communities in Europe still cling to. But since the tribe in which I was raised honours the Wolves and not the flawed Christian god, we mark the passage of our rites and rituals, as we do our seasons, by respectful reference to the year when the God Wulf ended his last mortal life upon this earth and began his journey on the wolfway to the stars, so signalling the end of the Dark Millennium, and our survival. (pg. 7) Those last days were characterized by the spread throughout Europe of the chaotic civil strife which tore the old Yugoslavia apart in the early 1990s, intensified with nuclear and biochemical weapons, rather than formal warfare between nations; ending with a complete breakdown of society during 2011-2013.
Shifting to the main story, the Wolves of Time under their leader and ledrene, Klimt and Elhana, have grown to fourteen strong since they seized the Heartland from the corrupt Magyar pack during the confusion after Klimt killed its dictatorial leader, Hassler. But the Magyars witchlike ledrene, Dendrine, has built them up again through an incestuous union with her own son, Führer, and an insidious propaganda campaign that has convinced other nearby wolves to join them. The Wolves of Time are now outnumbered and under siege. Klimt has sent three of his followers through the Magyar lines into France and Spain, to learn if they can gain any new recruits from the wolves there and to find out what is happening to Western Europe in the Mennens genocidal war. Five of the remaining eleven are cubs who have just reached maturity. One of them is presumably the reincarnated Wulf, but they are not yet sure which.
The novel intermixes several stories: the Wolves under Klimt build a defensive position in the Heartland. Klimts emissaries, Aragon, Jicin and Stry, gain new packmates and have adventures in the Pyrenees. Klimt and his sons Solar and Lunar make an epic journey eastward into Khazaria, which rivals Frodos and Sams journey into Mordor. The Wolves, under Klimts loyal deputy Kobrin, are hard-pressed to hold the Heartland in his absence. The sadistic Mennen terrorist overlord, Huntermann, plots to leave no human or animal life in his wake.
Seekers at the WulfRock is relentlessly dramatic and horrific, with a colorful lupine religion and folklore similar to that of the rabbits in Watership Down. But the action feels more manipulative than convincing. Disgusting events happen which seem more for shock value than because they are reasonable. Powerful characters are introduced who suddenly drop out of sight with little or no explanation. Humans are said to be evil because of the debauchery and collapse of Christianity, but nothing that they are shown doing is any worse than the perverted tortures practiced by Dendrine and her Magyar wolves. The Wolves of Time themselves are constantly sparring for alpha status within the pack; this is natural for wolves, but how does it make them morally superior to Christians? (And what is supposed to be happening outside of Europe and Central Asia? The story ignores the rest of the world.) If the different dates in the novel are correlated, the year when the God Wulf ended his last mortal life upon this earth is 2011 in one place and 2073 in another place.
Is this Horwoods fault, or the publishers? When Journeys to the Heartland came out in February 1995, it was advertised as the first of a trilogy, with Wanderers of the Wolfways as the second volume coming in 1996 and Seekers at the WulfRock in 1997. Wanderers of the Wolfways is now just the name of one of five parts in Seekers at the WulfRock. If Horwoods story was drastically condensed and simplified by the publisher (as happened to Stephen Kings early novels), that could explain the characters who suddenly disappear; the buildups that do not lead to anything; the unreconciled discrepancies. Many of the questions might be resolved into one: Is this novel supposed to be a history of actual events starring anthropomorphized wolves and their gods, or is it the Bible of a new post-Holocaust wolf-worshipping religion written by Matthias Wald, a primitive fanatic? Divine revelations are notoriously lacking in logic and consistency, blind to their own flaws, and full of demonizations of prior and rival religions. But these questions are not answered, leaving The Wolves of Time incomplete and ultimately unsatisfying.
|Illustrator:||Michael Gilbert (maps)|
|Publisher:||DAW Books (NYC), Dec 1997|
|652 pages, $6.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
This fourth novel in Normans Sholan Alliance series is, like the second and third, simply a hefty chunk taken out of a single non-stop saga. The review in Yarf! #46 of Fire Margins, the third book, could practically serve equally well for Razors Edge. The story starts in the midst of one cliffhanger (and if you dont remember who all the characters are and what they were doing when Fire Margins came out a year ago, youd better skim it to refresh your memory), and it breaks off at another cliffhanger.
The series starts in Turning Point. Carrie Hamilton, a young woman on Terras first colony planet, Keiss, encounters Kusac Aldatan, a handsome felinoid alien, in the course of a space war with a third species, the tyrannical reptilian Valtegans. An irresistable mating follows, which is partly voluntary romance à la Beauty and the Beast and partly involuntary bonding à la the Recognition in ElfQuest. In Fortunes Wheel, Carrie goes with Kusac to Shola, and the reader gets the politics of a whole planet of Cat People. Despite the belief by both Human and Sholan geneticists that such a mixed-species bonding is impossible, Carrie and Kusac have a cub. In Fire Margins, the reason for the bonding is discovered as the Leska partnerships spread. In Razors Edge, more Sholans and Humans are instinctually compelled to become Leska mates, not only in pairs but in Triads. This creates havoc with existing marriages and social order, and sets up several scenes of romance-novel passion:
As her tail snaked higher, its feathery tip flicking against the more sensitive parts of his anatomy, he moaned with pleasure. Burying his head against her neck, he pushed her tunic skirt aside. Tell me later, he mumbled. Her perfume enveloped him now, robbing him of any purpose other than pairing with her immediately. (pg. 101)
But romance is only one of several interwoven themes. Humans and Sholans searching for the Valtegan homeworld find neutral planets where the reptiles have sold prisoners from both their species into slavery. This leads to training the telepathically-linked Leska pairs to carry out commando-raid rescues. Still more semi-morphic alien species are encountered: the arboreal Chemerians; the UChurians, like Sholans but with even shaggier fur.
Normans authorial strengths and weaknesses are also interwoven. There is an emphasis on emotional tension, built through conversations between powerful characters seeking to psychologically dominate each other. This is good for establishing complex and interesting personalities, but it also creates a glacial buildup to the action scenes. Norman reveals more about the mysterious Valtegans, making them more repellently non-human yet somehow sympathetic rather than the cardboard villains that they had been. However, by comparison this makes the Sholans seem even more like humans in high-quality furry theatrical costumes rather than true anthropomorphs. The Sholan Alliance serial is still recommended, althoughsince it is now at 2,323 pages with no end in sightreaders had better allow at least a month to get through it.
|Title:||Run to the Wild Wood|
|Publisher:||Wolfhound Press (Dublin), Sep 1996|
|176 pages, £6.99|
|Availability:||Am / BN / Al / Pw|
Run to the Wild Wood is the fifth novel in what the jacket blurb calls Tom McCaughrens classic wildlife series. This seems to be a genuine popular classic. The first, Run with the Wind (1983), reads as though it was meant to be a solo novel, and the third, Run Swift, Run Free, was described in its blurb as the conclusion of a trilogy. This new novel is dedicated, For all those who asked me to write another fox book. It looks as though McCaughrens readers will not let him stop.
The Run novels are a realistic nature fantasy series, in the tradition of Adams Watership Down and Danns Farthing Wood novels. The main difference, besides the featured talking-animal species (foxes), is that the setting is Ireland rather than Britain.
Foxes are usually solitary, except for mates who stay together only long enough for a litter of cubs to be born and mature. In Run with the Wind, Vickey, a vixen, becomes concerned that too many foxes are being killed by man as the Irish countryside becomes domesticated. She persuades several lone foxes to band together for their mutual survival and to seek a new home where man has not yet spread. In the next three novels the fox-friends find a remote valley and settle into it, raise their own cubs despite difficulties, and have to reluctantly see part of their community leave after Glensinna (the Valley of the Fox in Gaelic) becomes overpopulated with foxes. There are a few incidental talking animals of other species, notably otters.
This new story is started by badgers. Human developers are tearing up an ancient forest that has been a badgers sett for centuries. The badgers know of the foxes successful settlement away from Man, so they send a message to beg the foxes of Sinna to lead them to a safe new woodland before they are all killed. Most foxes are reluctant to get involved in another species troubles, but Old Sage Brush, their blind elder advisor, volunteers to lead a party of yearling foxes to aid the badgers on their almost-suicidal trek. This will be valuable experience for the young foxes, barely grown out of cubhood. And, as Brush tacitly admits, he would rather risk his ancient life on one last adventure than huddle in his den waiting for death.
The journey (and the novel) is in two parts. Old Sage Brush, three of the next generation (Fang, Hop-along, and She-la), and their cubs (Young Black Tip, Scat, Little Running Fox, and Twinkle) first must successfully cross the partly built-up countryside to the badgers Fragrant Wood. There are farmers with guns to avoid; human highways to cross without becoming roadkill; and all the natural dangers that make the lives of foxes risky even without man. The worst are a pair of giant Irish wolfhounds whose gentleman farmer/master (he also keeps peacocks, which freak out the foxes) allows them to romp about the fields and woods. Wolfhounds are frisky and friendly to humans, but they will playfully tear apart any foxes, badgers, or smaller game they can catch. After the foxes reach the badgers, the trek to their fabled new homeland becomes even more dangerous. The route to the Valley of the Dragon (an ominous name for a rumoured paradise) forces them to pass even closer to human communities; and those wolfhounds keep coming back.
There are many dramatic scenes, but few that could be called fast-paced. Since their blind leader must have situations described in detail before he can offer wise guidance, the novel is often very expository:
Can we not go around it? asked Old Sage Brush when Little Running Fox came back to report her predicament.
We could all right, she replied. But we might never find the next marker.
What sort of farmland is it? asked Fang.
Bare fields with cattle in them, the little fox replied. No cover at all.
Any crops? asked Hop-along, who, because of his handicap, always sought out any cover he could find.
Beyond the grazing fields, replied Little Running Fox. There are some barley fields.
And beyond them? asked the old fox.
A mountain, she told them.
The others waited expectantly as Old Sage Brush considered what she had told them. What height is the barley? he asked. I mean, is it as high as a fox?
Little Running Fox stood up so that she could measure herself against Fang, who was the tallest, and said, I only saw it from a distance, mind you, but I think its a bit taller than we are. (pg. 67)
With a blind and elderly leader and another who is missing a paw, and a party of refugee badgers who are slow and almost blind themselves in the daylight, the foxes must rely more on guile and subterfuge than on their traditional speed and nimbleness in their latest Run. In addition to the talking foxes and badgers, they persuade a community of hares to help them in one dangerous situation. Run to the Wild Wood is also a good naturalists tour guide to the current state of the Irish countryside.