#FairytaleTuesday: Mrs. Fox

Nota bene: My posts won’t always match up with the hashtag themes because I’m going straight through the Grimm’s 1812 edition, one after the other.

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 65: Mrs. Fox’s Suitors with elements of type 1350/1352 (Stories about Married Couples) and type 1510 (Other Stories About Women)

There are no content warnings this week, which we always like to see!

So, this is yet another weird little story brought to us by the Brothers Grimm that has managed to hang on and come back through every printed version of Grimm’s fairytales. It seems to be very popular but there’s an element of this story that has me asking a really important question and it doesn’t seem that anyone has really answered it, as yet. But first… the story!

The title that is most commonly known is “The Wedding of Mrs. Fox” and the entry consists of two short tales that are very similar.

The gist of the story is that Mrs. Fox was married to Mr. Fox, an “old fox with nine tails.” Mr. Fox wanted to test his wife’s faithfulness so he laid down under a bench and pretended to be dead.

Mrs. Fox took to her chambers to be alone, ostensibly to grieve. Her housemaid, a cat, then proceeded to answer the door to a succession of suitors for the hand of the Widow Fox, who is clearly a highly-sought commodity.

In the first story all of the suitors are foxes. The housemaid-cat goes to Mrs. Fox about each one, who asks how many tails they have. None of them have the nine tails of her presumed-late husband and so she refuses them. When the housemaid-cat inevitably comes to tell Mrs. Fox that a nine-tailed suitor has arrived Mrs. Fox says….

“Open the door and gate quite wide and drag old Mr. Fox outside!”

As can be expected, right as the wedding was about to take place, old Mr. Fox arrives and chases everyone away, including Mrs. Fox. It’s there that the story ends.

The second version is much the same except that the suitors are different animals, including a wolf, moose, dog, rabbit, bear, and other forest animals. Each one lacked that special something until the last one, a fox, when Mrs. Fox asked…

“Is the gentleman wearing red pants and does he have a pointed mouth?”

The house-maid cat answers that he does indeed have these qualities and Mrs. Fox replies…

“Well then, let him come up.
But first clean the room,
and throw Mr. Fox out the window!
He brought many a fat mouse into the house
but ate them alone, the nasty old louse,
he never gave me one to eat in this house.”

There is a wedding shortly after and they are still dancing to this day.

Now, before we get to the thing that some of y’all are probably wondering about, we have to discuss the dirty joke that you won’t get unless you read it in the original German. See, in that first story, where she kept asking about the tails? Well, the German word for tail is “schwanz,” but according to D.L. Ashlimann, that word has a “well-known obscene secondary meaning,” which turns the whole thing into a double-entendre.

Dirty jokes aside, we really need to take a deeper look at the first version and the fact that Mr. Fox was a nine-tailed fox. Because, if you’re any kind of anime fan, you’re probably screaming at me RIGHT. ABOUT. NOW…

The nine-tailed fox is an incredibly well-known and documented part of Asian folklore. The myth can be traced back to Chinese writings from the 4th to 1st centuries BCE. They can also be found in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam:

The fox spirit is an especially prolific shapeshifter, known variously as the húli jīng (fox spirit) and jiǔwěihú (nine-tailed fox) in China, the kitsune (fox) in Japan, the kumiho (nine-tailed fox) in Korea, and the hồ ly tinh (fox spirit) or cáo tinh (fox spirit, a synonym of hồ ly tinh) and cửu vĩ hồ or cáo chín đuôi (nine-tailed fox) in Vietnam. Although the specifics of the tales vary, these fox spirits can usually shapeshift, often taking the form of beautiful young women who attempt to seduce men, whether for mere mischief or to consume their bodies or spirits

Nine-tailed foxes are a SUPER popular concept in manga and anime, which is what immediately triggered for me. The first thing I thought of was the kudakitsune (pipe fox) from xxxHolic:

But this is just one of the MANY representations in manga and anime.

Now, I could’t find any information on nine-tailed foxes in Western folklore aside from this story but I did read about the Kitsune no yomeiri in Japanese folklore. It’s a lovely little phrase that simply means that it’s raining while the sun shines. Essentially, rain while the sun shines is considered a trick of the kitsune meant to hide their wedding ceremonies from snooping humans. It’s so much better than the common term in the Southern United States: The devil is beating his wife, which is just weird.

So, as we come to the end of this one, I am still asking the question: how the hell did the story of a nine-tailed fox and a fox’s wedding end up in a book of German fairytales in the 19th century? Well, that’s a damned good question and I can’t find the answer. D.L. Ashlimann mentions that this version was said to be a favorite of Jacob Grimm’s from childhood and was told to him “possibly from a Frau Gottschalk in Steinau” but there is no other explanation for how this particular mythological creature ended up where he did.

But that’s about as close as I could get to weddings and foxes and nine-tails. I’m sure that I’ve missed something but I’m not a folklorist. I’m just an academic who likes to avoid her schoolwork by writing about fairytales. As usual, take everything I write with that caveat in mind.

Works Cited:
Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition (p. 118). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Martini Fisher. “The Fox within the Woman: Legends of the Nine Tailed Fox.” Martini Fisher, 27 June 2022, https://martinifisher.com/2022/06/27/legends-of-the-nine-tailed-fox/.

Meyer, M. (n.d.). Kitsune no yomeiri. Yokai.com. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://yokai.com/kitsunenoyomeiri/

“Mrs. Fox’s Wedding.” Grimm 038: Mrs. Fox’s Wedding, https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm038.html.

O’Grady, C. (2017, August 13). Tracking the spread of culture through folktales. Ars Technica. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/08/tracking-the-spread-of-culture-through-folktales/

Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew (2014). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. p. 510

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s