Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Blue Fox

I read about The Blue Fox by Sjon last week here and as it is based on Icelandic folklore I thought it would make an interesting read for the folklore section of Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge so I hunted down a copy.

A surreal novella set in Iceland in the late 19th Century (translated from Icelandic) following two apparently separate stories that intersect in an unexpected way. There is Reverend Baldur who is hunting the elusive blue fox, a rich symbol in Icelandic folklore myth, and the herbalist, Fridrik, and his charge Abba, who has Down's Syndrome, and their fates are bound together. This is an unusual and thought-provoking read, especially upon the subject of Down's Syndrome and technology (how does destroying Down's Syndrome babies at birth in 19th Century Iceland differ from aborting them now?)

The sparseness of the first section, sometimes a page with no more than one line, is symbolic of the Icelandic landscape and the snow upon which the blue fox is hunted (the hunted and the hunter both camouflaged at times). An effective technique, this economy of words upon the page underscores the brevity yet poignancy of the tale. I was also interested in the effect editorially; Kamila Shamsie (or likely her Bloomsbury editors) does something similar in the Hiroshima section of Burnt Shadows, representing the flashing white light, and it is highly effective.

Without a prior knowledge of Icelandic/Norse folklore it was difficult to determine how this tale used it, embodied it, and adapted it, and the little research I attempted didn't get me very far; it is certainly a subject that I would like to read about more, given the chance. From what I did find out, the title holds a double-meaning: on one hand the blue fox is the subject of folk-tales, the offspring of a cat and a fox, but it also means an evil spirit or a sinister person, and both are represented within the novella. The Blue Fox is on the surface a simple, magical, tale but it is curious and has hidden depths, that with further knowledge would be further of re-examination. Furthermore, it is a favourite of Bjork's, which to me is an amusing blurb.

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