Fantastic Mr. Reid on Fantastic Mr. Fox: guest post by author Iain Reid

I’m over at Pickle Me This today, chatting with Kerry Clare about And Me Among Them, but I have another wonderful guest for you, as part of an ongoing series about when writers read kids’ books. Please welcome Iain and send us your comments about Roald Dahl!

“They [children] accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.” E.B. White

I was never concerned with logic or reason. I didn’t speculate if a plot, or setting, was realistic before choosing a book. That was irrelevant. I was interested in the originality of a story and if its characters were memorable. Good books would stay with me. The ones I enjoyed most were the ones I revisited often. Even though the ending was no longer a surprise, and I knew the dialogue by heart, my level of pleasure only increased with each reading.

On the cover of my Bantam Books 1978 edition of Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, Mr. Fox is shown standing upright, dressed in green trousers, and a red blazer. He’s holding a wooden walking stick. Both in the picture and the story, Mr. Fox was more man than fox. It’s absurd and impossible. But as White predicted, I willingly accepted it. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a story of risk taking, adventure and survival. It’s the story of the cunning fox, his family and animal friends versus the evil farmers who attempt to dig them out of their underground burrow. It was my favourite. I read it over and over. In my family we all did. Even my parents.

What made Fantastic Mr. Fox even more enthralling was our proximity to the natural world. I lived on a farm. We had chickens, and ducks. We had an apple orchard and lush vegetable gardens. It was just like the story. I could walk outside post-reading and re-enact everything. Typically I played alone and cast myself as Mr. Fox. Occasionally, we would even be visited by a skinny fox. His scruffy fur was a burnt orange except for his legs and paws which were a charcoal black. He looked like he was wearing dress socks but had forgotten his shoes.

I don’t think my parents have seen many foxes around lately. Most of the neighboring fields, once home to cattle, crops and wild flowers, have been sold to developers. Construction had been delayed for over a year. Last week mom sent an email saying work had started. Large diggers arrived. She attached a few photos with the caption, “Thinking of Mr. Fox again…today we feel like the fox family being dug out.”


Iain Reid’s work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest, on CBC Radio and NPR. He is also a frequent contributor to The National Post. One Bird’s Choice is his first book. Iain studied history and philosophy at Queen’s University and now lives in Kingston.


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24 responses to “Fantastic Mr. Reid on Fantastic Mr. Fox: guest post by author Iain Reid

  1. Poor foxes. At least we don’t hunt them in gangs here like they do in England, we just demolish their homes.
    Thanks for your post Iain, I enjoyed it almost as much as your reading the other week at the Holy Oak!

  2. kristendenhartog

    Roald Dahl is one of our favourites. Though we haven’t read Fantastic Mr.Fox, I’ll admit we have cheated and seen the movie. N’s cousins bought it for their dad (not the other way around) and it did not disappoint. I think it’s a story lots of dads could relate to.

  3. Heidi den Hartog

    What a great post from Iain Reid with a real life turn of events……..the farmer, the fox and big business still somehow involved with each other. Wonderful to have felt the heart of a story so keenly that it could be referred to in an e-mail years later as an example of how the passage of time changes things …………sometimes for the good, sometimes not. Wonderful to know this classic is one thing that will stay just as it was created, for young and old to enjoy for years to come. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a “fantastical” story and I too found myself lost in the characters, forgetting that they weren’t human.

    • kristendenhartog

      Great point. I hope when N grows up, we can still refer to characters from books we read years before and right away catch each other’s meaning.

  4. Ann T

    Well, we love Roald Dahl in our family too, and I have to say I totally understand Iain’s revisiting, whether of Roald Dahl or other favourite book. Unlike other people I know, I keep books. I rarely hand them on once I’ve read them, and I dislike lending them. I have stacks of them and shelves of them, and I sometimes just pull one out to look at its cover, a bit like a miser fingering his treasure. Of course I reread them, most often because I enjoyed a story and want to savour it again, but sometimes, admittedly, because I forgot I’d already read it.
    But I gather, after looking up Iain’s new book, One Bird’s Choice, that he has taken up a different kind of revisiting…..:-)
    Iain, your book sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to reading it and perhaps rereading it in the years to come!

    • kristendenhartog

      His book is really good — very funny and charming, with loads of insight into the relationship between parent and child. Sounds to me as if his parents rediscovered Iain as much as Iain rediscovered his parents during his stint back home! I think you would definitely enjoy….

  5. I love Roald Dahl! I never actually did read Fantastic Mr Fox; I only watched the movie. Still, I love how fun it is to imagine being in one of his stories. I think, for me, it was the boy in The Witches. I always enjoyed creepy adventure-type stories, and the idea of battling a whole coven of witches sounded like fun. 🙂

    • kristendenhartog

      My personal favourite is the BFG — mostly for the giant himself, such a delightful character! The Witches is excellent too….

  6. I grew up not only reading Dahl (and Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my very favourites) but also listening to him. We four girls would lie on our stomachs in a circle around the record player and listen to him roll his own words around in his mouth as though they tasted delicious. They *were* delicious to our ears. Whenever I read the story now, I can hear Dahl’s voice. “Bang! Bang bang bang!” And the rhyme, “Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean. Those horrible crooks, so different in looks, but nonetheless equally mean.” Oh, he’s a fantastic reader, is Dahl. Delightful. When we girls get together and start talking about the past, this inevitably comes up, and we chant it like it’s a playground rhyme.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Iain. And I’m the same as you. I didn’t, and still don’t, question. Fantastical things are my favourite. (You should read Andrew Kaufman’s The Tiny Wife.)

    I’m so saddened by your parents’ news. And so glad I have your book, so Lilac Hill will remain immortalized. This just happened to C’s parents and is beginning to happen to us as well. The urge to move is upon us. Only yesterday we wished for our own land that no one could touch, our own wildlife no one could uproot.

  7. The E.B White quote is a child I was enthralled with reading precisely because of that. That kind of absurd and impossible storytelling left such an impression on me that today I am still in love with children’s books – collecting them and one day illustrating them!
    Fantastic Mr. Fox (and Roald Dahl in general) was also a family favourite. Us sisters would borrow the Roald Dahl record from the library – with his narration – about a million times over and over over..and I don’t think our parents got sick of it either 😉

  8. kristendenhartog

    Good luck with the illustrations! So pleased to have you visit.

  9. Thank you! That’s very funny, I didn’t realize Steph had already posted and said basically the same thing! I think we were actually writing it at the same time!

    • kristendenhartog

      I just visited your site — beautiful illustrations!

    • Too funny, T! I’m always amazed when we sisters talk about stuff and one doesn’t have any recollection whatsoever about something (which inevitably ends in, “I must have been moved out by then,” or “you weren’t born yet”) but I’m even more amazed when we end up doing something like this, remembering the same things in the same way. It’s validating! And heartwarming.

  10. Pingback: Writers & Illustrators and Children’s Books. | Thérèse Neelands

  11. You can also borrow the Roald Dahl collection cd (with his narration) from the Toronto Public Library which has the best inter-library loan system ever.
    @Kristen Thank you!

  12. RD is a favourite in our house too…but we haven’t read Mr.Fantastic yet!
    Thanks so much for the reminder. I look forward to this blog every week.

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