Human beings have, historically, revealed a vigorous capacity for steering other human beings away from the way they are currently living into a more preferred lifestyle. This goes without saying as you look through the history of conquest, or even the religious wrangling of English kings, as well as the tentacled reach of Catholic missionaries to the godless jungles and, more recently, First Nations children in Canada that were removed from their homes, or Christianity-fueled gay conversion therapy programs. We have thousands of years of dominant groups redirecting lesser groups to a better way of living.
That’s what came to mind as I read Guy Colwell‘s In Fox’s Forest, which begins with a fox traversing the interconnection of wilderness society, only to be taken away to a mysterious farm to undergo some strange form of conversion therapy that seems to be set on taming him. The other thing I thought of what Patrick McGoohan’s examination of the power and perils of fighting for individuality, the original Prisoner television series.
Opening with the intoxicating freedom of being a fox, out in nature, hunting, the fox’s perception is quickly shifted after paranoid stories about “two-leggers” are followed by their appearance. The escape with the fox’s mate is still a bit of a wilderness frolic, just another exciting moment in the life of the untamed, but when the fox is caught in a trap and thrown into a prison with a dog who refuses to accept the fox as a fox and transported to a facility where the psychological manipulation begins.
Trapped between the calculated brutality of the dogs there and the suspicious safety provided by the “two-leggers,” the fox finds that surviving is not as cut and dry there as it was in the wilderness, and he might have to make some unwelcome compromises if he expects to see his home in the forest again.
Colwell’s art is crisp and clear, and gives a lot of personality to the various animal characters without the pitfalls of anthropomorphizing them too much. You never see the human faces of the captors, and their intentions don’t become totally clear until the end of the book, and so Colwell is able to keep up their ominous, sometimes confounding presence, without any stereotyping.
What results is a timely fable of ill-effects of coercion and detainment, of being true to yourself, of what is normal, that should speak to kids as well as adult readers. With a simple message like “live and let live,” Colwell reveals that the simplest, most correct truths are often the ones that linger silently, begging us to remember them.