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March 2020: West Norfolk

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Reynardine, Devon

There can be few themes of folk tales more often explored than that of the wily fox. Doubtless long before Aesop (with his The Lion, the Wolf and the Fox among other fables) storytellers exploited our perception of the creature as quick-witted and cunning; Chaucer in the Nunís Priestís Tale makes comic use of the idea, the cock Chanticleer tricked to his doom; and folk-songs without number have been written around Reynardís ruses.
This proliferation can result in local legends and artistic endeavours being compounded and confused. Such seems to be the case with Reynardine, the were-fox whose story attaches now to Dartmoor. There are Victorian ballads, and earlier sources; many modern variants including one on the seminal Liege and Lief album by Fairport Convention; and hints of earlier provenance including an Irish link, the fox in that case a fairy able to change shape.
Reynardineís usual story is simple: he is a were-fox, able to transform from fox to man in order to seduce young women found out walking in the wild countryside and lure them to his castle. There the girls, we may expect, will encounter a fate much more pleasant, or worse, than death depending on your morals and imagination, though naturally being good girls at heart they will regret this dalliance with the creature either way. Another less common version is far darker: it is their blood that Reynardine craves, not their beauty, which makes him doubly supernatural as both were-fox and vampire.

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