Book Review: The Fox at the Manger by P.L. Travers

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The Fox at the Manger – P.L. Travers (Virago Modern Classics, 2015)

This 20th century Christmas fable comes from the author of Mary Poppins and offers a similar quaint story with a British flavour. The story is really made up of two parts – the opening set is set on Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The first Christmas Eve service since the end of World War Two. St. Paul’s, miraculously, still stands, though surrounded by destruction. Our narrator is there with three small boys. While the formalities of a Church of England holiday service may no be foreign to most readers, anyone who has tried to keep a child quiet during a solemn occasion will be able to sympathize. (And as someone who was at one point a child in Anglican services, I sympathize with the boys too.)

The boys are inquisitive and curious and on leaving the service ask why there were no wild animals present at Jesus’ manger. In response the narrator says that there was and she tells the story of the fox.

The story here in the second part of the book is more fable – talking animals, cunning fox, surprisingly articulate baby Jesus – than story and I doubt it would capture the attention of most children today. It does have a decent idea behind it of all being welcome in Jesus’ presence though and I can’t argue with that.

While I did read the book aloud to Pearl, she’s too young to expect real engagement over a book this long. It will be interesting to try it again in a few years, maybe as a bedtime story leading up to Christmas. What Pearl did enjoy were the pictures scattered throughout. The engravings of animals by Thomas Bewick weren’t created for the story but this edition matches them together nicely and it adds some visual interest.

If you’re looking for a Christmas Eve story slightly off the beaten track, this might be it.

Merry Christmas!

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Fox at the Manger by P.L. Travers

  1. Pamela L. Travers did not intend this book for children (truth is none of her books were so intended, not even Mary Poppins). I doubt that your child’s lack of engagement comes necessarily from the length of the story. It is probably the slow pace of the story. The book is a meditation on giving, totality and loss. It also has some biographical elements.

    • I didn’t realize that re: Travers’ writing not being intended for children. It’s been many years since I read Mary Poppins. My daughter is definitely too young for the story either way but you’re probably right that it would take a much older reader to appreciate the story. I enjoyed the meditative quality of it and the unique take on the Christmas story; it was quite different than I expected.

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