Reynard is a cycle of fables about a fox of a nobleman - not quite a fox, and not quite a nobleman either - but he has his own castle and lots of enemies. "The work has been actually enjoyed not only by the young but also by adults throughout the centuries and throughout Europe," Saori Tsuji sums up in a doctoral dissertation on Reynard (2016, 1). She also cites David Vedder who thinks no other secular work has got "such unbounded popularity as the story of 'Reynard the Fox'" (Ib.).
The fable figure is thought to have originated in Alsace-Lorraine folklore. From there it spread to France, the Low Countries, and Germany. Quite similar fables are found in other parts of Europe too. Around 1170, Pierre de Saint-Cloud presented the tales.
The Reynard tales have a long history, and the early written sources seem to draw on a previous folk stories about him. By and by many authors uses the material. Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales use Reynard material in "The Nun's Priest's Tale, for example.
Reynard appears in books in many languages, in puppet shows and in films.
How the story goes, in short
Reynard is summoned to the court of King Noble, a lion, to answer charges brought against him by the wolf. Other fable animals try to get him killed. That proves more easily said than done, for Reynard tends to outwit his enemies and has his own castle to hide away in as well. He has a wife too, Hermeline, but she rarely plays any active part in the stories, although in some versions she remarries when Reynard is thought dead.
Isengrim (also: Ysengrin), dull and greedy, is most often Reynard's adversary, ending up outwitted for most part, although he sometimes gets revenge.
From the History
Reynard first appears in writing in a long Latin mock-epos written ca. 1148-1153. Some twenty years later, Pierre de St. Cloud wrote a Raynard chapter and a seque to it. Very little is known about Pierre. Many other French authors meanwhile composed their own adventures for Renart li goupil (the fox). There is also the text Reinhard Fuchs by Heinrich der Glïchezäre.
A 13th-century Middle Dutch version of the story, Van den vos Reynaerde, (About Reynard the Fox). Very little is known of the author, Willem "die Madocke maecte".
In 1481 William Caxton printed The Historie of Reynart the Foxe, which was translated from a Middle Dutch version of the fables.
Also in the 1480s, the Scottish poet Robert Henryson developed Reynard material.
Hans van Ghetelen in Lübeck printed an early German version called Reinke de Vos in 1498. It was translated to Latin and other languages, which made the tale popular across Europe.
In literature, many fables are about foxes and various fox encounters.
William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and others have been inspired by characters in the Reynard cycle.
The trickster figure Reynard the Fox has also appeard in works made later too. For example, Disney's film Robin Hood (1973) was initially planned to be a movie about Reynard the Fox, but Walt Disney wanted a hero, and the trickster Reynard seemed quite unsuitable as one. All the same, many elements from Renard tales are in the Disney Robin Hood: Robin Hood is a fox, like Reynard, and the sheriff of Nottinghamis a wolf, like Isengrim.
Animated series are made also, and an animated European film too.
(Main source: Wikipedia, "Reynard the Fox")
Evans, Charles Seddon. 1921. Reynard the Fox. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1921.
Guerber, Helene A. 1896. Reynard the Fox. New York: American Book Company.
Morley, Henry. ed. 1889. The History of Reynard the Fox: William Caxton's English Translation of 1481. London: George Routledge and Sons.
Naylor, Samuel, ed. 1845. Reynard the Fox; A Renowned Apologue of the Middle Age reproduced in Rhyme. London, Longmans.
Tsuji, Saori. 2016. Textual Transition and Reception of the English Reynard the Fox. Doctoral Dissertation. Fukuoka, JN: Fukuoka Women's University. ⍽▢⍽ The author lists 60 primary sources. The amount of sources reflects the wide and long-lasting popularity of the tales.
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