Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Those Foxy Foxes: Guest Blog & Giveaway with Kate Cotoner

Paranormal romances abound with all kinds of shifters – werewolves, werelions, werepanthers, weredragons – but today I want to talk a little about foxes. In the West, writers tend to focus on shifters whose animal self is a powerful or dangerous creature, often as a metaphor for the ‘savage’ nature of the hero or perhaps of love or lust itself. In the East, however, by far the most popular type of shifter is the common fox.

Anyone familiar with Japanese manga or anime will know of the kitsune, usually depicted as a white fox with nine tails (though they may have fewer – a fox’s rank and age is revealed by the number of tails it has), a magical animal with extraordinary powers and a penchant for causing mischief. Belief in the kitsune derived historically from very ancient fox tales from China, where for centuries the fox has been worshipped and feared as a liminal creature.

In Chinese, to discuss paranormal and supernatural things is ‘to talk of foxes and speak of ghosts’. Foxes are considered ‘halfway’ creatures – animals halfway between human and beast, halfway between the living and the dead, and halfway between the transcendent and monsters. An ordinary fox may, at the age of fifty, transform into a beautiful woman. Aged one hundred, it can become a man. When they reach the age of one thousand, foxes become transcendentals. Few foxes reach these lofty heights, however, as most prefer to dabble with being human.

The idea that such an ordinary animal could become something extraordinary is the reason for the continued fascination for fox stories in China and Japan. These magical foxes can change gender as well as shift between species, and are often what we would term bisexual. They also have a strong link with pollution and death: Some tales talk of foxes becoming human by drinking human women’s menstrual blood or by wearing human skulls on their heads – urban foxes, being scavengers, were often seen pawing through rubbish, and foxes often made their homes inside Chinese tombs.

Fox tales reached their height in the popular literature of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties (17-18th centuries), most particularly in Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. In this collection of weird and wonderful stories, foxes are presented as ambivalent creatures, alternately dangerous and helpful – and sometimes, both dangerous and helpful at the same time. Chinese fox stories, like European fairy stories, served as a moral compass for readers: on the surface, they’re entertainment for the masses, but dig deeper and these stories reflect and dissect issues of class, gender, sexual relations, and domesticity and the outside world.

The development of the fox story in Chinese literature is very different to that of the Western werewolf, though in effect both sets of stories had the same outcome. Werewolf stories were initially a fear-response to medieval social change. Chinese fox stories were arguably more concerned with preserving the status quo by demonstrating how society could be (and therefore shouldn’t be) overturned by change. One day in the future, doubtless social historians and literary analysts will examine the popularity of shifter stories and paranormal romance today in terms of the rapid social change brought about by the internet age.

My fox story Thunder (Torquere Press), is based on the traditional Pu Songling-type fox tales, about a young man on a journey who encounters a fox in human shape without realising what manner of creature he’s befriended:

Wu Jin has both brains and beauty. Though poor, his family are noble enough for Jin to sit the imperial examinations in the hope of obtaining a high-ranking government position at the court of Tang Dynasty China. When his parents are killed and his home destroyed in a fire, Jin clings to his dreams and travels to the provincial capital for the exams. Pursued by a sinister horseman into the forest, Jin seeks refuge at a tumbledown inn, little realising that he's entered the abode of a fox-spirit.

Tian Zhen is a
huxian, a transcendental fox of immense power and considerable seductive charm. He's startled when Jin sees through his illusions, and believes it's Jin's destiny not only to become his lover, but also to help him find a lost talisman - the symbol of Zhen's heavenly role as the Guardian of Thunder. But convincing Jin won't be easy, and the search for the talisman turns dangerous when Jin discovers it's connected to the man who murdered his parents...

Buy link:


To win a pdf copy of Thunder, just leave a comment and I’ll pick a winner at random on Saturday, June 12.


Unknown said...

Please enter me, would love to read Thunder!

Thank you!

stella.exlibris (at) gmail (dot) com

Jason said...

ooo! count me in!


Lillie (AliseOnLife) said...

Thunder sounds very interesting. Foxes have always been a favorite animal of mine.

Thank you for this contest!


Tracy Francis said...

Sounds fantastic! Count me in!

booklover0226 said...

I enjoyed both the post and the blurb. I look forard in readng this.

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

Beth said...

Sounds like a very interesting book. I'd love to win a copy.

Sherry said...

Please count me in I would love to read this.


Sandy Jay said...

Please enter me in the drawing. I'd love to read this.

forwhlz at gmail dot com

Sweet Vernal Zephyr said...

I love the history behind this story. Please enter me as well. Thank you.

mdwartistry at yahoo dot com

mrsmarit said...

Sounds neat.

Count me in.