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The Fox’s Tower by Sam Thompson

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Fox's Tower

By Sam Thompson

Deeper into the woods: returning to the world of Wolfstongue

At the beginning of The Fox’s Tower, a girl called Willow looks out of her bedroom window and sees her dad talking to foxes in the back garden in the middle of the night. As she watches, a huge, wolf-like monster appears and carries him away. It’s up to Willow to venture into the dark woods and bring him back.

The Fox’s Tower is a new story in the world of my children’s novel Wolfstongue. That earlier book tells the story of Silas, a boy who discovers a hidden realm called the Forest where animals speak: he makes friends with a family of wolves and helps them in their struggle against the foxes, whose leader, Reynard, controls the other animals with his clever talk.

While I was writing Wolfstongue it didn’t occur to me that there might be a follow-up. I wanted to tell a particular story about wolves and words, and what they have to do with one another: Silas is bullied at school because of his language difficulties, and in the Forest he finds that the wolves are in a similar predicament, enslaved by the foxes because they do not know how to speak for themselves. I wanted to give my son, who had speech difficulties, a fable that would help him make sense of the challenges of language — the ways in which words can both trap us and make us free. Once that tale was told, I thought, I would say goodbye to the world of the Forest.

But by the time Wolfstongue was finished, I had changed my mind. I had a feeling that I had touched the surface of ideas that ran deep, and that the familiar trope of talking animals was a way into big questions about how human beings relate to the non-human world. When my editor Matthew asked if I had a sequel in mind, I realized that yes, of course, there was another story waiting to be told about the foxes and the wolves. I knew how to find it, too: I just had to ask myself what Reynard was going to do next.

Reynard the fox has been around a long time. One of the inspirations for Wolfstongue and The Fox’s Tower is the cycle of medieval European beast-fables in which Reynard lies and schemes his way to triumph over all the other animals, and especially over the hapless Isengrim the Wolf. Reynard is the trickster — the charming, amoral mischief-maker who exists in every storytelling tradition and plays an indispensable part in defining what it is to be human: the creature who is not the biggest or the strongest, but who always has a cunning plan and a persuasive story to tell, and who is a little too clever for his own good. All this makes him a great antagonist, and it’s obvious that when he vanishes at the end of Wolfstongue, fleeing the collapse of his schemes, he is not going to stay beaten.

I needed a human child to send into the world of the animals, but this time it could not be Silas. His story had been told in Wolfstongue, and it would have been unfaithful to that book to send him on further childhood adventures. Instead, The Fox’s Tower came into focus for me when I realized that it would be a stand-alone story with a different protagonist; that Silas had grown up, and that the child at the centre of this new tale was his daughter. It felt strange to take such a leap forward in time, but it also felt true. True, at least, that no story belongs to one individual alone, and that if a story is to continue it must be passed along; and true that if you are the young protagonist today, then tomorrow you will find yourself playing some other role, like the anxious father whose daughter is setting out on her own adventure.

When she follows her dad’s trail into the Forest, Willow discovers that Reynard has been busy. In Wolfstongue he used his tricks to get bigger, stronger animals like wolves to dig an underground city for the foxes to live in, but in The Fox’s Tower he has become far more ambitious. He has unlocked the deep magic of the Forest to build a utopian fox civilization inside a kind of giant Tower of Babel; he has learned to draw power from the earth, to create new life-forms and to transform one species into another. As I wrote the story, I found Reynard evolving into a new version of himself: the trickster is only a short step away from becoming Frankenstein, Prometheus or Faust.

For me, one of the exciting things about writing this book was the sense that I was following trails that had been hidden in Wolfstongue from the start. Sometimes writing is exploring a landscape. Sometimes it’s unearthing a ruin, or solving a riddle, or laying a mosaic. Whatever metaphor you choose, if you’re lucky something is eventually revealed which you could not have predicted, but which you recognize nevertheless. I still haven’t traced those trails to the end. But I hope The Fox’s Tower will draw readers into a place where familiar tales — tales about the sly fox and the big bad wolf, tales about humans and nature, tales about how we dream the future into being — will become new.

(c) Sam Thompson

About The Fox’s Tower:

Fox's Tower

When Willow witnesses her animal-loving father, Silas, get kidnapped by a group of foxes and a huge wolf-like creature, she pursues them into the woods. There she meets wolves who tell her they know her father. Together they boldly enter the enormous tower the foxes have built deep in the forest. In the tower Willow discovers the dark project of the chief fox, Reynard, to create new life forms from magical clay buried in the Deep Forest where few can enter. To rescue her dad Willow must brave the Deep Forest and dig deep in herself to foil Reynard’s evil scheme to remake the world – but she also finds herself siding with the foxes against their new oppressor, the charismatic but wicked lion Noble.

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About the author

Sam Thompson is an award-winning fiction writer. His first book Communion Town, which is about a kaleidoscopic city, was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. His second book Jott is about friendship, madness and modernism. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Encore Prize. His third book Wolfstongue is about the hidden world where animals speak, and won a 2022 Spark School Book Award. His short story collection Whirlwind Romance was published by Unsung Stories in April 2022. A new novel, The Fox’s Tower, will be published in autumn 2022.

His short fiction has appeared in Best British Short Stories 2019 (Salt Publishing) and on BBC Radio 4, and in anthologies from Blackstaff Press, Unsung Stories and No Alibis Press, among other places. He teaches creative writing at Queen’s University, Belfast.

He grew up in the south of England and now lives in Belfast.

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