The Fox Woman

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 1, 2005

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

Seven people showed up to discuss this retelling of an early Medieval (Heian Period) Japanese fairy tale. Everyone had read part of the book, but only four had finished. Three others sent in comments by e-mail and telephone.

This book is an expansion of Johnson’s novelette “Fox Magic,” winner of the 1994 Sturgeon Award. The Fox Woman is now considered the first book of the Heian Trilogy Love/War/Death, with Johnson’s publication of the second book, Fudoki.

The Fox Woman is a magical story of three characters, the choices they make, and the consequences. It’s told in journal form by a young fox who falls in love with a human and longs to become human herself; the man she loves, who is unhappy with his life and his perfect wife; and his wife, who is terrified of foxes and is not as perfect as she seems.

We were split between those who enjoyed this poetic, magical tale and those who thought the romantic agonies were overdone and the book stretched too far–the novelette may have been a better length. Since most of us are jaded readers, we did find this book interesting and different from the usual fantasies set in pseudo-Medieval Europe.

We particularly liked the glimpses behind the magical illusion the foxes had created. The man, dressed in silks and dining elegantly with a beautiful woman in a richly appointed house, is in reality eating a dead mouse while wearing rags and lying in the dirt of a fox’s den.

— Sandy Kayser