I wanted to try something different for my next post so I chose a book outside of my favorite genre. When I downloaded Arlene Radasky’s The Fox, I really wasn’t sure what I would expect. I refused to check what Google has on the book. I wanted to be surprised. Nearly a quarter through the book, I realized that The Fox will not allow me to escape from the grim realities of life.
The Fox takes its readers back to first century Scotland where the story focuses on the druid, Lovern, and his wife, Jahna. In here, readers will witness how both of them met and fell in love with each other. In parallel, another story unfolds in the character of archeologist Aine MacRae in the year 2005. Radasky artfully makes the connection between the two stories by providing Jahna’s spirit the ability to travel through space and time, thereby allowing Jahna to communicate with Aine.
The Fox has both romance and magic. More so, it offers us history. For me, the charm of the book lies in the way Radasky presents history to her readers. Aine’s story shows us the challenges faced by archeologists just so they can provide us with concrete evidences of the past. Jahna and Lovern’s story connects the physical evidence to real life events. With both stories running in parallel, a bowl suddenly takes on a new meaning. Whatever Aine finds connects in some way to the story lived by Jahna and Lovern. If history were always taught this way, I would have paid more attention in class.
More than the story, Radasky tackles some very serious themes in this book. Death, rape, and warfare are but a few things that The Fox shows its readers from the point of view of the victims. The magic side may be hard to believe, but the book immediately brings us back to reality when faced with the serious themes that we see every day. For this review, I chose to focus on these realities to pick out 8 truths that The Fox attempts to reveal to its readers and here they are in no particular order:
WARNING: Spoiler Alert
1. True faith means trust in God.
The first century clan of The Fox practice paganism. It may not be the norm today, but it’s still considered a religion. Image courtesy of Prawny at stockvault.net.
Religion stands out well in this book, but it may not be the religion that we’re all used to hearing about. As readers will eventually realize, the first century Scottish clan of The Fox do not practice monotheism. Instead, these people worship several gods depending on their needs. Multiple gods or not, the belief in a god combined with rituals of worship still makes it a religion.
Considering that one of the story line was set in the first century, readers can naturally expect the characters of this time period to make a living through farming and hunting. There were weavers and healers too, but no fancy sounding profession like the ones we have today. They were simple folks depending a lot on nature for survival. These people did not have the technology to control their environment. So when they want an abundant harvest or good meat from hunting, they turn to their gods to help them with their needs. Such was their trust in their gods.
Among the characters of this book, Beathan exemplifies real faith in his gods. As clan chieftain, he had the power to choose Jahna’s husband. So he chose Harailt to be wed to Jahna. Then, Lovern came along. As a druid, Lovern is strongly guided by the gods. In one of Lovern’s meditations, it was revealed to him that Harailt is not the right man for Jahna. Beathan originally reacted with anger to Lovern’s intervention, but later accepted it gracefully, trusting in their gods’ will. So, instead of betrothing Harailt to Jahna, he chose Sileas for Harailt. It was actually a better choice because Harailt and Sileas were already in love with each other.
For the second time around, Beathan’s faith was tested. If Beathan’s plan was followed, Harailt and Sileas would have tended one of the largest farms of the clan. They would have been farmers for the rest of their lives. This would have been if the gods’ plan were the same as Beathan’s plan. It turns out that the gods wanted Harailt and Sileas to build a hospice and aid in Jahna and Lovern’s mission for healing. Once more, Beathan’s initial reaction was anger but he gave this plan a chance. His faith in his gods did not fail him. The farm was tended by somebody else and provided more harvest than before, while Harailt and Sileas helped heal many of the people in their clan.
In both situations, Beathan yielded to his gods despite the fact that he had plans of his own. He didn’t really understand why he needed to change his plans. He couldn’t see the future, but he followed the gods’ will anyway. In like manner, the rest of the clan fully trusted their gods for their day to day living. This is faith in God at its best. Well, in their situation, gods. True faith means full trust in God.
2. Meditate, if you want better results.
It may seem strange that Beathan will drop everything just because Lovern says so. It may be stranger still that Lovern can talk to their gods when he is as human as everybody else. In the clan’s eyes, Lovern possesses a special gift. The gods talk to Lovern, and that is enough for them to consider Lovern’s advice. This is the reason why Beathan obeys Lovern even if he doesn’t fully understand Lovern’s advice.
Lovern sets himself apart from everyone else because he is a druid. He became a druid because his mentor was also a druid. One of things that his mentor shared with him was the ability to meditate using an object with a labyrinth print on it. When Lovern wants to meditate, all he has to do is trace a path through the labyrinth. He can go through this labyrinth several times until his mind is ready to listen to their gods.
Lovern’s ritual is not really as primitive as we make it out to be. In fact, meditation is still being practiced today by various sects of society. When used before prayer, it enables one to open his / her mind and heart to God for a very productive communication. Outside of religion, it enables an individual to think clearly. So even if you don’t practice a religion, it may still be worthwhile to learn this skill. You don’t really have to use a labyrinth as a means to meditate. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can access different methods of meditation, including the labyrinth method.
3. There is a difference between sex freely given and sex forcibly taken.
This one’s a giveaway. Everybody knows that making love is not the same as rape. At least, normal people do. In The Fox, Radasky was able to show this from Jahna’s perspective by placing Jahna in a very heartbreaking situation. While Jahna was picking some herbs for medicine, she was abducted and raped by a slave of the Romans. She got out of this situation alive because Beathan and her cousins (Finlay and Kenric) were able to save her. Sadly, Beathan didn’t survive.
While I was reading through this part of the story, I was wondering how Radasky will present this sad reality to her readers. I wanted to know if the book will be touching on the most common problem encountered by rape victims, that of rape culture where the victims are blamed for what happened to them. Radasky didn’t touch that aspect of rape. Instead, Radasky chose to focus on the psychological effect of rape on the victim.
Jahna was never the same again right after the incident. Through Jahna, Radasky was able to show the pain that rape victims go through. Of all the effects, the one that stood out for me was the unclean feeling that Jahna felt after the assault. This unclean feeling was never there when Jahna and Lovern were making love to each other. The sex with her husband was something that she wanted and it strengthened the bond between them. In contrast, the act of sex with her attacker was forced on her and it destroyed her spirit. There really is a difference, and anyone who can’t see that has a very big problem.
4. Sometimes, someone has to die so that others may live.
Jahna took Beathan’s death very hard. She thought that it was her fault. If she hadn’t traveled alone to pick up some herbs, she would never have been attacked. At least, that’s what she thought. Maybe she’s right. Then again, maybe not. The man who attacked her was a slave who escaped a Roman encampment and he was already lurking around the clan’s vicinity. If not Jahna, it could have been any other woman from their clan. This is the reality of rape. Anyone can become a victim.
When Beathan decided to rescue Jahna, he was no longer acting as chieftain. After all, he could have sent other warriors to look for Jahna. Instead, he chose to personally look into this situation because he is also Jahna’s uncle. He knew what he was getting into. He knew the risks involved. During Jahna’s rescue, he was a warrior risking his own life to save his niece’s life. It wasn’t Jahna’s fault that Beathan died, but she felt that it was.
It was only when Rhona (a fellow healer from another clan) showed Jahna a different perspective of the situation that Jahna felt better about Beathan’s death. Beathan sacrificed his own life so that Jahna can live, and this is alright. Sometimes, life happens that way.
In Jahna’s situation, it was her uncle who sacrificed his own life for her. In our everyday lives, we also have people with jobs that require them to risk their own lives so that we may live. We have firemen who may risk entering a burning building to save someone trapped inside. We have the police who can die anytime just by doing their job. We have soldiers who may never come back alive from a war they had to fight. These people risk their lives every day so that others may live. Sad reality, maybe, but sometimes necessary.
5. The path to recovery is difficult, but possible.
It was never clear to Jahna why the gods permitted such violence against her. I think this is a universal question that remains unanswered even today. Why? Why do people have to suffer such injustice? The Fox doesn’t attempt to answer this question, but it showed readers how Jahna can feel clean again. The purification ritual required Jahna and Lovern to sacrifice a stag to the gods. Mind you, Lovern didn’t find it easy to kill the stag. It was something that he didn’t want to do, but he felt that he needed to do to appease their gods. If we view this ritual literally, we may never see the real significance of this part of the book. Taken literally, we will only see the unnecessary cruelty done to an animal. If we look at it figuratively, then we will see that the purification process symbolizes Jahna’s and Lovern’s healing from the traumatic experience of rape.
According to Jahna’s vision, both Jahna and Lovern must offer the stag to the gods. Both of them are required to undergo the purification ritual. While Jahna is the direct victim, Lovern also suffered from Jahna’s pain. If Jahna felt unclean, Lovern felt guilty for letting the attack happen to Jahna. He felt that it was his fault that Jahna was left unprotected. Despite the depressing situation, I like this part of the book. It shows the readers that rape doesn’t just hurt the victims, it also hurts the people who care most for them. It is for this reason that the gods wanted Lovern to undergo the ritual too. He also needed to be healed.
The healing process for rape victims and their families (and friends) are never easy. In most situations, the pain remains with them for years. Just as Lovern found it difficult to kill the stag for sacrifice, the healing process can also be that difficult. The memories of the attack will always be there. The guilt will always gnaw at their conscience. The feeling that they could have prevented it will continue to haunt them. For some, the quest for a deeper meaning will always remain. Why were they chosen? What did they do wrong? Was it something they deserved? Sadly, there are probably no answers to these questions. Rape is a senseless violence that has no profound reason for happening. It’s not the victims’ fault, nor is it the fault of their families or friends. If there is anyone to blame, it should be the one who committed the crime.
Yet, putting the blame on the right person still doesn’t ease the pain. Just as the stag died for the healing ritual, something has to die within the victims and those who are hurting with them. That part that blames himself / herself has to die. Also, that part of themselves that try to find answers to unanswerable questions need to die. All that must remain is acceptance. Rape victims may not be the same as they were before their attack, but there is still life after the rape. It takes time to heal. It’s a difficult journey, but I personally believe that it’s still possible.
6. You know it’s a red flag when you begin to doubt yourself.
For this life lesson, I now turn the pages to Aine MacRae’s story. Aine is an archaeologist in the 21st century who discovered evidences of Jahna’s clan. Of course, she had help from Jahna herself. Through Jahna’s ability to communicate with Aine, Jahna was able to lead Aine towards the parts of Scotland where their clan once lived. This part of the book is interesting enough because of the direct connection of Jahna’s story to the archeological evidences unearthed by Aine and her team. What piqued my interest more was Aine’s background. Aine’s marriage to Brad Teller touches on another reality that has gained popularity within the past few decades or so.
There are many types of abuses. Among them, physical abuse is the easiest one to detect because of the physical evidences left on the victim’s body. Bruises and cuts are red flags for physical abuse. What about the other types of abuse then? What red flags can we see for pains inflicted emotionally or psychologically? As far as our eyes can see, there are none. The marks of abuse inflicted by words do not bruise on the outside, but they bruise somebody’s spirit. Radasky relates this to us very well through the following excerpt from Aine’s narration:
I did menial work for Brad, transcribed notes, and ran errands. Every time I tried to make a suggestion toward his research or create a place for myself, he told me I was stupid and told me to stop interrupting his work process.
Brad tore my self-confidence to pieces. I believed I would never be able to work on my own.
If we were in Aine’s shoes, will we be able to detect abuse here? Answering my own question, I don’t think that I will. I can probably find many excuses for Brad’s behavior. He may just be having a bad day. Worse, I can even say that I may just have been too sensitive. Simply put, I will not immediately see that Brad is already abusive. Unlike physical abuse which happens instantaneously, the effects of verbal abuse do not immediately manifest itself. It may not hurt so much at the beginning, but as you continue to expose yourself to that kind of environment, it changes you inside. In Aine’s situation, she started believing Brad’s words. This is what made her doubt herself. Ironically, what woke her up to the truth was Brad’s fist on her chest and Brad’s palm on her cheek. Yes, Brad hit her, but it was the first and last time that he did. With bruises in her body, it made her rethink her situation and she suddenly realized that Brad had been verbally abusing her for years.
7. In real life, you don’t always win.
I personally think that video games have desensitized us for war. Those adrenaline rushing shooting games that require you to shoot down an infinite number of enemies can be exhilarating. I really have to give credit to our game developers. They managed to make the graphics and sound effects so realistic that you’d think you were really in the battle field fighting back against those people (or creatures) that are out to get you. Add some good background music and you’ve become the soldier who just might be decorated with a medal someday. While video games strive to become as realistic as they can possibly be, the players of these games are becoming more detached from the reality of war. If we can just pause for a while and recall someone you personally know who died in a war, then you will see that the reality of war is not as exciting as our video games are. In video games, death is only temporary. There is always a restart, even if you have to start from the very beginning. In real life, you only have game over.
Radasky brings her readers back to the reality of war through the presence of the Romans in the first century Scotland of The Fox. The Romans were a big threat to the clans because they were aggressively conquering nearby lands to increase their territory. Members of clans defeated by the Romans immediately became slaves. They were no longer permitted to worship their own gods. Instead, the Roman belief was forced down on them. Children remained nameless. Romans just don’t consider them important enough to have a name. It was with this concern that King Calgacus decided to unite most clans to wage a war against the Romans. It was the only way to preserve their individuality as a clan. They needed to fight back to prevent being enslaved by the Romans.
The warriors of the united clans prepared well for the war. There were spies who reported back activities of the enemy. There was extensive training for the warriors. There was even a sacrifice made to the gods. Sadly, the clans didn’t win the war against the Romans. Many warriors died in this battle. Those who lived had to flee with their families to live in distant lands. Just like the united clans of The Fox, we don’t always win the war. There is always that possibility of failure.
8. The secret to letting go is the right motivation.
Jahna believed that when we die, we are reunited with the dead who were very dear to us. I think the rest of the clan shared this belief which is probably the reason why they never feared death. Instead, they feared suffering before death. A sudden death is preferable over a slow painful one.
When Jahna and Lovern came by to see Cerdic, it was too late for healing. Cerdic’s body was already giving up. When there’s no more hope for healing, it was Jahna’s job to make sure that the person dies in peace. This was difficult for Cerdic because his spirit continued to fight death. Jahna found this puzzling. It was only when Cerdic revealed to Jahna that he didn’t see anything that waits for him in the afterlife that Jahna understood what’s holding him back. There was no motivation for him to crossover to the afterlife. So Jahna provided the motivation. She instilled in Cerdic a vision of his late wife, Machara. In this vision, Machara was waiting for Cerdic on the other side. With this in mind, Cerdic finally let go of his life on earth and crossed over to the other side.
This is one of those instances where the story takes on a deeper meaning when we view it symbolically. We don’t actually have to die to experience the unnecessary pain that Cerdic felt. It can be a personal situation where you feel you can’t get out of. It can be a job that’s no longer making you happy. It can be an abusive relationship. It can even be that depressive feeling over an unhappy experience. Whatever the situation may be, the more logical move is to get out of it. In theory, that sounds easy enough. When faced with the situation, there are many things that may hold us back. Just like Cerdic, we need to find a strong motivation for us to let go. We need to see that something better awaits us if we leave our current situation. Let go is such an overused phrase that has lost its meaning because nobody really tells us how it’s done. The Fox shares with us a secret – find a motivation. Look for that particular ray of sunshine that gives us hope. We have to believe that things can only get better, not worse if we let go. It is only when this feeling of hope is strong enough that we can finally have the courage to let go.