The Marginalian
The Marginalian

The Fox and the Star: A Lyrical Modern Fable of Loneliness and Belonging, Bridged Through Self-Discovery

“Longing is the transfiguration of aloneness,” poet and philosopher David Whyte wrote in his poignant meditation on silence, “like a comet’s passing tail, glimpsed only for a moment but making us willing to give up our perfect house…” What is loneliness, then, if not aloneness filled with longing? (Solitude and loneliness, lest we forget, are thoroughly different things — one nourishes the spirit, the other devastates it.)

That transfiguration is what London-based designer Coralie Bickford-Smith explores in The Fox and the Star (public library).

Having spent years reinventing the face of literature with her unmistakable book covers for beloved classics, Bickford-Smith is at last bringing her graphic genius to her original storytelling with this lyrical modern fable of loneliness transmuted into belonging through an odyssey of self-discovery.

Told with a poetic economy of words and beautifully illustrated in an aesthetic partway between Art Deco graphic design and Indian tribal art yet entirely singular, the story follows a small and pusillanimous orange fox, who lives all alone in the forest and communes with his sole celestial friend.

Because Fox was small and the trees reached far higher than the tips of his ears, he was timid, and afraid to stray far from his den.

And yet, for as long as Fox could remember, he would wake at night to the cool, calm light of Star.

Star lights the way for Fox as he runs through the shadowy woods and forages for beetles and chases rabbits through the bramble.

All of Fox’s happiness was bound to the flickering light of Star.

And then, one day, Fox’s world is turned upside down — Star disappears.

Fox beckons out, but there is only darkness. Grif-stricken and disoriented, Fox curls up in his den and sinks into the deepest, lonesomest despair. The days and nights creep past him, silent and empty.

Here, the philosophical dimension of the story peeks through. This ode to growing up is also an elegy to impermanence and the passage of time — the adult reader realizes that as the baby fox lives through its first turn of the seasons, the star has rotated into the opposite hemisphere, and what the fox experiences as a devastating loss is merely the natural cycle of life in a universe predicated on impermanence and constant flux.

One day, Fox’s hunger and longing overtake him, so he emerges from the ground and sets out to find Star.

Fox peered around the gloom and could just make out a clump of thorns. ‘Have you seen my star?’ Fox asked the undergrowth. But the thorns did not know of any star.

Next Fox came across a colony of rabbits. ‘Have you seen my Star?’ he shouted down the burrows. But rabbits have no time for foxes.

Suddenly Fox was beyond the forest he knew.

He looked up at the trees. ‘Have you seen my Star?’ he cried.

But the trees were too tall to hear him.

Resigned, Fox sinks into sleep amid a quiet clearing. He wakes up to the sound of rain and asks the rain if it has seen his star, but the rain too is silent. And when the rain stops, something feels profoundly different.

At last, when Fox dares to look up beyond his ears, he is met with the most astonishing sight — billions and billions of stars, shining down upon him but not solely for him.

There’s a subtle sense of moral growth as the story which began with Fox feeling that Star belonged to him ends with Fox dissolving into a sense of belonging to and with the cosmos — the loneliness of an ownership-based relationship blossoms into the expansive belonging of a relationship based on mutuality of presence. Here he is, the little fox. There they are, the countless stars. And here it is, what Edith Wharton called “an unassailable serenity.”

The Fox and the Star is a delight to hold and behold, a gorgeous fabric-bound cover embracing the heart-expanding story. Complement it with The Lion and the Bird, a very different but equally wonderful illustrated tale of loneliness and communion, and Nietzsche on the journey of becoming a free spirit.

Published March 11, 2016




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