CHILDREN OF THE FOX by Jill Paton Walsh


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The fox is Themistokles, the Fifth-Century Athenian who was the hero of Walsh's only adult novel, Farewell Great King (1972); here he is glimpsed through the eyes of three different children who, in three separate but sequential stories, become accidentally involved in large events and invariably rise to the occasion. First Aster, an Athenian refugee on Salamis waiting for Persian invasion, cuts her hair (a scandal) and sneaks to the leader's tent with news of a night message being sent off to the Persians; Themistokles takes her into his confidence--he had sent the message to lure the Persians into a trap--and later, after his ruse has paid off, he rewards her with a Spartan husband whose customs allow girls more freedom and exercise than the Athenians deem proper. Sparta is less favorably projected in the second story, wherein young Demeas replaces a wounded runner en route to inform Themistokles, now playing for time with officials in suspicious, authoritarian Sparta--where the rebuilding of the Athenian wall is opposed--that the project has been safely completed. The last story takes place after Themistokles has lost favor in both cities; he is found in a sort of playhouse by a girl whose mother, in turn, lends her own baby to a scheme to win the former hero safe-conduct to Persia. Walsh doesn't go into the politics behind the incidents but she is conscientiously true to the history, which takes precedence here over originality in plotting and characterization. Still, her skill in integrating the larger story with the lesser (though not common) lives is impressive.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux