The Midnight Fox was first published in 1968, and is recommended for readers over the age of nine. With their beautiful new reprint, Faber & Faber believe that ‘This enchanted tale will capture the hearts and imagination of children and adults alike’.
The novel’s protagonist is nine-year-old Tom, and his story is told in retrospect. His narrative voice has been used throughout: ‘Sometimes at night when the rain is beating against the windows of my room, I think about that summer on the farm. It has been five years, but when I close my eyes I am once again by the creek watching the black fox come leaping over the green, green grass’. Throughout, Tom is an intriguing character, built of so many different elements that he often surprises.
At the start of the story, Tom is told that he is going to stay with his Aunt Millie ‘for two whole months. I felt terrible.’ He is to be separated from his parents for such a long time because ‘they were going to Europe with about fifty other very athletic people, and they were going to bicycle through five countries and sleep in fields and barns’. Tom is very reluctant to sacrifice his summer in such a way, believing that he will have an awfully boring time, and will long to go home as soon as he reaches the farm. It only takes the appearance of a rare black fox to change his mind, however: ‘I could see that her black fur was tipped with white. It was as if it were midnight and the moon were shining on her fur, frosting it.’ For Tom, the summer suddenly seems full of excitement.
Throughout The Midnight Fox, Byars touches upon a lot of things – friendships, travelling, making allowances for others, loneliness and the notion of settling in, amongst others. She has written almost a coming-of-age book in terms of the way in which Tom alters from beginning to end. His perceptions and attitude both change dramatically, and his parents end up picking up a different, compassionate boy to the sulking one they left behind. Nature has been captured beautifully, and The Midnight Fox is such a fitting read for summertime. It is marvellous that the book is now available for a whole new generation of readers to discover.