Foxes (cover) Eilís Dillon
A Family of Foxes

Some extra information

In July 1970, Eilís Dillon was asked by Scott, Foresman and Company, a Chicago firm of educational publishers, to write a one-page letter to young people who would be reading selected parts of A Family of Foxes in their 6th grade reader. The publisher wrote: "In particular, we would like to know something about why you wrote A Family of Foxes. How much of the story is based on fact, on real places or real persons?" Eilís Dillon sent the following explanation:

When I was very small, we lived in a big house out in the country. A great long winding avenue led up to it, with old trees. Behind the house there was a farmyard where we kept a donkey and trap, a dog, several cats, some hens and ducks, as well as two goats. The cow lived in a paddock beyond the farmyard and only came in to be milked.

I was afraid of the cow and the donkey, not because they were fierce but because of their size. The goats were frightening too, because they were rough. They came prancing at you with their horned heads down and you had to skip out of the way. What I really liked were the hens and ducks. They were peaceful creatures, a reasonable size, reaching only up to my knees.

One evening I heard the servants in the kitchen talking about the fox that had come and taken away the hens. I was very shocked at the idea that an animal could take away such a big thing as a hen, and I remember the half-whispering way they talked about it, as if it were a very terrifying business. For a long time afterwards I was afraid of foxes, though I could not imagine what they looked like. They must be fierce and wicked and bloodthirsty. I remember skipping up the stairs in the dusk, afraid of feeling a fox snapping at my ankles.

Then at last I saw a real fox. He looked so small and neat and he moved so elegantly that I had to change all my ideas about foxes. His slanted eyes were very intelligent, so that later still, when I found that the island people around Galway Bay believed that foxes had powers of witch-craft, I could understand why they gave them this reputation. There were many such beliefs, some of which I described in A FAMILY OF FOXES. It seemed a shame to think so ill of such delightful creatures. I think this is why I wrote the story, in defence of foxes. I hope you will enjoy it. It was the first book that I really enjoyed writing, from beginning to end.

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