Cunning Like a Fox

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Cunning-like-a-fox photo enhanced2 8170.jpg

"Is it as cunning as a fox who's just been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University?"

Foxes occupy a unique place among Animal Stereotypes. They can be good guys, bad guys, or completely neutral, but they're always crafty, clever, and cunning. Their sly nature sometimes results in illegal activies, so it's not uncommon to see them portrayed as thieves or con-artists. Although it is not unknown for them to be too clever; another term for Too Clever by Half is "outfoxing yourself". Sometimes this trope invoked under the phrase "crazy like a fox" for when the brilliant plan seems crazy to anyone who isn't quite as brilliant.

This stereotype is, to some extent, Truth in Television: foxes aren't pack animals like wolves, and they are more known for stealing farm animals in the dark of the night than outright attacking them in broad daylight. The "crazy like a fox" part has roots in real fox behavior as well; red foxes have been known to jump around and act crazy to entice curious rabbits into coming closer.

If the work in question is Japanese (or inspired by Japanese culture), expect the fox to be a Kitsune, a fantastic fox-like creature with the same stereotype of guile and trickery associated with it.

See Fantastic Foxes and Kitsune for the myths, legends, and fables that inspired this trope. Compare Rascally Raccoon for another trickster animal stereotype.

Examples of Cunning Like a Fox include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho is a fox demon possessing the body of a human boy. He's as cunning as the trope would indicate. He always used to be a lot more a Jerkass than he is now.
  • Similarly, Tamamo from Hell Teacher Nube is a youko, a "sorcerer fox" whose natural form is as an enormous half-fox, half-human demon who removes human skulls from his victim in order to assume a true human form. Very, very cunning as well.
  • Kitsune in Pom Poko were driven from their homes the exact same way tanuki are, by human cities expanding into their hills and forests. However, instead of declaring all-out war on humans, kitsune found a more cunning solution. They used their transformation skills to become humans and live in their society. You can still distinguish them by their pointy, angular faces that vaguely resemble a fox's snout.
    • Which refers to the Japanese term 'kitsune kao', and traditionally someone with those features is held to be this clever. The opposite is a round, wide face, 'tanuki kao', which makes sense, considering the end of the film.
  • Kyuubi-fox Sakura in Hyper Police is an 8-and-1/5 tailed version. She tends to fall into Too Clever by Half role.
  • Ichimaru Gin gets nicknamed "Fox Face" by Ichigo fairly early on. He has proceeded to earn that nickname throughout the series.
  • The Medicine Seller from Mononoke, but you'll only notice if you're ready to read between the lines quite a bit. His Kitsune-mask-like face is not the only reason for this comparison—but it certainly helps.
  • Occasionally, Naruto shows some shades of this, even though he is (at least intially) largely an Idiot Hero.
  • Megumi from Rurouni Kenshin is often compared to a fox, being nicknamed Kitsune-onna(fox lady) by Sanosuke and others, having fox ears pop up above her head, and one memorable Imagine Spot by Saitou.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Reynard from Fables, who happens to be the original trickster fox.
  • Kitsune from Usagi Yojimbo. She is a fox, but "Kitsune" is her artist name, not her real one.
  • The Dutch comic Tom Poes has a recurring The Barnum character, Joris Goedbloed, who is a fox.
  • The eponymous main character of the Danish comic Hieronymus Borsch is a fox. He is smart, but thinks he is smarter, and is often hindered by his many psychological weaknesses more than by This Week's Murderer.
  • Ireyon of newer Paperinik stories fits the clichés, since she is a cunning thief who runs a Robin Hood-like operation of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. (Fun fact: in some of her appearances, the artist was Mårdön Smed, who is the creator of Hieronymus Borsch, above.)
  • Avoided with most fox characters in Bamse, who aren't very sly or cunning. But played completely straight with the rather recent Reinard, who is a crafty villain more or less introduced because most "bad guys" in the comic had deteriorated to the point they only worked as Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains.


Fan Works[edit | hide]

“YOU HAVE LEANED WELL FROM ME!” he whispered like moldy bread. “LEARNED WELL LIKE A FOX WHO WENT TO SCHOL AND DID WELL AND THEN WENT TO COLLEGE”


Film[edit | hide]

  • Mary Poppins features a fox that needs rescuing from a foxhunt, but once safely on a merry-go-round horse will mock his pursuers - a common criticism of the Guile Hero is that he is, in essence, a coward.
  • Fox, an incorrigible chicken thief from Fantastic Mr. Fox (see also Literature).
  • Disney rather appropriately turned Robin Hood into a fox for the animated movie. Maid Marion is also a fox, which leads to the amusing inversion of a chicken guarding a fox (her duenna is a white hen).
    • Disney's Song of the South features Br'er Fox, who's clever enough to think up a Tar Baby (trapping Br'er Rabbit with his own temper), but isn't as clever as he thinks he is - something Br'er Rabbit can use to his advantage, and does.
    • Disney's version of Pinocchio features a trickster fox, just like the original novel (see Literature).
    • The Fox and the Hound (film) played with it, in part because the fox starts out as a pup. He did avoid getting killed on a hunt on more than one occasion.
  • The film version of The Plague Dogs (see Literature) has the fox in the same role as in the novel, with a disarmingly guileful Geordie (i.e. Newcastle) accent.
  • In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the fox is definitely pretty cunning. He manages to outsmart a couple of wolves by giving them the wrong direction.


Folklore[edit | hide]

  • American folklore:
    • Br'er Fox is a common opponent to Br'er Rabbit in Joel Chandler Harris's Br'er Rabbit Tales. As is typical of folk stories, sometimes Br'er Fox wins, sometimes he's outsmarted.
  • Asian folklore:
  • European folklore:


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Magic Garden had a fox known as "Crafty Fox".
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. A children's classic wherein a fox and his family help the rest of the burrowing creatures rob three evil farmers.
  • The foxes in Redwall tend to be much more into subterfuge than all the other bad-guy species, which often veers into Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, especially when they're the main villains of the book.
  • Le Roman de Renart is an anthology of tales about a cunning fox called Renart who outwits other animals (see Mythology). Those stories were satires of medieval society at the time it was written. They were loosely adaptated in an animated series, Moi Renart.
  • In Dick King-Smith's books, especially The Foxbusters (an Affectionate Parody of The Dambusters), foxes are occasionally portrayed as cunning. But this is decidedly secondary to their main characteristic of being vile Nazi stand-ins. (King-Smith, unlike most of the authors here, was a farmer...)
  • Mat Cauthon from The Wheel of Time is associated with the fox as part of his trickster archetype. He has a fox head medallion that makes him invulnerable to the One Power and his signet ring has a fox scattering ravens. He is sometimes clever but at other times a bit of a buffoon.
  • Carlo Collodi's novel Pinocchio features a con-artist fox.
    • So does its Russian adaptation by A.Tolstoy, The Adventures of Buratino.
  • Some versions of the The Odyssey have Circe saying that a fox would be a fitting animal for Odysseus.
  • Daniel P. Mannix's The Fox and The Hound has the fox Tod constantly outsmarting the hunter pursuing him. He's not even anthropomorphic.
  • Mr. Croup from Neverwhere is characterised extensively with fox-related imagery and is generally the more cunning of he and his associate, Mr. Vandemar, who's more oafish and is compared to a wolf or a hound in the same way.
  • Lord Russel the fox in The Book of the Dun Cow is a chatty but well-meaning fellow who is, in an interesting case of Carnivore Confusion, a firm ally of the rooster hero, Chauntecleer.
  • The crafty female tribute "Foxface" in The Hunger Games.
  • Tom McCaughren's Run With the Wind and it's five sequels (think Watership Down but with Irish foxes instead of British rabbits). All of them are depicted as being cleverer than any of the other animals but a few are crafty even for foxes like Old Sage Brush, a blind Trickster Mentor or Hop-Along, who uses an eclipse to fool a hare into thinking he can leap high enough to take a bite of the moon.
  • Subverted with the antagonist of Doctor De Soto]. who is easily outsmarted by De Soto and his wife.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Criminal Minds: Serial Killer Karl Arnold's official nickname is "The Fox". Coincidentally, he is red-haired.
    • "The Fox" is also the name of the episode he was in back in season one and he returns in a season five episode called "Outfoxed".


Music[edit | hide]


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Slylock Fox features a cunning fox detective. Even his name is a pun on "sly".
  • Pogo had Seminole Sam, a con-man. He tended to wobble between antagonist (of the Ferengi-like conning) and neutral.
  • The opera The Cunning Little Vixen was based on an early comic strip with a similar premise.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • As in the picture at the top of this page: The Cunning Little Vixen (Píhody Liky Bystrouky), best known as an opera by Leo Janáek, tells the story of a vixen who is orphaned as a cub, captured by a forester, but eventually escapes, tricks a badger into leaving his hole and taking it for her own, finds and marries a handsome fox, and raises a family of cunning children.
  • Referenced in The Taming of the Shrew when Gremio refers to himself as "an old Italian fox". Ironically, Gremio is a rather foolish character (being based on the Commedia Dell'Arte character of the "pantaloon"), and at that point in the play he's trying to talk down Tranio—a true trickster who's already thought circles around him.


Video Games[edit | hide]

Webcomics[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Foxes can be amazingly cunning predators. One was observed swimming across a lake carrying a branch, so he could look like a piece of floating debris and get close enough to some ducks to grab one.
  • "Mr. Fox, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?"