Dan Russell and the Friday of Meschaunce

It is Sunday morning and we have good reason to regret laying wooden floor in our bedroom.

We would like to ignore the sun streaming through the forest trees outside, and to burrow further down underneath the duvet and sleep a little longer. Phil is even doing snory sound effects to make the whole business extra convincing.

But there is a creature with a total of 20 small hard claws skittering back and forth across the wooden floor, setting up such a racket that a team Β of hammering carpenters would be hard put to it to match it.

They are polite – even courteous – claws. They hammer percussively to Phil’s side of the bed with diplomatic reticence; and when the fake snoring emerges they recede to the door in deference. But bladders beckon, and desperation brings the claws tap-tapping back to the bedside in polite reminder.

Macaulay the dog has woken. Abandon sleep, all ye who look above the duvet.

Because you can ignore the sound, just, if you stuff pillows in your ears: after all, you are already ignoring a brilliant Spring dawn. But the moment you put your head over the edge of the duvet, you are doomed.

Macaulay’s chief weapon is his laser-gaze. It sears the consciousness; it bores into the soul like some great modern mining machine. Meet The Gaze, mark my words, and every pretence is but gossamer cobweb in the face of a formidable four-legged will.

He has two reasons for wanting to go out, of course. Yes, he must have his recreational time to scent his territory. But he is keen to get out there and bark mindlessly at the fox who lives on the other side of the fence.

There is nothing more therapeutic than a good loud volley of barking at some miscreant with a red tail who’s clearly just asking for it.

The fox is fancy free, where the dog would like to be; he goes where he pleases and eats prey where he can.

How long have we been watching the fox, delighted by his crafty antics at the periphery of our lives? The oldest stories of talking animals go back to a Phrygian slave in the sixth century: Aesop.

But his tales have been woefully watered down, used as school texts and retold until all the fire sputtered out of them.

Come the twelfth century, the fire was back. And one of its most vivid criminal elements was that russet mastermind, Reynard The Fox. Even today, some of the fox’s antics, are howlingly funny, filled with bawdy exuberance.

Take the farmer’s wife who discovers one of the key members of her farmyard is missing- courtesy of Reynard – and bolts to tell someone:

“I have lost my cock! The fox has taken him!

“Old slattern!” cried Constant, “Why didn’t you catch the fox?”

“By all the saints, I couldn’t! He wouldn’t wait for me!”

“But you could hit him?”

“What with?”

“With this stick!”

“Indeed I couldn’t: he ran so fast that two Breton hounds couldn’t have caught him!”

Reynard: begun in tales in Alsace-Lorraine, his red tail spread like wildfire throughout France, Germany and the Low Countries during the 1100s. And it’s thought he was the precursor to another fox: Dan Russell.

While his name may sound as if it belongs to a white van man driver on the M25, Dan has an altogether more august provenance.

He is Chaucer’s naughty fox from the end of the 14th century, bested by Chanticleer the singing cockerel in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale.

And Dan has a special place in our hearts because it is in his tale that we have the first ever reference to one of our most embedded superstitions: the unlucky Friday, Friday of mischance or as Chaucer puts it – meschaunce.

Dan – or Daun – means ‘Sir’. And Russell is a reference to the russet red of the fox’s coat.

So Chanticleer is this big beautiful cockerel with a gorgeous voice and seven wives. And one night he has an awful dream that he is about to die. He has a long discussion with his favourite wife about whether the dream was just indigestion, but still manages to engage in conversation with Dan, a known chicken-guzzler, that very day.

Dan is a wily flatterer.Chanticleer’s father was such an unparalelled singer: might Dan not hear his son extend his elegant neck and sing in the same way?

Alas, the father was destined to be dinner, and Chanticleer is snatched as he poses to sing.

And on a Friday falls all this meschaunce.

He gets out of it: don’t get me wrong. the cockerel persuades the fox to open his mouth to taunt his chasers, and the bird makes good his escape to the top of the tree.

Perhaps, after all, Dan Russell was the first real victim of unlucky Friday.

***

Written in reponse to Side View’s weekend theme: Friday 13th.Β 

I used Kenneth Sisam’s forward and notes (Kenneth was one of Tolkein’s lecturers at Oxford) on the Priest’s Nun’s Tale which you can find here

Image source here

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49 thoughts on “Dan Russell and the Friday of Meschaunce

  1. How very interesting. I never took to Chaucer, having had a poor English teacher at A level on the subject…. but you have made me intrigued!

    (BTW that photo of the fox is rahter odd to my eye. Is it one of yours, or aa borrowed one? )

      1. it looks a little photoshopped, that’s all… around where the back legs and tail are against the log thing…

  2. I really am getting old … I remember the Nun’s Priest’s tale from college, I even remember Chanticleer (though I doubt I’d have remembered the spelling), but would never have been able to remember the name of the fox.

  3. No peace for the wicked at the Shrewsday household when Macaulay is on the prowl. Pretend snoring and slinking back under the duvet!!! I can see him now – 20 small hard claws skittering back and forth across the wooden floor, setting up such a racket that a team of hammering carpenters would be hard put to it to match it. Another delightful picture image conjured up for me Kate.

  4. I love the stories, poor red foxes, so good at getting something to eat, so hunted by all and sundry.

    If you do a search on youtube there is a glorious clip of two foxes playing about on someone’s trampoline. Such fun.

  5. You have set me off on a bout of speculation regarding whether Chaucer, when doing the Chanticleer part, was influenced by Aesop’s Fox and Crow fable.
    I admire foxes and love their looks, so it is strange that they always end up on the villain’s side in my novels. Or else, seeking some angle to wangle.

    1. Ah, if you have a look at the link to Kenneth Sisam’s stuff on Chaucer he seems to draw a direct line between Aesop as an influence on Chaucer and the 14th century love of animal stories, Col. The text is a bit haphazard but it’s worth a read.

  6. Two alternatives: buy little doggie slippers or just get used to the sound. That’s the line the realtor uses on the jerks about to buy a house a little cheaper next to the railroad tracks. They may get used to the sound of the 4:05 AM breezing through but the rattling house ?

  7. I prefer to think that Chanticleer had rather a LUCKY Friday, as he wasn’t eaten in the end. And the bit about Dan Russell as a white van man made me giggle, as Mark is a more rarified version of the same, but sans red tail πŸ˜‰

    Perhaps, though, Friday the 13ths are lucky for me, as I’ve had several birthdays on them, including… my 13th!

  8. I’ve always loved fables for the morality lessons they were designed to convey. Here’s another fox tale, much along the lines of yours, but involving a crow instead of Chanticleer: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/FoxCrow.shtml

    Generally, I just chuckle over superstitions, so I was VERY surprised to read here and learn the degree of importance that many impart to Fridays the 13th: http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/historical/a/friday_the_13th.htm Did you know of the British Medical Journal study?

    Didn’t know either that there would be three such Fridays this year–each 13 weeks apart from another! An advance warning for the wary!!

    1. I didn’t know of the study….I think our own expectations of a day can affect the way we tackle it so it seems like bad luck is just making for us. Pereception is a powerful tool – unless we set it to pick out the good it does love to scurry around and collect the bad.

  9. Lovely story, Kate. I love foxes, they are such beautiful, sly creatures; I especially like their delicate, black-stockinged legs.
    Hearing you lament about the hard-wood floor made me smile and chuckle. Once upon a time I thought of having hardwood installed in all the rooms in my house (my provincial phase) but, my husband flatly refused. We have carpet instead. I still love the romantic notion of hardwood floors, but, I don’t think I will ever have them, now.

  10. One day I want to learn about the reason for the changes of the English language from Old English. Was it each individual word that transformed? Or did a bunch change at once? Was it a period, a Royal, a University, poet??? Am I asking too big a question, Kate?

    1. Not at all πŸ™‚ Evolution, and communication, Amy: by Chaucer’s time, the great waves of settlers with different languages – Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans – had already sent new bunches of words catapulting into the language, giving us an incredibly wide vocabulary. Chaucer wrote in Middle English, which is heavily laced with Norman French. But with he event of printing, and the travel and settlement of the English in colonies things began to standardise. Shakespeare’s stuff is classified as modern English, for example.

      1. Shakespeare is modern? My goodness. Are we now “uber”?

        I’ve appreciated scattered dips into the etymology of words, but I hadn’t thought about the evolution of our language.

        Reading your overview conjures visions of the poor little isle becoming a stew of warring cultures all determined to be the primary ingredient. Poets bubble to the top with entertaining and often passive composites of compromise and cleverness.

        Of course, ladles of love and lust stirred the pot as maidens and warriors pursued their dance above the flame.

        I’d love to read a post about it, Kate, if you are ever so inclined.

  11. The fox is such a beautiful animal and somehow gained such a reputation! Interesting stories, Kate. I was completely unfamiliar! I do miss having a dog…but a bunny, bird and two tortoises do let us sleep! πŸ™‚ Debra

    1. Then I’ll cur and paste for you too, Tammy πŸ™‚ Evolution, and communication – by Chaucer’s time, the great waves of settlers with different languages – Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans – had already sent new bunches of words catapulting into the language, giving us an incredibly wide vocabulary. Chaucer wrote in Middle English, which is heavily laced with Norman French. But with he event of printing, and the travel and settlement of the English in colonies things began to standardise. Shakespeare’s stuff is classified as modern English, for example.

  12. Poor Macaulay. As Head of House, Garden, and Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction Security, he must be free to patrol the property at his discretion. He appears to be the only one who understands the scope of his responsibilities.

    Ernest wakes me by patting my face and trying to pull the sheets away. If his claws aren’t clipped soon, I’m going to lose an eyelid.

  13. I love it when the small guy wins in fairytales. I had heard of Chanticleer but never knew his nemesis, thanks for enlightening and educating. When my mum’s dog visits, we have to put up with his click-click progress across the laminate flooring too. πŸ™‚

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