The Crow and the Fox



By Forwearemany



Jean de La Fontaine (July 8, 1621, Château-Thierry – April 13, 1695) was the most famous French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century.

While he did not hesitate to borrow freely from other writers, both ancient and modern, Jean de La Fontaine nevertheless created a style and a poetic universe at once personal and universal, peculiarly his own and thus inimitable, but also accessible to all. He is perhaps the greatest lyric poet of the 17th century in France. Though he is best known for the Fables, they are but a small part of his writings. He also wrote a number of licentious tales in verse, many occasional pieces, and a long romance; he tried his hand at elegy and fantasy, at epigram and comedy. Almost everything he wrote is shot through with personal reflections and graceful ironies.

Le Corbeau et le Renard, or the Crowand the Fox, is perhaps one of the most prolific fables to have been borrowed from and reinvented through the centuries since Jean de La Fontaine’s death. It has been illustrated and translated hundreds of times, and even appeared in a series of American cartoons and comic books between 1941 and 1949.

In the fable a crow has found a piece of cheese and retired to a branch to eat it. A fox, wanting the cheese for himself, flatters the crow, calling it beautiful and wondering whether its voice is as sweet to match. When the crow lets out a caw, the cheese falls and is devoured by the fox.

In the original by Aesop, the crow is holding a piece of flesh.


By Heather Rinehart



In Jean de la Fontaine’s French version (I.2), it is the fox who delivers the moral by way of recompense for the tidbit. In Norman Shapiro’s version[1]

“Flatterers thrive on fools’ credulity.
The lesson’s worth a cheese, don’t you agree?”
The crow, shamefaced and flustered swore,
Too late, however: “Nevermore!”


A very early Indian version exists in the Buddhist scriptures as the Jambhu-Khadaka-Jataka. In this a jackal flatters the crow’s voice as it is feeding in a rose-apple tree. The crow replies that it requires nobility to discover the same in others and shakes down some fruit for the jackal to eat as a reward.



By Heather Rinehart



“Master Crow sat on a tree,
Holding a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox was attracted by the odour,
And tried to attract him thus.
‘Mister Crow, good day to you.
You are a handsome and good looking bird!
In truth, if your song is as beautiful as your plumage,
You are the Phoenix of this forest.’
Hearing these words the Crow felt great joy,
And to demonstrate his beautiful voice,
He opened his mouth wide and let drop his prey.
The Fox seized it and said: “My good Sir,
Know that every flatterer,
Lives at the expense of those who take him seriously:
This is a lesson that is worth a cheese no doubt.”

The Crow, embarrassed and confused,
Swore, though somewhat later, that he would never be
tricked thus again.”

The moral of this story? According to the original by Aesop, it is to never trust a flatterer.

Around the World

There is a new monument in Moscow, a new addition to a wide range of the capital city’s tributes to famous writers, composers, revolutionaries and Soviet era bureaucrats. This bronze monument, however, does not commemorate a person, but is erected to honor the processed cheese Druzhba (‘Friendship’), a very popular food product from the Soviet epoch. The statue depicts the Fox and the Crow:





Monument to Processed Cheese



The below statue pays earliest homage to Jean de La Fontaine in Paris. Every French school child has grown up with his stories, usually with a moral, similar to Aesop or Phaedrus. This statue is located near La Muette РAuteuil, and is a fine tribute to this former member of the Acad̩mie Fran̤aise.



Monument to Jean de La Fontaine



And of course, crows and foxes around the world never cease to be rivals:



Hooded Crow Pulls Fox Tail



Visit our Fox and the Crow gallery to see how diverse illustration of this tale has been over the last 400 years.

Ravens in Biblical Mythology

Regardless of  anyone’s personal philosophy, we believe it is important to learn the significance symbols such as the Crow and Raven have had in cultures throughout the centuries.  Ravens appear several times throughout the Bible, and without having a background in theology it is hard to say if they are used as symbols of greater meaning because of their intelligence, or because they were just prolific in that time period.

What we do know is that Crows and Ravens have appeared more times and across greater expanse of earth, history, and culture than any other bird in existence. They play prominent roles in Native American, Japanese, Wiccan, and Hindu mythology, many tales which still hold religious meaning today.

The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook.


Leviticus 11:13 instructs the Israelites not to eat certain birds because they are “detestable”.  One of these birds,of course, is the raven although no further indication is given as to why the Raven is considered detestable (likely due to eating carrion).


The same command not to eat the meat of detestable birds is repeated in Deut. 14:14.  Ironically the stork, commonly thought of today as a  baby courier, is categorized alongside the raven as detestable.


According to Job 38:40-41, God feeds the ravens and their young , a belief also shared by Hindus.



Echoing this sentiment, Psalm 147:9 says that God gives the young ravens food when they call.



Luke 12:24 and Psalm 137 offer a common adage, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”


Song of Solomon describes the man’s hair as  “black as a raven” (SOS  5:11)


Psalm 30: 17 says that “the eye that mocks the father will be pecked out by the ravens in the valley”.  This passage has later been translated or adapted to include vultures and hawks to appeal to the current day man’s association with carrion.


In talking about the desert and its distinct desolation, Isaiah 34:11 describes the ‘owl and raven’ as nesting there, attempting to portray a place where there was once life and now where there is only death. This passage has later been translated to include cormorants, storks, pelicans, somehow hedgehogs, and porcupines, but the raven part has stayed consistent.


By Lorna Effler


The first bird Noah sent out from the ark was a white raven (Gen. 8:7), which kept flying back and forth until the water dried up from the earth.   Today this has evolved into a dove with an olive branch.

Japan’s Samurai Blue & the Three Legged Crow


We touched on Japanese mythology awhile back, skimming over the several ways in which crows and ravens have spiralled their way into Japanese art, culture, and religion throughout the centuries.

With World Cup fever sweeping the land, the “Samurai Blue” color of Japan’s national soccer team can be seen everywhere. Equally familiar is the team’s black crow emblem. Few people, however, look closely enough at this bird to note that it actually has not two, but three legs. Even fewer people realize that this emblem is directly connected to one of the most pivotal episodes in Japan’s classic mythology.

Kevin Short, a cultural anthropology professor at Tokyo University and columnist for the Daily Yomiuri online, gives us some detailed insight to this tale:

‘When Amaterasu the Sun Goddess wished to establish a kingdom here on earth, she equipped her grandson with rice seeds and various imperial paraphernalia and sent him down to the island of Kyushu. A few generations later, however, the heir to the throne, Iwarehiko, decided that the land could be better governed from a more central location, and set out on a journey to the east.

After sailing through the Seto Inland Sea, the imperial expedition landed on the shores of what is now Osaka. From here they planned to push eastward over the Ikoma and Kongo mountains into the fertile Nara Basin. Before they could even gain a foothold, however, they were turned away by fierce resistance from the local clans.

Back in their boats they sailed south then eastward, rounding the Kii Peninsula and landing somewhere near modern day Nachi-Katsuura in Wakayama Prefecture. From here the route to the Nara Basin lay to the north, passing over a long stretch of steep, densely forested mountains. Once in the forest the expedition quickly lost their way. Furthermore, enthralled in a powerful spell woven by a local bear sorcerer, all the men fell into a deep stupor.

But Amaterasu the Sun Goddess was not ready to abandon her descendent and protege. From the High Plain of Heaven she had a magical seven-pronged sword sent down and presented to Ihare. With sword in hand, the sorcerer’s spell immediately dissolved. Next, Amaterasu dispatched her own familiar spirit, a giant three-legged solar crow called the Yata-garasu, which guided the expedition along the difficult mountain path all the way to Yoshino at the southern edge of the Nara Basin.

Arriving in Nara, Iwarehiko subdued all the rebellious clans and established the kingdom of Yamato. In history books he is better known as Jimmu, the first in Japan’s long line of imperial emperors that still continues today. Without the Yata-garasu there might not even have been a Japan, never mind a national soccer team!

The concept of a giant crow associated with the sun is thought to have originated in China, and may have first developed as an explanation for sunspots. Also, crows were long believed to serve the local kami deities in the Kii region. Images of a three-legged crow inside a sun circle have been found on the wall of an ancient barrow grave on the Korean Peninsula, and even today can be seen on the banner of the Kumano-Hongu shrine, the center of the Kii Peninsula’s sacred lands and pilgrimage paths.

Here in Japan, ravens  are occasionally spotted in eastern Hokkaido, but only two species, the jungle crow and carrion crow , are common and widely distributed.

These two species can be told apart by the thickness of their bill. In fact, the common Japanese names, hashi-buto-garasu for the jungle crow and hashi-boso-garasu for the carrion crow, respectively mean “thick-billed crow” and “thin-billed crow.” Also, the jungle crow is slightly larger and heavier built, and sports a high protruding forehead.

It is a bit difficult to determining which species the yata-garasu is originally derived from. Ecologically, the jungle crow prefers dense forests and coastlines; while the carrion likes meadows and open farmland. The rocky coasts and heavily forested mountains of the Kii Peninsula would have provided ideal jungle crow habitat, but the extensive rice paddies of the Nara Basin would have favored carrion crows. The shape of the bill and forehead on the traditional images are inconclusive, but the current emblem used by the national soccer team is clearly that of a jungle crow.

The jungle crow’s thick, sharply-hooked bill rivals that of an eagle. Such a powerful bill is ideal for ripping open a fish or deer carcass. Ironically, it is also perfect for slicing open a plastic garbage bag. As a result, jungle crows have proliferated in urban areas. Intelligent and adaptive, they also prey heavily on urban birds such as doves, pigeons, starlings and sparrows. I have seen these fearsome hunters swallow an unfortunate sparrow fledgling in a single gulp.



Jungle Crow Feeding on Fish


During the spring and summer nesting season, each mated pair establishes and defends their own feeding territory. Jungle crows are famous for stealing metal clothes hangers from backyards and verandahs to weave into their huge nests. They seem to have a special fetish for blue items. The parents aggressively defend their nest and brood, and in some urban parks and gardens even dive-bomb people that stray too close.

In the southern Kanto Region, jungle crows have taken over the urban and suburban residential areas, but carrion crows still thrive in the open countryside. Here they enjoy a varied natural diet, including frogs, lizards, snakes, crayfish, loaches, stream crabs, grasshoppers and beetles, as well as numerous sweet fruits and berries.”

The Yata-garasu on the national soccer team emblem is said to symbolize power and quickness. The symbol was adopted in 1931, in honor of Kakunosuke Nakamura (1878-1906), considered to be the founding father of soccer here in Japan. Nakamura (no relation, I assume, to Japan’s ace Shunsuke Nakamura) was a native of the southern Kii Peninsula.

Shade, a Very Smart Raven

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Author Diane Phelps Budden witnessed firsthand the special relationship between Sedona resident Emily Cory and a raven and found it so inspiring that she has written a book for children, “Shade: A Story About a Very Smart Raven.” Cory was training Shade to rescue people in the Red Rock country of Sedona and one morning, while the raven was scouring her surroundings for breakfast, she came upon a man wandering in the desert, lost. Shade flies home to tell Cory, and they set off to find the man and lead him to safety, using her tracker. The story describes Shade’s potential as a search and rescue worker, much like dogs that law enforcement teams use as trackers. Cory based her master’s thesis at the University of Arizona on the feasibility of using ravens to help searchers find lost hikers in Arizona’s rugged desert areas.Says Diane of Emily, “

” She actually bought a raven fledgling , and wrote her thesis on the premise that ravens could be trained to help search and rescue teams find hikers lost in the High Country desert. Sorta like a rescue dog, but with wings! While Shade has not rescued her first person yet, Emily has trained her to recognize many words and shapes, and to wear a harness for the time when she will fly free to be tracked by a GPS device. I was so inspired with her work that I decided to write a children’s story about it.”

You can visit Diane’s blog here


John Marzluff: Crows & Ravens Lecture Series

John Marzluff, Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, began his career researching the social behavior and ecology of jays and ravens. He currently brings this behavioral approach to conservation issues as the leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Team for the critically endangered Mariana Crow, as a Fellow of the American Ornithologist’s Union and as a member of the Washington Biodiversity Council. The author of more than 100 scientific papers, his recent book with Tony Angell, In the Company of Crows and Ravens, blends biology, conservation, and anthropology to suggest that human and crow cultures have co-evolved.

Crows and ravens are some of our most common, but least understood birds. Below we present a series of lectures lead by John Marzluff to learn about crow ecology, natural history, and behavior. Hear amazing examples of tool use by crows, complex communication among ravens, and the conservation needs of the endangered crows of Hawaii and the Mariana Islands.



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Ravens in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Ravens appear often throughout Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Louis Rhead’s illustrations.  In the 12 Brothers, a young girl is haunted by her mother’s tale of 12 brothers who disappeared before she was born. In her desire to find them, she meets the king in the woods and falls in love with him. Long after they are wed, the king’s mother grows jealous and hateful and conspires to have the girl burned at the stake. As  she was about to burn, 12 ravens appeared in the sky and saved her.

In the more popular Raven tale, a princess has been cursed into the raven form and a hero is determined to save her:

“There was once a queen who had a little daughter, still too young to run alone. One day the child was very troublesome, and the mother could not quiet it, do what she would. She grew impatient, and seeing the ravens flying round the castle, she opened the window, and said: ’I wish you were a raven and would fly away, then I should have a little peace.’ Scarcely were the words out of her mouth, when the child in her arms was turned into a raven, and flew away from her through the open window. The bird took its flight to a dark wood and remained there for a long time, and meanwhile the parents could hear nothing of their child.

Long after this, a man was making his way through the wood when he heard a raven calling, and he followed the sound of the voice. As he drew near, the raven said, ’I am by birth a king’s daughter, but am now under the spell of some enchantment; you can, however, set me free.’ ’What am I to do?’ he asked. She replied, ’Go farther into the wood until you come to a house, wherein lives an old woman; she will offer you food and drink, but you must not take of either; if you do, you will fall into a deep sleep, and will not be able to help me. In the garden behind the house is a large tan-heap, and on that you must stand and watch for me. I shall drive there in my carriage at two o’clock in the afternoon for three successive days; the first day it will be drawn by four white, the second by four chestnut, and the last by four black horses; but if you fail to keep awake and I find you sleeping, I shall not be set free.’

The man promised to do all that she wished, but the raven said, ’Alas! I know even now that you will take something from the woman and be unable to save me.’ The man assured her again that he would on no account touch a thing to eat or drink.

When he came to the house and went inside, the old woman met him, and said, ’Poor man! how tired you are! Come in and rest and let me give you something to eat and drink.’

’No,’ answered the man, ’I will neither eat not drink.’

But she would not leave him alone, and urged him saying, ’If you will not eat anything, at least you might take a draught of wine; one drink counts for nothing,’ and at last he allowed himself to be persuaded, and drank.

As it drew towards the appointed hour, he went outside into the garden and mounted the tan-heap to await the raven. Suddenly a feeling of fatigue came over him, and unable to resist it, he lay down for a little while, fully determined, however, to keep awake; but in another minute his eyes closed of their own accord, and he fell into such a deep sleep, that all the noises in the world would not have awakened him. At two o’clock the raven came driving along, drawn by her four white horses; but even before she reached the spot, she said to herself, sighing, ’I know he has fallen asleep.’ When she entered the garden, there she found him as she had feared, lying on the tan-heap, fast asleep. She got out of her carriage and went to him; she called him and shook him, but it was all in vain, he still continued sleeping.

The next day at noon, the old woman came to him again with food and drink which he at first refused. At last, overcome by her persistent entreaties that he would take something, he lifted the glass and drank again.

Towards two o’clock he went into the garden and on to the tan-heap to watch for the raven. He had not been there long before he began to feel so tired that his limbs seemed hardly able to support him, and he could not stand upright any longer; so again he lay down and fell fast asleep. As the raven drove along her four chestnut horses, she said sorrowfully to herself, ’I know he has fallen asleep.’ She went as before to look for him, but he slept, and it was impossible to awaken him.

The following day the old woman said to him, ’What is this? You are not eating or drinking anything, do you want to kill yourself?’

He answered, ’I may not and will not either eat or drink.’

But she put down the dish of food and the glass of wine in front of him, and when he smelt the wine, he was unable to resist the temptation, and took a deep draught.

When the hour came round again he went as usual on to the tan-heap in the garden to await the king’s daughter, but he felt even more overcome with weariness than on the two previous days, and throwing himself down, he slept like a log. At two o’clock the raven could be seen approaching, and this time her coachman and everything about her, as well as her horses, were black.

She was sadder than ever as she drove along, and said mournfully, ’I know he has fallen asleep, and will not be able to set me free.’ She found him sleeping heavily, and all her efforts to awaken him were of no avail. Then she placed beside him a loaf, and some meat, and a flask of wine, of such a kind, that however much he took of them, they would never grow less. After that she drew a gold ring, on which her name was engraved, off her finger, and put it upon one of his. Finally, she laid a letter near him, in which, after giving him particulars of the food and drink she had left for him, she finished with the following words: ’I see that as long as you remain here you will never be able to set me free; if, however, you still wish to do so, come to the golden castle of Stromberg; this is well within your power to accomplish.’ She then returned to her carriage and drove to the golden castle of Stromberg.

When the man awoke and found that he had been sleeping, he was grieved at heart, and said, ’She has no doubt been here and driven away again, and it is now too late for me to save her.’ Then his eyes fell on the things which were lying beside him; he read the letter, and knew from it all that had happened. He rose up without delay, eager to start on his way and to reach the castle of Stromberg, but he had no idea in which direction he ought to go. He travelled about a long time in search of it and came at last to a dark forest, through which he went on walking for fourteen days and still could not find a way out. Once more the night came on, and worn out he lay down under a bush and fell asleep. Again the next day he pursued his way through the forest, and that evening, thinking to rest again, he lay down as before, but he heard such a howling and wailing that he found it impossible to sleep. He waited till it was darker and people had begun to light up their houses, and then seeing a little glimmer ahead of him, he went towards it.

He found that the light came from a house which looked smaller than it really was, from the contrast of its height with that of an immense giant who stood in front of it. He thought to himself, ’If the giant sees me going in, my life will not be worth much.’ However, after a while he summoned up courage and went forward. When the giant saw him, he called out, ’It is lucky for that you have come, for I have not had anything to eat for a long time. I can have you now for my supper.’ ’I would rather you let that alone,’ said the man, ’for I do not willingly give myself up to be eaten; if you are wanting food I have enough to satisfy your hunger.’ ’If that is so,’ replied the giant, ’I will leave you in peace; I only thought of eating you because I had nothing else.’

So they went indoors together and sat down, and the man brought out the bread, meat, and wine, which although he had eaten and drunk of them, were still unconsumed. The giant was pleased with the good cheer, and ate and drank to his heart’s content. When he had finished his supper the man asked him if he could direct him to the castle of Stromberg. The giant said, ’I will look on my map; on it are marked all the towns, villages, and houses.’ So he fetched his map, and looked for the castle, but could not find it. ’Never mind,’ he said, ’I have larger maps upstairs in the cupboard, we will look on those,’ but they searched in vain, for the castle was not marked even on these. The man now thought he should like to continue his journey, but the giant begged him to remain for a day or two longer until the return of his brother, who was away in search of provisions. When the brother came home, they asked him about the castle of Stromberg, and he told them he would look on his own maps as soon as he had eaten and appeased his hunger. Accordingly, when he had finished his supper, they all went up together to his room and looked through his maps, but the castle was not to be found. Then he fetched other older maps, and they went on looking for the castle until at last they found it, but it was many thousand miles away. ’How shall I be able to get there?’ asked the man. ’I have two hours to spare,’ said the giant, ’and I will carry you into the neighbourhood of the castle; I must then return to look after the child who is in our care.’

The giant, thereupon, carried the man to within about a hundred leagues of the castle, where he left him, saying, ’You will be able to walk the remainder of the way yourself.’ The man journeyed on day and night till he reached the golden castle of Stromberg. He found it situated, however, on a glass mountain, and looking up from the foot he saw the enchanted maiden drive round her castle and then go inside. He was overjoyed to see her, and longed to get to the top of the mountain, but the sides were so slippery that every time he attempted to climb he fell back again. When he saw that it was impossible to reach her, he was greatly grieved, and said to himself, ’I will remain here and wait for her,’ so he built himself a little hut, and there he sat and watched for a whole year, and every day he saw the king’s daughter driving round her castle, but still was unable to get nearer to her.

Looking out from his hut one day he saw three robbers fighting and he called out to them, ’God be with you.’ They stopped when they heard the call, but looking round and seeing nobody, they went on again with their fighting, which now became more furious. ’God be with you,’ he cried again, and again they paused and looked about, but seeing no one went back to their fighting. A third time he called out, ’God be with you,’ and then thinking he should like to know the cause of dispute between the three men, he went out and asked them why they were fighting so angrily with one another. One of them said that he had found a stick, and that he had but to strike it against any door through which he wished to pass, and it immediately flew open. Another told him that he had found a cloak which rendered its wearer invisible; and the third had caught a horse which would carry its rider over any obstacle, and even up the glass mountain. They had been unable to decide whether they would keep together and have the things in common, or whether they would separate. On hearing this, the man said, ’I will give you something in exchange for those three things; not money, for that I have not got, but something that is of far more value. I must first, however, prove whether all you have told me about your three things is true.’ The robbers, therefore, made him get on the horse, and handed him the stick and the cloak, and when he had put this round him he was no longer visible. Then he fell upon them with the stick and beat them one after another, crying, ’There, you idle vagabonds, you have got what you deserve; are you satisfied now!’”

After this he rode up the glass mountain. When he reached the gate of the castle, he found it closed, but he gave it a blow with his stick, and it flew wide open at once and he passed through. He mounted the steps and entered the room where the maiden was sitting, with a golden goblet full of wine in front of her. She could not see him for he still wore his cloak. He took the ring which she had given him off his finger, and threw it into the goblet, so that it rang as it touched the bottom. ’That is my own ring,’ she exclaimed, ’and if that is so the man must also be here who is coming to set me free.’

She sought for him about the castle, but could find him nowhere. Meanwhile he had gone outside again and mounted his horse and thrown off the cloak. When therefore she came to the castle gate she saw him, and cried aloud for joy. Then he dismounted and took her in his arms; and she kissed him, and said, ’Now you have indeed set me free, and tomorrow we will celebrate our marriage.’

Lyanda Haupt’s Crow Planet

When she set out to write about the crow — the black sheep of the avian world — the naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt didn’t relish the task. “I never meant to watch crows especially,” she admits in her curiously personal and thought-provoking meditation, “Crow Planet.” “Whenever I ask someone about chickadees or robins or flickers or other common birds . . . the response is almost always lackluster, noncommittal or at best blandly cheerful.” Crows, however, sometimes elicit raves (“They are so intelligent! And beautiful!”), but far more often insults (“loud,” “poopy,” “evil,” “menacingly bold,” “harbingers of death”).

Haupt knew the dark history that fed this distaste. During the plague years in medieval Europe, crows “scavenged the bodies lying uncovered in the streets.” In 1666, she writes, after the great fire of London, so many crows descended on the victims that Charles II ordered a campaign against them to calm a horrified populace. And yet, as she trained her binoculars on the familiar but spooky creatures in her yard, Haupt found aspects of the corvid family that argued for more respect.

Did you know that crows recognize human faces? To prove this, she writes, a researcher at the University of Washington conducted an experiment. Volunteers who had captured and banded crows (something crows resent) while wearing caveman masks were cawed at and dive-bombed whenever they re-entered crow precincts. When the same volunteers walked through the crow zone with their faces hidden by Dick Cheney masks, “the crows left them entirely alone.” (Presumably, this reflected no political bias.) Affectingly, Haupt describes “crow funerals” in which a “stillness” settles around a deceased bird as other crows “cluster about the crow in perfect silence,” and records evidence of crows at play — basking in the sun, “sprawled on one side with their wings hanging open . . . like black-feathered Madame Bovarys” or catching falling cherry blossoms. She knows that by publishing such observations, she risks criticism from the scientific community: studies “must not resort to anecdote” or “anthropomorphize their subject,” she scolds herself. And yet, she maintains, she can’t faithfully portray the interlaced world of man and crow without sharing such stories. She prefers the more open-minded, questing inquiry of earlier students of the natural world like Thoreau and Louis Agassiz, and patterns her own research technique on St. Benedict’s thoughtful reading practice, allowing a “contemplative flow” to settle upon her watching.

Like human beings, Haupt explains, crows are one of the “few prominent, dominant, successful species” that prosper in the modern world. Their hardiness means they will outlast more fragile ­species. Before we revile them, she suggests, we ought to understand that there are so many of them because there are so many of us. Because we have built, they have come, and crows and humans today must coexist in the “zoöpolis,” the “overlap of human and animal geographies.”

In a lyrical narrative that blends science and conscience, Haupt mourns the encroachments of urbanization, but cherishes the wildness that survives. She has learned to appreciate, “but not quite love,” the crow. And while she may hesitate to anthropomorphize the bird, she is unable to avoid, in one instance, caninifying it — comparing a brood of fledglings who landed on her lawn and uprooted her seedling carrots to playful Labrador puppies. She gently spritzed the young crows with a hose, hoping they’d flutter away and spare her crop. “Instead,” she writes, “all four of them gathered under the spray, flapped their wings and opened their bills, in what appeared to be absolute joy. I laughed, but in that slightly imbalanced way that could turn into crying if someone looked at me the wrong way.” Over the next few days, she brought out the hose again so they could play some more. Perhaps, then, it’s time to update the grisly collective noun (so unlike “an exaltation of larks” or a “paddling of ducks”) that’s been applied to these birds: not a “murder of crows” but a “litter.” It’s an apt expression in more ways than one.

Follow the image link above to get your own copy (32% off at Amazon)

Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Web Site

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Liesl Schillinger, NY Times
Published: August 27, 2009

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Charles Dickens & Grip the Raven

Philadelphia has landmarks galore. The most unusual is this stuffed bird recently declared a “Literary Landmark” by a national library association. Certainly no bird in history contributed more to literature then this chatty raven who inspired the prose of both Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. Perched on a log, preserved with arsenic, frozen inside his shadow box he stands as a strange piece of history. Though he has been dead since 1841, his legacy is longer then most people’s, much less other animals.

When Grip died in 1841, Dickens had the bird mounted. After Dickens death, Grip was sold at auction. The mounted raven was eventually purchased by Philadelphia’s Col. Richard Gimbel, a collector of all things Poe. In 1971, Gimbel’s Poe collection was donated to the Free Library on Logan Circle where Grip holds a place of honor in the third-floor Rare Book Department. The Gimbel collection also includes the only known copy of The Raven in Poe’s hand, manuscripts of Annabel Lee and Murders in the Rue Morgue and first editions of all Poe’s works.

Dickens wrote an amusing tongue-in-cheek account of Grip’s death in a letter to a friend. Grip’s last words, according to the author, included instructions for disposal of his property. ”

“Mr. Dear Maclise

You will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the Raven is no more… On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed “Halloa old girl!” (his favorite expression) and died.”

So wrote Charles Dickens to Daniel Maclise on March 12th 1841, adding

“The children seem rather glad of it. He bit their ankles but that was play…”

Dickens’ overblown letter has a humorous tone, but his pet raven Grip, and its death from eating lead paint chips, was quite real. This was not the first raven Dickens had owned as a pet, but it was his most beloved and when it died he had it professionally taxidermied and mounted (having one’s pet stuffed having became all the rage in England after George IV had his pet giraffe stuffed). Despite the ankle biting, it seemed Dickens children loved Grip as well. They begged their father to put the talkative pet raven into the newest story he was working on. An obliging father, Dickens did just that.

So says the talkative raven Grip in Barnaby Rudge, Dickens’ (somewhat less esteemed) historical novel about the “no-popery” riots of 1780. While Dickens may have made his children happy, there was one young man who was left unsatisfied. The young critic wrote that although he liked the book,

“[the raven’s] croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.”

But there was something about the raven character that stuck with the young critic. That and a single line from the book that read “What was that – him tapping at the door?”

Edgar Allen Poe was seriously struggling. He had quietly published a few books of poetry (one credited simply to “a Bostonian”) which no one read, he was broke, his young wife had recently died and his creative writing prospects didn’t look too good. To make ends meet Poe was working as a literary critic, moving back and forth between Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City and making literary enemies all along the way. He was also drinking… a lot. He did however have a new poem. He called it “The Raven.”

It almost didn’t get published. It was rejected from the first journal he submitted it to, but Poe hit gold with the Evening Mirror. Edited by Poe’s friend Nathaniel Parker Willis, who had often encouraged Poe to “be less destructive in his criticism and concentrate on his poetry” the paper published an advance copy of the poem with the glowing recommendation that it was “unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification… It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it.” Willis was right, and within a few months the poem was published in numerous journals, and was a high society sensation. Poe had had his big break.

Poe was gaining great popularity from his poem but along with it he was also receiving some very harsh criticism, on not just his work but his character. He was suffering retribution from those he had offended as a literary critic, as well as regularly being accused of plagiarism. Writer James Russell Lowell, a contemporary of Poe’s, clearly saw the debt owed to Dickens and wrote what he called “A Fable for Critics” in it he says

“Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge, / Three fifths of him genius, two fifths sheer fudge.”

That was the least of it. T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and Emerson all dismissed him referring to Poe as “a jingle man.” In addition, Poe was still struggling for money. Despite the poems popularity he was only paid nine dollars for its publication. He was also still drinking heavily. He did enjoy performing readings of the Raven at fancy salon parties. He would turn down all the lights and recite the poem with great drama. The women were thrilled and everyone called him “the Raven.” Like the Miwok myth, Poe was the Raven, and the Raven was Poe.

It would only be 4 years after publishing “The Raven” and gaining worldwide fame that Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, and died shortly thereafter. Even after his death, Poe was subject to insult. An obituary attibuted to “Ludwig” was published in the Times stating “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” The Raven, however, could not be so easily killed. The poem went on to be published in innumerable books, influence countless writers and is easily one of, if not, the most famous poem ever written.

Today, Grip the Raven, who inspired both Dickens and Poe can still be seen, proud as ever, in the Philadelphia Rare Book Department. If a single raven can inspire two classic works, and a conspiracy of ravens can help humans hunt down a caribou, perhaps people will begin to see ravens not as a dark and ghoulish creature but as the intelligent, elegant and playful human-like bird they are? Perhaps we will disown the dim and arrogant eagle and adopt the clever, adaptable raven as our appropriate national symbol? The answer is most assuredly… Quoth the Raven…Nevermore.

When I See an Elephant Fly…

One of my fondest memories as a little girl was reading any one of my Little Golden Books to my stuffed animal audience, with my favorite being Dumbo. As I grew up, it evolved into me sitting alone in my aunt’s cozy living room watching Disney’s Dumbo. I must have seen it a hundred times, and it is the only one that, to this day, I could still probably recite.

The story was one of overcoming the odds and accepting oneself. These were concepts I greatly identified with as a white girl growing up in consistently ethnic surroundings.  The crows in the movie held a special attraction for me as they proved to be Dumbo’s saviors. They gave him the magic feather (faith) which granted him the confidence to lift himself out of his despair, even after raucously mocking his presence in their tree after a night of drunken excess.

Whether its been awhile, or you’ve never seen the film, take a moment and revisit the joyous highlight of the crow posse singing to Dumbo and Timothy the mouse:

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A Gathering of Crows

Brian Keene is a two-time Bram Stoker Award winning horror author, first in 2001 for his non-fiction work Jobs In Hell and then again in 2003 for his debut novel, the post-apocalyptic zombie tale The Rising.

In 2004, he won the Shocker Award for his non-fiction work Sympathy For the Devil. His other novels include Dead Sea, Ghoul, City of the Dead, Terminal, The Conqueror Worms, Fear Of Gravity, and more. Several of his books and stories have been optioned for film, video game and comic book adaptations.

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An Excerpt from Brian Keene’s A Gathering of Crows:

The crow cawed again. The sound echoed through the night, loud and obnoxious. Then the bird spread its massive wings and swooped toward them. Donny and Marsha stood transfixed, gaping as it approached.

Levi stepped in front of them. “Stay behind me.”

“It’s just a bird,” Donny said.

“No, it isn’t. This is something else.”

The crow landed in the yard and then seemed to blur. It grew, changing shape, transforming into a tall man. The entire process took only seconds. Behind him, Levi heard Donny and Marsha gasp. He knew how they felt. The transformation was simultaneously incredible and terrifying. He’d certainly never seen anything like it before, and he’d seen a lot in his travels.

“Holy shit,” Donny said. Marsha whimpered in agreement.

Read the whole thing here…

Brian Keene’s A Gathering of Crows will be available in August.