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Old Fox and his friends have been a comforting tale for Twitter users


Once upon a time in a village in Dorset lived an old fox. In Old Fox's world - a post-World War I, somewhat shire-like English setting - kindness was the rule. And Fox's friends - Wolf, Mouse, Pine Marten and Sea Otter - looked after one another, sharing meals and books and treats and all consoling one another during the Great Sickness.

If this sounds comforting to you, especially at this very unnerving moment in reality, you are not alone. Author Anne Louise Avery has built up quite the following on Twitter and Patreon as she doles out this story, bit by bit. This month, for Advent, she has been sending out daily images and stories of Old Fox and his animal and human friends - think Dickens or Hans Christian Andersen, or maybe a little bit of Narnia in there, as well.

Anne Louise Avery joins us now from her home in Oxford for more insight into her Old Fox Advent calendar on Twitter. Thanks for joining us.

ANNE LOUISE AVERY: Hi. Lovely to be here.

DETROW: Tell us about Old Fox.

AVERY: Well, he came to me in a sort of a vision, really, about two years ago. And I was writing my book, "Reynard The Fox," which is about a medieval fox, and suddenly, I had a vision of a fox in the sort of 1920s - a very old fox walking to a village shop in Dorset to buy some oranges for Christmas. So I started writing about him on Twitter.

So the first story was received with great enthusiasm - and this was sort of pre-pandemic. And then I just kept writing about him. And the more I wrote about him, the bigger his world grew. And then the pandemic hit, and it kind of became woven into the stories, and the characters started experiencing Great Sickness, which was a bit like the sort of 1918 flu pandemic.

DETROW: I mean, there's such a sense of kindness and community...

AVERY: Yeah.

DETROW: ...In these stories. Anne, I'll just be honest with you, I saw a lot of that early on in the pandemic. And at this particular moment, I don't see as much, especially in the space where these stories live right now - on social media.

AVERY: Yeah. Well, it's sort of like almost subverting Twitter, I feel sometimes when I'm doing it...


AVERY: ...Because Twitter is sort of scarred with anger and recrimination and horror really at the moment, isn't it?


AVERY: And these stories - they're sort of defiantly kind and defiantly to do with love and thoughtfulness and understanding and, like you say, community. And they sort of provide a space that is sort of very fiercely positive, I think.

DETROW: And it seems like you then kind of create a community in having ongoing conversations with readers about these stories, about these characters throughout the day.

AVERY: Yeah, I mean, people have found them very comforting, especially when they've been going through similar issues. For example, one of the characters, Mouse, has been severely depressed - I mean, so depressed she was almost on the verge of, you know, committing suicide. And she was sort of rescued and taken to a lovely safe space, a thatched cottage with two old bears and looked after.


AVERY: If you follow the tweets, you can see there are lots of intertwining stories with the different characters. They're all actually leading to a kind of denouement on Christmas Eve. Shall I read some of them?

DETROW: Yeah, that'd be lovely.

AVERY: OK. So this one - one of the characters is an Arctic fox who's from the far north of Finland. He is called the newcomer in the stories because one day he just shows up on the village green in his wagon. And he's a very sort of mystical, magical, strange character.

(Reading) Eleventh day - it was a very dark night, and the fog was coming in from the sea. But on the village green, there were lanterns shining amber in the trees. And by a blazing fire, the newcomer was telling tales of "The Little Robber Girl," tales of fearlessness and singing ice, of love as fierce as death.

DETROW: You know, I cover politics for NPR, and I'm just going to say, that's a lot nicer Twitter content than the Twitter content I usually come across and engage with.

AVERY: (Laughter) Yeah.

DETROW: Could you read us one more?

AVERY: Yeah, of course.

DETROW: Thank you.

AVERY: This one is about the bear of Moscow, and he's actually - at the moment, he's en route to England to surprise his friend, the mouse. She has no idea that he's coming. But he stops off - he gets the train from Moscow to Paris, and he decides to have a little holiday in Paris before he gets the boat train to England. So this is him in Paris.

(Reading) Fourteenth day - before he left Paris, the bear had a little shopping to do. First, he visited an old confiserie on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, a wondrous place with hundreds of glass jars of bonbons - crotte d'isards, dragee de Verdun, fraisette de Lourdes, grisette de Montpellier.

And that one is based on a couple of lovely sweet shops that I visited in Paris, and the sweets mentioned are all really ancient sweets, actually.


AVERY: So crotte d'isards, for example, actually means the droppings of the isard, which is a kind of goat-antelope from the Pyrenees. And they're little sort of chocolate almond sweeties that are really nice. But they've been around since the 18th century. And dragee de Verdun, also - that's, like, sugared almonds, as well. And they're medieval sweets from Verdun, which I actually mentioned in my book "Reynard The Fox," as well. So they've been made by apothecaries in Verdun since the 12th century.

So these are all, you know, really ancient sweets that are still available in certain sort of confiserie sweet shops in Paris.

DETROW: So what you're saying is there are a lot of ancient sweets and imaginary foxes going around in your mind.

AVERY: That's right.

DETROW: (Laughter) Writer Anne Louise Avery, author of the Twitter feed Old Fox Advent calendar, thank you so much.

AVERY: Thank you so much, Scott.


DETROW: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.