I remember when I was a child at Christmastime, listening to my mother read Clement C. Moore’s famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “The Night Before Christmas” or “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Slightly less than halfway through Moore’s work can be found these verses:
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,Well, after I’d heard those lines a few dozen times (or more), I started to wonder about the names of jolly old St. Nicholas’ eight high-flying reindeer. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Comet all seemed suggestive of the creatures’ career-making fleet-footedness. Cupid, I conjectured, was the lover-not-a-fighter among the group. Donner and Blitzen never made a whole lot of sense to me. The former I could associate solely with California’s 19th-century Donner Party (though that pioneering group’s disastrous mountain crossing didn’t take place until two decades after Moore sat down to pen his poem); the latter moniker seemed even less connectable, for surely it could have nothing to do with Nazi Germany’s World War II Blitz attacks on Great Britain, yet I had no other ideas on its source. Only in recent years has “blitzen” become synonymous with “amazing” or “cool,” and also been linked with drug culture (“blitzen” meaning “getting high,” usually via marijuana). To learn that Donner and Blitzen weren’t even those reindeers’ original names further confuses the matter.
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer, and Vixen!
“On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
So what about Vixen? The name has been applied to ships and computer games, sports teams, films, and even an all-female rock band, though all of those date from many years past Clement Moore’s time. Vixen is the term, as well, for a female fox. And in the same way that “fox” has come to mean an unusually attractive woman, so “vixen” has been applied to women who are sexy and flirtatious, or those with fiery tempers. It’s impossible to guess what Moore’s inspiration might have been, but it seems more likely that he had a female fox (of the canine sort) in mind when he christened his reindeer than some observably curvaceous lass.
The other day, while browsing through the amazing Pulp Covers site, I happened across the front from the 1959 Crest Books edition of The Vanishing Vixen (shown atop this post). Composed by Roy B. Sparkia (1924-1992), who also produced such works of fiction as 1956’s Build My Gallows High (not to be confused with Geoffrey Homes’ 1946 book of the same title) and Paradise County (1974), The Vanishing Vixen is described as “a power-packed novel of suspense, sex, and sabotage.” I can’t attest to those contents, but this volume certainly offers an eye-catching cover, painted by Barye Phillips, that’s complete with an inviting young blonde and a rocket that’s busy blasting past its gantry.
This reminded me that there are other novels out there bearing “vixen” in their titles. Above and on the left, for instance, is Not I, Said the Vixen, Bill S. Ballinger’s 1965 legal thriller, with cover art by Bill Johnson. I don’t have information about all of the illustrators represented below, but I do know that Robert McGinnis created the artwork for The Velvet Vixen (Signet, 1964), by Carter Brown; Michael Koelsch was responsible for the cover of The Frost-Haired Vixen (DAW, 2006); Frank Yerby’s The Vixens (Pocket, 1950), like The Vanishing Vixen, boasts a Phillips graphic; Robert Bonfils gave us the front for Vice Ring Vixen, by J. X. Williams (Greenleaf/Pleasure Reader, 1969); and it’s Carl Stricker’s talents being displayed on that 1948 Avon edition of Valley Vixen, by Ben Ames Williams.
Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.
Furthermore, there are a number of novels with cover lines that contain “vixen.” The 1963 U.S. edition of Hank Janson’s Kill Her with Passion (with cover art by Harry Barton) being one example; John Pleasant McCoy’s Big As Life (Pocket, 1951) being another.
Something tells me that Clement C. Moore, a onetime president of New York City’s Columbia College (later Columbia University) and the developer of the General Theological Seminary, would not have approved of any of these works. No, not at all.
READ MORE: “The New York Christmas Tradition in an Uptown Cemetery” (The Bowery Boys).