When my human brought this book to me, he and I both assumed that it would be a collection with only the titular story dedicated to felines. This is what Lloyd Alexander’s other story-collection, The Foundling & Other Tales of Prydain, was like – the titular story was the selling point, dedicated to the backstory for a character from his “Prydain” chronicles, and that was the only story my human ever read out of it. The other stories? Who knows what they were about. They were incidental and unrelated to that character, and that was what I assumed I’d find in The Town Cats & Other Tales.
My human had, in fact, never even heard of this book until I began looking for a fourth example of Lloyd Alexander’s cat-lit to round out the month; we both assumed I would have plenty of time to read the one short cat-story mentioned in the title and then dash out a review in-between my human’s long hours spent working on his own project. We were wrong! So very, very wrong! And both of us now know that years of our lives have been wasted because they were spent without having read this book.
Consider, friends, that venerable Greek Aesop – a slave famous for many an ancient tale which was posthumously attributed to him. These tales were of a didactic nature and typically featured animals whose failures and triumphs taught valuable lessons to the human audience.
Now imagine, friends, a world in which Aesop had only preserved fables about cats! An improvement, no? Imagine also that every cat was presented in a complimentary light, acknowledged for the marvelous, brilliant, charming, beneficent beings that they are. This, friends, is what Mr. Alexander has done with his book The Town Cats & Other Tales.
Where has this book been all my lives?!
Imagine my surprise when I opened the book and saw a table of contents containing nothing but stories about cats! My little heart went pitter-pat much the same way as when I spy an incautious, unsuspecting bird just within reach. Coupled with the picture of the cat playing chess on the cover, that table of contents was an excellent start – but I have been deceived before, and Mr. Alexander’s track record is hardly pristine! I tentatively read the first (titular) story in this connection, fearful of what I might find, but found it to be a delightful, light-hearted account of how a town was saved from certain doom by a wise cat and his fellows. Nothing insulting! Nothing demeaning! The cats are not the butts of any jokes, are neither persecuted nor abused, and are absolutely essential to the story. What is more, the cats are acknowledged as intelligent, rational beings whose examples every human should follow; if the behavior of cats seems foolish or simple to humans, that is only because human perspectives are warped and humans have over-complicated their lives. To be a cat is to be a paragon of virtuous common sense, these stories argue, and I could not agree more wholeheartedly.
Consider, for instance, the cat who saves a town by convincing the humans to publicly act like cats! Or the cat who secures a princess the husband of her dreams by taking her place briefly! Or the cat who challenges a despot simply by refusing to let him win a game of chess! Or even the kitten who teaches his elderly humans a valuable lesson in self-determination by remaining true to his nature! All of these tales and more can be found within this small, simple volume and I wish my human and I had found it years ago.
Buy it. Love it. Read it to your kittens.
EDIT: My humans reminded me to mention that human young will profit from it as well. Perhaps even more so!