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Time Cat
Lloyd Alexander
Penguin Puffin, 206 pages

Time Cat
Lloyd Alexander
This author's many honours include Newbery Medals for The High King and The Black Cauldron, and National Book Awards for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian and Westmark. Another of his books, The Arkadians, received critical acclaim and appeared on the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Master List. Alexander and his wife live in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wizard in the Tree
SF Site Review: Gypsy Ritza
SF Site Review: The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha
SF Site Review: The Arkadians
SF Site Review: The Iron Ring
Lloyd Alexander Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Time Cat was Lloyd Alexander's first children's book way back in 1963, even before his famed Prydain Chronicles, and it has aged remarkably well. The premise is simple: Gareth, a black cat with a white crux ansata on his chest, has 9 lives -- we all know that! -- except Gareth's 9 lives occur each at a different time in history. If my math is correct his current time line makes 10 lives, but then this is a cat that can speak to a young boy named Jason and take him along on a cross-time trip to his other lives, so who's counting?

Together Gareth and Jason visit ancient Egypt, follow Caesar's legions to Britain, hobnob with a young Saint Patrick, turn a 10th century Japanese boy-emperor into a man, catalyze Leonardo DaVinci's foray into art, help out a reluctant conquistador who'd rather be an anthropologist, witness the coming of the Manx cat to the Isle of Man, escape witch hunters in the Germany of 1600 and meet some of the heroes of the American revolution.

The concept of linking a number of stories set at different times in history has been around for a long time. Sometimes the linking agent has been a person, such as the warriors in Edwin L. Arnold's Phra the Phoenician (1890) and George Griffith's Valdar, the Oft-Born (c. 1900), at other times an object, such as the sword in Arthur D. Howden Smith's Grey Maiden: A Story of a Sword Through the Ages (1929). There have even been cats who travel back to previous incarnations, like Thomasina in The Three Lives of Thomasina (1957) by Paul Gallico (for those not inclined to read, see the Disney movie). However, time-hopping cats with little boys coming along with them are not your everyday occurrence.

From Time Cat to his latest Gypsy Ritza, Alexander has continued to write children's stories with both plenty of adventure and risk to his heroes, yet always with a healthy dose of humour. While the last episode, in the "United States" of 1775, was perhaps the weakest, each and every episode left me wishing Alexander has written a book twice as long, not so he could add more lives to Gareth, but so that he could expand each one in greater detail. The characters, good or bad, starched shirt types and clowns, deep thinkers and addle-pated buffoons are so well sketched out that you want to known much more about them, but Gareth the cat has already led you elsewhere.

As I commented in my review of Gypsy Ritza, much of the charm of Alexander's books is that they are pure fantasy and allow us to step outside reality and embrace other worlds. This is equally true of Time Cat. As with his other books, Time Cat is a book that will appeal to youngsters but has the quality to entertain even the most jaded of adult readers.

Besides providing a good history lesson, Time Cat also shows an excellent understanding of the apparent psyche of the cat, but apparently Mr Alexander and his wife are life-long cat-lovers so this would explain a lot. So, next time you curl up with Fluffy or Muffin, read him/her a bit of Time Cat, watch for the knowing yet bored look of smug superiority, and know he/she approves.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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