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The Town Cats and Other Tales
Lloyd Alexander
Puffin Books, 128 pages

Mark Buehner
The Town Cats and Other Tales
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: Gypsy Rizka
SF Site Review: The Wizard in the Tree
SF Site Review: Time Cat
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 A.L. Sirois

In this short volume, Lloyd Alexander's fables introduce us to 8 cats that seem more human than their human companions. This is a fairy-tale world, in which talking animals are the norm, and Alexander's language is that of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Consequently, this is a book for younger readers, either for them to explore themselves or to be read to them at bedtime.

Fairy tales often serve the purpose of offering shorthand examples of idealized or proper human behaviour: how we ought to act if we are lost in the woods, what we would do to help our poverty-stricken parents, how we could get the best of an oppressive foe. That people so often fail in the crunch is probably the reason that so many fairy tale heroes aren't human at all, but, like Puss in Boots, are anthropomorphized animals.

So it is in these charming stories. The humans are of two primary varieties: helpless to deal with penurious circumstances and in need of philanthropic aid, or stupidly bound up in their own self-importance and thus requiring comeuppance.

Interestingly, Alexander is particularly harsh on creative artists. There are two such in the book, a painter and a musician, and both are depicted as talented but childlike in their inability to deal with business. Their cats prevent them from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous patrons. Hillesum, the painter's cat, even completes the painting that has been commissioned from his master.

In fact, most of these cats are self-assured, intelligent creatures with far more common sense than their owners. In the book's title story, for example, Pescato, "the boldest rascal ever on four paws," has to save the town in which he lives from the economic depredations of a greedy Deputy Provisional Commissioner. A tabby named Margot helps a lovelorn princess win her true love in "The Cat-King's Daughter." Baraka, a marketplace cat, dares to be "The Cat Who Said No" to a self-important Turkish potentate.

In each story there is at least one childish, pig-headed human being who is taught a moral lesson by the cat he or she encounters, and ends up being a better person for it. Each little morality play is a well-told tale with easily recognizable human types and sly, good-humoured, knowing cats.

The last story in the book, "The Apprentice Cat," is a little different. Witling, a good-natured if not particularly intelligent young cat, is much beloved of his master and mistress. As they are growing old, they determine that Witling should learn a trade in order to make his way in the world after they are gone. Dutifully the cat does his best in arranged apprenticeships with a baker, a dairyman and a weaver, but in each case he succumbs to his basic cat nature, and is returned home by indignant employers. At last, however, his owners discover Witling's true calling: that of housecat.

I also enjoyed Laszlo Kubinyi's wonderfully intricate crosshatched pen and ink illustrations for the stories. There are two drawings per story. Each is full of energy and sly good humour. My favourite was of the nouveau riche tailor Shubin emulating his cat Vaska, as he crawls on all fours into a moonlit convocation of alley cats.

Lloyd Alexander, probably best known for his Prydain Chronicles, including The Black Cauldron, which was made into an uneven Disney animated film, has in The Town Cats written a compact volume of classically flavoured fairy tales. They're delightful, especially for anyone who loves cats -- or the people who love them.

Copyright © 1999 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at

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