A cat's tale of heroism in the face of powerful feline gods
In the introduction provided by the author in the Fifteenth Anniversary Edition, Tad Williams describes himself as a dog person. What would be his first novel (written initially in 1985) “Tailchaser’s Song” was inspired by his ex-wife’s two cats, and his mystification with their behavior. In attempting to live with his ex-wife’s pets, he made a study of their quirks and behaviors; how they differed from dogs and other animals. In between menial jobs, he wrote down his observations, later crossing them with a fantasy novel backdrop. This describes the bare bones of the story, but it is much more than just a fantasy novel with cats as the protagonists.
The book is about the adventures of a young cat named Fritti Tailchaser. When word reaches the cats of Meeting Wall that cats from other communities have been disappearing, they take little interest in it, although Tailchaser is stirred to action when his “fiancé” Hushpad, vanishes mysteriously. Frustrated with his elder’s complacency, Tailchaser sets out to find her himself, with the energetic kitten Pouncequick and the insane tom cat Eatbugs as his companions.
Part of what gives the story its charm is the observations on feline behavior that Tad worked into his characters. Instead of just being humanized animals, Tailchaser and companions behave just as you would expect of real cats, and this is reflected well in the society the author has constructed for them; how cats live in the wilds, how they interact with humans (known as M’an in this book) and other animals, and how cats interact with each other. It’s all there, and people who enjoy living with cats will get a real kick out of this tale.
The second part of the charm, and what makes the story really interesting, is the imaginative mythology the author came up with for the felines, which plays a prominent role throughout the story. It is similar to Grecian and Norse mythologies, though has smatterings of concepts found in Christianity. These myths factor heavily into feline society, with amusing tales being told by respected elders as a manner of passing down morals and parables, much like the tradition of Aesop’s Fables or the stories surrounding the gods of ancient Greece. Tad even ascribes to the cats a form of their own language, giving them feline-specific sayings and words that seem logical and natural. He put a lot of imagination and research into this story, and it shows.
As for the story itself, it’s otherwise fairly typical for a fantasy adventure. In his search for Hushpad, Tailchaser encounters new friends and grave dangers. The pacing is good and there is always something new to draw in reader interest. In the latter half of the story especially, you get the sense of being there with Tailchaser throughout his trials.
The story is entertaining and memorable. I’d highly recommend it if you where a fan of cats, fantasy, mythology, or furry especially, but anyone who enjoys fiction will find this book an accessible read. It’s perfect for young adults, but many others can enjoy it too.