Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tailchaser's Song

You would think a guy saddled with the nickname “Wildcat” would not wait until his thirty-third year to read Tailchaser’s Song. Was it worth the wait? I suppose so. I’ve entered into this book with some high expectations. The book ranks among my wife’s childhood favorites. Will it now stand among my favorites, though? We’ll come to that.

First, I must confess that despite having had more than one cat over the years (not counting Frank), I’m not much of a cat person. Then again, maybe that’s proof of just how “catty” I really am… that I just don’t like sharing my den with another cat, Frank being the obvious exception. I do know enough about cats to say that Tad Williams definitely captures their nature dead-on within this book. From the way they move and interact, every cat comes across true to form.

One thing I found most fascinating was how cleverly Williams crafted the setting so that it could remain timeless. If not for a reference to cats being neutered, you could just as easily place this story somewhere hundreds of years ago or even within the future. A child of today could read this book and find it as fresh and original as my wife probably did when this book was released in the mid-eighties.

The cat sub-culture in this book fascinated me. Williams gives these furry creatures their own history and mythology. Some of the most interesting stuff in this book comes when the cats discuss their many fables. This book is all about the journey, letting the reader discover this world Williams has created. From that standpoint, I loved this book. As for the story itself, I thought that was just “all right.”

I won’t say Williams gets the story wrong, because he gets it right. That story centers on the many unexplained disappearances of cats in a place that’s home to a cat by the name of Fritti Tailchaser. His beloved has also vanished, and his search for her leads him into an adventure that starts off more fanciful than anything but takes a turn for the horrifying as he learns the truth behind all the missing cats.

Now that I’ve had a few hours to process everything I’ve read, I realize how much this book resembles J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit. The main character isn’t some dashing hero; he’s a small fellow with a heroic spirit and a talent for finding trouble… and getting out of it. There’s also the way in which Tailchaser misses out on some of the key moments in the final battle, which very much resembles how The Hobbit’s Bilbo must also have key parts of the final battle in that book told to him after the fact.

Another interesting thing that stood out to me is Williams’ obsession with caves. In Shadowmarch, he spends an inordinate amount of time having characters travel underground. My wife has told me that he does much the same in the beginning of The Dragonbone Chair. A large portion of Tailchaser’s Song also takes place within an underground cavern, and after a while, I found that frustrating. The story feels like it’s just spinning its wheels as characters are slowly positioned as needed for the big showdown. Part of that is owed to the fact only a handful of scenes (if that many) aren’t told from Tailchaser’s point-of-view, so the reader gets a very limited perspective on events. I don’t think the story would work better if it did change point-of-view more often, but that doesn’t change that this part is somewhat slow.

Other Books by Tad Williams:

I can’t say that Tailchaser’s Song will go down as one of my all-time favorites, but I can appreciate why this book put Williams on the map. What he accomplishes with this book is a marvel. The writing is sharp and inventive. He also creates a world rich with characters, history and a multitude of societies built around all the little creatures most of us never give a second thought. Some of the best authors make us see everyday things from a new perspective, and Williams proves himself one of the best with this book.

1 comment:

JessN said...

An obsession with caves and underground places could indicate that he is fascinated with the idea of rebirth. When I read Tailchaser's Song in my twenties, that's what I got from the underground scenes. Interestingly, there are underground experiences in Tolkien as well, and they definately are symbolic of rebirth.

Just a take from a literary major (that's what they pay us to know).