By Tad Williams
Published by Uncertain
Read by: Uncredited
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Terry Pratchett
It is a common and time-tested trope. Take a bunch of animals and tell a story about them as though they were sapient creatures. Sometimes they are pets who pretend to be dumb animals around humans. Sometimes they are openly sapient and somewhere in between. Then we have animals that have their cultures either independent of humans or else there are no humans. How long has this been going on?
In the last one hundred years or so, it has become very common, so let’s leave aside the obvious examples of video games and comics, both web and print. Let’s also just admit that it is hard to avoid sapient animals in anime and Disney movies/cartoons. Let’s ignore Yogi Bear, Underdog and their cousins, not to mention their live action counterparts, we still have Mister Ed, My Little Pony, Gromit, the cast of Flushed Away, the animals of Animal Farm, Sgt. Snorkel’s dog, Otto, Dogbert, Snoopy, Shawn the Sheep, Flint Lockhart’s monkey, Steve, Clifford Simak’s future dogs of City, and just about every animal in Oz, including Toto who at one time admits he does not talk to Dorothy for fear she would stop treating him as a pet.
Yeah. Okay, I said to ignore some of those, but what the heck. There is even the horse of Cohen the Barbarian (Prachett’s Discworld series) who talks, but had Cohen known that all he would do was complain he would have gotten rid of him far sooner.
The point is, the world is so full of stories that rely on that trope it is hard to believe some times that there is room on the bookshelves for other types of stories. So then we have the story type in which the animals have a culture (maybe a civilization of their own. Watership Down, for example, is filled with sapient rabbits that would give Monte Python’s Rabbit of Caerbannog a run for its fluffy-tailed money. Actually, is the Rabbit of Caerbannog sapient? Maybe it just has a sweet tooth for living meat. Oh, hey! How about Bunnicula and his fellow pets?
The most recent example I have noticed is a commercial for Johnsonville sausages where a burly gentleman is chatting with the local wildlife while eating breakfast. I am leaving out a lot of examples here, sorry if I have skipped your favorite, feel free to mention it in the comments section.
So how long has this been going on? Many of our classic fairy tales feature sapient animals – “What big eyes you have Grandma!” Japanese lore has many such too, such of the Kitsune(foxes) and the Tanuki (Racoon dogs) both of which had counterparts on the mainland and which had entirely different reputations; never confuse a Kitsune with a Huli Jing!
Going back even further we have Aesop’s Fables and before that we might be able to include Hanuman, the Monkey King who eventually found enlightenment along the long path, and don’t forget Garuda! So, let’s just assume there have been such stories about animals as far back as we have records.
Cats fill a very special niche of such stories. A good example might be the Jellicle cats of T.S. Eliot or those of the Feline Wizards series of Diane Duane, and Tad Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song is another, any of which might have inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to compose “Memories.” Now with a bunch of talking animals, including a talking frog, this might have turned out to be another Wind in the Willows but the story is a more serious piece, closer to a feline version of The Lord of the Rings although with a much smaller fellowship and one in which only Tailchaser, himself, is featured throughout.
In any case, while I was prepared to be disappointed, but actually this was a very good story and I’m glad I took the time. It has the earmarks of an author’s early work, might be a bit rough in places and the end seemed too abrupt – ad though the author thought, “Well, I covered the story, why bother writing a few more paragraphs to close it neatly?), but in all this was a very enjoyable story and an excellent piece of serious fantasy. And, apparently there is an animated version of the story being produced as I write this, so read it before Hollywood gets its paws on the story!
I really wish I knew who was reading this and who published it, but try though I did, I could not find any mention of an audio-edition of this book in which the publisher and reader were credited. So either it’s so long out of the print that even the Internet has forgotten (and I thought the Internet never forgot…). This one of those copies of audiobooks I have received from friends so I do not know where it came from. I did find mention of a torrent download of an audio recording although it was not credited and I do not download books illegally. It is not fair to the authors. I don’t mind borrowing a copy – it’s like borrowing a regular book, but I do not steal books! However, I did listen to this one and would like to give credit where due.
I suspect this might have been an offering from the National Library Service along with all their other audiobooks for the blind and physically handicapped, but I just do not know. All the usual introductory stuff was missing as was the glossary at the end of the book.
The reader was fairly good, however and obviously read the author’s note about pronunciation before recording the story. I did not think he was outstanding, but his reading had none of the annoying over-the-top features some actors put into their readings, especially when talking animals are involved. Instead this reader gave the character the same respect that any serious literary characters ought to have and produced an overall good reading.
So, I might not be able to point you to this audiobook, but I do recommend going out and buying a copy of the story in paper or e-book format. With a movie coming out there ought to be plenty to be found.