Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander, for Timeslip Tuesday

This is the seventy-fourth time travel book I've reviewed for Timeslip Tuesday, and I'm getting a bit nervous. After today, I'll only have four books in reserve, for those weeks where I haven't found time to read a new one....five if you count my husband's promise to do a guest post about Red Shift (Alan Garner), which would bring some welcome (?) gloom to my cheerful little blog, but I'm not holding my breath.

But anyway. Today's book is: Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander (Henry Holt, 1963), Alexander's first book for children. It is not gloomy. It tells of Jason, a boy, and Gareth, a cat, and how Gareth uses his catly magic to take them both back in time.
"Lucky Gareth," Jason sighed, lying back and closing his eyes. "I wish I had nine lives."

The cat stopped purring. "I wish I did, too." he said.

Jason started up in surprise. Not because Gareth had spoken. Jason had always been sure he could if he wanted to. It was what Gareth had said." (pages 4-5)
Gareth might not have nine lives, but he does have something else. He can visit nine different lives, in nine different times and places. And he can take Jason with him.

Boy and cat travel around the globe, starting with ancient Egypt and ending in Revolutionary War Massachusetts, and everywhere they go, a little vignette of interesting encounter/adventure awaits. They meet Leonardo da Vinci, become friends with the young Japanese Emperor, are taken hostage by the Incas, and are found guilty of witchcraft in 17th-century Germany. And more.

Their travels through the past are particularly fascinating to Jason, Gareth, and the cat-loving reader because of the great variety in people's attitudes toward cats--there's veneration, appreciation of their utility, affection, and fear. Without being too overtly didactic, Alexander gets some decent non-cat history and cultural anthropology into the story too....and (being Alexander) he underlines the moral point:
"I learned a lot about cats...and different places," Jason said.

"That was only part of it," said Gareth. "If you think back, everybody we met had something to tell you--about themselves, and about yourself. It's a way of finding out a part of what you have to know to be a grown-up." (page 205).
Not exactly subtle, but I think it does encapsulate one reason why books mean so very much to the avid young reader. Alexander went on to write the Chronicles of Prydain just after finishing this book, and the theme of "finding out what you have to know to be a grown-up" is central to those books. I was just the right age when I read them, and I know that the messages he put in those books hit home for me...Of course, Lloyd Alexander went on to write the same story over and over again, and this theme of growing up began to grow old, and not other book of his ever became dear to me. Oh well. Back to Time Cat.

In Time Cat the "lessons" are much less overt, and much less powerful. It can be enjoyed as just a fun and colorful romp through time, a book to give to the fan of the Magic Tree House books, for instance, when those are outgrown. I plan to try it on my own boys, and I bet they'll like it.

But its episodic nature, which allots only a fleeting bit of time for each character interaction, makes the book feel a lot like a series of postcards. It doesn't quite have enough to hold the attention of an older reader looking for the numinous, the truly engrossing, the beautiful enchantments of a true classic. Bottom line--it's not going to go to the nursing home with me and my best beloved books, but it's a perfectly fine young middle grade story. Especially, most emphatically, a good one for the young cat lover.

Here's another review at Under the Covers.


  1. Oddly enough, I read this as an adult and absolutely loved it. I'd read Alexander's Prydain series and one non-related book when I was a kid (I don't remember the title, but it was the one where the boy falls into a bucket of water and finds himself in another world), but I shied away from the rest because I was worried they wouldn't be as good. It wasn't until I read this one that I decided I ought to go back and fill in the gaps. I've had a few hiccups (I just can't seem to enjoy the Vesper Holly books), but for the most part I've had a wonderful time--and I owe it all to Jason and Gareth. :)

  2. I loved this book as a kid, so I'm curious to revisit it now. It was the only Lloyd Alexander book I unreservedly adored when I was small. I hope I still like it!

  3. Now I am wondering if I was just in the wrong mood when I read it...and an even wrong-er mood when I wrote my post!

    I'd read it years ago, but had no memory of it.

  4. Dear fellow readers -

    I am interested in purchasing the entire Time Cat series for my daughter, but cannot find a list of all the titles -- can anyone help?

  5. Gosh--this is a stand alone title, not a series; maybe you are thinking of some other series?


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