© Estate of Lloyd Alexander, cover illustration © Wayne McLoughlin.
I discovered Lloyd Alexander through his Prydain series of fantasy novels, reading them as they came out in the 1960s. Wonderful work, I feel the best of his long career. At the time the only other fantasy he had published was this one. I read it at the time and thought it okay, but was not impressed. As a fantasy type: a child (or children) who travel through time with the help of a magical animal or object, I’d read better examples by E. Nesbit and Edward Eager to name two.
Rereading it now after nearly 50 years, I think I’m willing to give the author a little more slack and say it’s a good book. Still not a great book, but well worth reading. Gareth, a magical cat with an ankh sign in his black fur takes his master, Jason, on a journey through time to nine eras and places, all of which have something to do with cats. In each place they visit, Gareth and Jason quickly become involved in some sort of trouble, often with important historical events happening around them. Their journey begins in Egypt in 2700 BC, a time and place when cats were worshipped. Garth makes such an impression that courtiers of the Pharaoh steal him from Jason to give as a gift to the Neter-Khet, the young man in charge of all Egypt. As we soon learn, though the boy can command everyone around him to do his bidding, that doesn’t work for cats.
Episodically, the story continues through ancient Britain, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Peru, the Isle of Man, Germany and America in 1775. In each segment, Jason and those he meets learn something about human nature, and especially cat nature. The characters are entertaining, and Alexander’s ability to capture human faults and foibles shines through in many areas of the book. Where I would fault it is the almost complete lack of set-up at the beginning, and in the somewhat too obvious moral lessons being conveyed. But it’s a fun book, and one can almost see the author figuring out how to tell stories that will entertain kids and adults alike. Later books after the Prydain series are also quite good, and generally better written than this one, but if you like Alexander’s work, this is certainly worth a look.