Literature / Tailchaser's Song

Tailchaser's Song is a Fantasy novel written by Tad Williams and published in 1985. The story follows several feral cat communities, united in their beliefs and by their service to the Queen of Cats residing at Firsthome, the ancestral birthplace of Catkind.

The cats of the novel have their own mythology: they believe that everything was created by a feline god called Meerclar Allmother. The world was originally populated with cats, children of the Two: Harar Goldeneye and Fela Skydancer. Notable among the children of the Two are the three firstborn: Viror Whitewind, Grizraz Hearteater, and Tangaloor Firefoot. Driven by his jealousy of his siblings, Grizraz creates a demon hound to kill everyone. Whitewind succeeds in stopping it, but dies in the process; later, Tangaloor traps Grizaz beneath a tree. Grizaz, after being trapped underground for a while, is blinded by the sun, and digs a hole into the Earth, where it is said he still remains....

Fast forward, and we meet Fritti Tailchaser, a tomcat in the Meeting Wall Clan. His family mysteriously disappeared some time ago, and he was left with no one but his friend, Hushpad. Later, she disappears too. As it happens, quite a few cats have been disappearing, and the Clan Elders send an envoy to Firsthome to ask the Queen for help. Tailchaser is not selected, so he sets out on his own with his lovable friend Pouncequick. Other members of Tailchaser's fellowship are a crazy cat named Eatbugs and Firsa Roofshadow, a sole survivor of a cat massacre.

Tailchaser's Song also has its own brand of T. S. Eliot-inspired honorifics. They are born with their "heart name" (equivalent to the Japanese first name—such as Fritti, Tangaloor, Firsa, etc.) that only family, close friends and lovers can use. They are appointed a "face name" at an old enough age (equivalent to the Japanese last name—Tailchaser, Roofshadow, Pouncequick, etc.) which is their commonly used name. They have to discover their third and most special name, their "tail name," by themselves.

Tailchaser's Song provide examples of:

  • Animal Naming Conventions:
    • Cats have three names: their "heart" name given to them by their mother that only those very close to them may use, their "face" name that is given in a Naming Ceremony and is what they're normally referred to, and their "tail" name which is something they must figure out and are never supposed to mention to anyone. Examples of names include (Fritti) Tailchaser, Pouncequick, Thinbone, and Quiverclaw. A cat's heart name comes from the ancient cat language while their face name comes from the language all animals use.
    • Squirrels refer to each other with titles. Lord Pop, Mistress Whir, Master Fizz, Lord Snap, etc.
  • Animal Talk: There are two languages—Common Singing and Higher Singing. Common Singing is the generalized language that's use cross-species while Higher Singing is the tongue only known amongst the species itself.
  • Beneath the Earth: Grizraz's fortress lies entirely beneath the ground.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Prince Fencewalker.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The book uses both Conlang and this (presumably with the latter being due to Translation Convention). Some of the terms are used alongside their English equivalents as well:
    • Afternoon is "(Hour of) Stretching Sun", early evening is "(Hour of) Unfolding Dark", evening is "(Hour of) Deepest Quiet", and early morning is "(Hour of) Final Dancing". Summer is "Hour of the Smaller Shadows".
    • Animals are referred to both by their human names and by cat names. Dogs are "Growlers" while rodent and rodent-like animals such as mice and squirrels are collectively known as "Squeakers". Humans are referred to as the "Big Ones". Cats refer to themselves as "the Folk" and ault cats are called "hunters". There are also Conlang terms for animals such as "m'an" for humans, "rikchikchik" for squirrels, "ruhue" for owls, "fla-fa'az" for birds in general, and "visl" for foxes.
    • The moon is referred to as "Meerclar's Eye" and as a result the equivalent of "tomorrow night" is "eye-next". Meerlar Allmother is the creator god of cats. The planet is the "World-Forest".
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Eatbugs.
  • Conlang: Cats and some other animals are shown to have their own languages. The book includes a glossary.
  • Creation Myth: "In the Hour before time began, Meerclar Allmother came out of the darkness to the cold earth. She was black, and as furry as all the world come together to be fur. Meerclar banished the eternal night, and brought forth the Two."
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Fritti finds Hushpad living a plump, comfortable (and, it's implied, spayed) life with humans. He leaves her to return to the cats who still live free.
  • Driven by Envy: Grizraz was jealous enough of his siblings' talents to summon a demon-hound in response.
  • Dynamic Entry: Quiverclaw and the Firstwalkers first "greet" Tailchaser and Pounce by ambushing and kidnapping them.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Roofshadow returned from a walk one morning to find her entire clan either missing or dead.
  • Fantastic Light Source: Cats have extremely good night vision; this is depicted in the story as the earth and rocks of the caves appearing to glow.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: One composed entirely of cat deities, including a primordial creator, the Two, progenitors of mortal cats, and the three Firstborn, who take a more direct role in the story—one of them is the Big Bad. Interestingly, none of these gods seem to embody concepts like “traditional” gods do.
  • Fictionary: The Higher Singing of the cats.
  • The Film of the Book: Upcoming.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Thinbone mocks Tailchaser's commitment towardss Hushpaw he says "I think I see your fur falling out already! And your tail is going limp!"
  • Grim Up North: To the north of the cat lands lie the vast Ratleaf forest, unknown human lands where Hushpad was taken to, and of course the Big Bad and his minions' little hell-on-Earth fortress.
  • Hellhound: The demon-hound Ptomalkum, and its briefly-mentioned parent Venris. And arguably the Fikos.
  • Heroic Sacrifice
  • Humans Are Not the Dominant Species: According to the domestic cat Creation Myth, cats were the first animal and everything else came second. The world was predominantly ruled by cats. Humans came to be when a demi-god cat deformed a prince as a punishment and forced his species to become servants to cats. Humans are now the dominant species, and cats do realize their power, however most are still under the impression that humans work for them.
  • I Will Find You: Tailchaser to Hushpad.
  • "Just So" Story: The cats have a range of stories to explain various aspects of the world around them, including human beings.
  • Kid Sidekick: The kitten Pouncequick to Tailchaser.
  • Living Legend: Grizraz Hearteater and Lord Tangaloor Firefoot are both Shrouded in Myth, Crystal Dragon Jesus, Physical Gods. Tailchaser, by virtue of his adventures and Touched by Vorlons status, is as much a legendary hero as cats can have.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Vastnir collapses on itself when Grizraz Hearteater dies.
  • The Lost Woods: The Ratleaf forest, a vast and mostly unexplored forest north of cat lands. Dark, foreboding, distressingly close to the Big Bad's fortress and even home to a Barbarian Tribe of squirrels.
  • Meaningful Name: Every cat has one as their face name.
  • Mooks: The Clawguards are mook-ier than the Toothguard or the Boneguard, although they are still incredibly dangerous and violent.
  • Mythopoeia: The cats have a fairly complex mythology detailing how the world came to be and was shaped by the actions of various gods, presented under the form of oral traditions.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Grizraz Hearteater. Justified in that the second, descriptive name of a cat is given to them after they have grown old enough for their personality to become evident, and one imagines the cats would also project this onto their mythic figures.
  • Naming Ceremony: Cats are given their tail names at three months old in a ceremony.
  • Oh My Gods!: "Skydancer's Whiskers!", "By the Tails of the First Born", and "Harah knows". In general, "Harah" is exclaimed often.
  • Pals with Jesus: Eatbugs was Lord Tangaloor Firefoot all along. Slightly subverted in that he really was insane at the time.
  • Pardon My Klingon: "Mouse-gummer" and "squeaker-friend" are cat insults.
  • Power Trio: Tailchaser, Pouncequick, and Roofshadow.
  • Predator-Prey Friendship: Subverted. Tailchaser attempts this with squirrels but ultimately realizes how unnatural it is.
  • Proper Lady: Hushpad seems to be the cat version of this.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Fencewalker. If only the same could be said for his parents.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Stray Animal Story: A Trope Codifier that has inspired numerous other xenofiction books, Tailchaser's Song is about the lives of various feral cats.
  • Talkative Loon: Eatbugs.
  • Translation Convention: The books translate the Conlang of the animals into something humans can understand.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Eatbugs is Lord Tangaloor Firefoot with amnesia.
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal: In one myth, Firefoot is allured by a beautiful cat who turns out to be a neutered tom (such a thing was unheard of at the time).
  • Warrior Prince: Prince Fencewalker.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Pouncequick, after his ordeal in the mound and his time with Whitewind.
  • Xenofiction: The book is told from the point of view of feral cats, and does a fair job of portraying the point of view of beings who rely on smell as much as on sight, and don’t fully understand humans.