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Literature / Tailchaser's Song

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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 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, Sresla, 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:
    • It's implied that animals reject the names given to them by their owners. The few pets seen don't refer to themselves by any standard pet names.
    • 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 onomatopoeia-like names and titles: Lord Pop, Mistress Whir, Master Fizz, Lord Snap, etc.
    • Dogs use names with hyphens like "Huff-so-Gruff" and "Bite-then-Bark".
  • Animals Fear Neutering: Neutering is just another reason not to get too friendly with M'an.
  • Animal Talk: There are two languages — Common Singing and Higher Singing. Common Singing is the generalized language that's used for cross-species communication, while Higher Singing is the tongue only known amongst the species itself. It's mentioned that the cats' Singing is heavy on body language, meaning even a mute cat can largely be "talked" to.
  • Apathetic Pet: Cats in generally look down upon humans (or "m'an" and "the Big Ones" as they're called), with many outright being reviled by them. Cats that live with humans think of humans as their servants, not their friends. Hushpad seems to be an outside cat, bordering on being a stray, but she only refers to her owner as "the m'an". She doesn't mind being coddled by children but prefers to either keep to herself or be around other cats.
  • Beneath the Earth: Grizraz's fortress lies entirely beneath the ground.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The book uses both Conlang and this trope (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". Noon is "Hour of the Smaller Shadows". A month is an "Eye", and the moon cycles are referred to as the eye "shutting" and "opening".
    • 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 adult 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. Eclipses are referred to as "Blind Night". The planet is the "World-Forest" and the ocean is "Big Water".
    • Cats refer to becoming monogamous mates, the equivalent of marriage, as "Joining".
  • 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."
  • Creepy Hairless Animal: The Toothguard are an Always Chaotic Evil race of cats who work for Grizraz Hearteater. They're blind, furless cats with bags of skin where their eyes should be. Pouncequick compares them to deformed newborns. The Toothguard also all seem to speak in a Creepy High-Pitched Voice and have a Verbal Tic of slithering their words like snakes.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Thinbone mocks Tailchaser's commitment towards Hushpaw, Thinbone says "I think I see your fur falling out already! And your tail is going limp!"
  • Driven by Envy: Grizraz was jealous enough of his siblings' talents to summon a demon-hound in response.
  • Dub Name Change:
    • Tailchaser: Tailcatcher (Italian), Tailhunter (Dutch), Dreamhunter (German), Whiptracker (French), and Hunter (Polish).
    • Hushpad: Fleecepaw (Italian), Quietpaw (Dutch), Goldpaw (German), Velvetpaw (French), Silent Paw (Polish), and Soft Paw (Spanish).
  • 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.
  • Fictional Greetings and Farewells: Cats use "Good dancing" (or "Nre'fa-o" in Conlang) for both "hello" and "goodbye". Why it refers to "dancing" is never properly specified.
  • Fictionary: The Higher Singing of the cats.
  • 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: In the final portion of the book, several characters sacrifice themselves in a fight against the Fikos.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs:
    • Cats say "Your Furriness", not "Your Highness". "Regal Softness" is also used.
    • At one point Tailchaser says he's "made a m'an of myself", not "made an ass of myself", using humans as an equivalent to asses.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: "M'an" are not portrayed as inherently alien and unknowable, but are still unpredictable, wholly outside the usual worldview of the feral cats, and generally dangerous to be around — cats who linger too much around them can become... changed note . Tailchaser originally feared all humans until he was saved by one. Afterwards he came to the conclusion that the Big Ones, just like cats, had varying dispositions from individual to individual.
  • 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 sets off on his quest to find and rescue Hushpad after she is taken away by humans.
  • "Just So" Story: The cats have a range of stories to explain various aspects of the world around them, including human beings:
    • Cats and dogs hate each other because a cat once tricked a dog king. Dogs have never been able to forgive cats from that embarrassment.
    • Humans were created when a cocky prince made fun of an old cat who was actually Firefoot in disguise. His tail and fur were torn out and he was deformed into a human. Firefoot cursed his descendants so that they must serve cats.
    • The sun was created when Meerclar Allmother made a spark to warm herself and brighten the world. She threw it into the sky after the animals started becoming lazy in its heat.
    • Cats Hate Water because Firefoot tricked a shark into taking him across the ocean, only to get it stuck on water and eat it. It's also explained this is why cats only eat fish they can acquire without getting too wet.
  • Kid Sidekick: The kitten Pouncequick to Tailchaser.
  • Kinslaying Is a Special Kind of Evil: In his backstory, the antagonist Hearteater tried to murder his two litterbrothers in jealousy. He only succeeded in killing one. Said brother later kills Hearteater in a heroic example of Sibling Murder.
  • Lazy Neutered Pet:
    • Cats make fun of lazy cats by comparing them to "eunuchs".
    • Hushpad was energetic until she was spayed. Afterwards, she mainly spends her days sleeping and eating and has put on some weight.
  • 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.
  • Married Animals: Cats have the marriage-like "Joining". As cats aren't normally monogamous, Joinings are very rare. Tailchaser wants to Join with Hushpad, but his womanizer friend Thinbone teases him about it. Prior to Joining, cats do a Mating Dance called the "Dance of Acceptance".
  • Mature Animal Story: Tailchaser's Song is about a young stray cat named Fritti Tailchaser as he goes on an adventure trying to solve the mystery of why cats in his clan are suddenly disappearing. It sounds like a kid's book (and is inspired by the kid-aimed Watership Down), but it's a lengthy fantasy novel with deep lore and Conlang. It isn't aimed at children.
  • 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.
  • My Instincts Are Showing: Cats have a complex mythology, as well as a system of government, yet, they're still cats. Tailchaser thinks that his own reflection is a water creature who copies a cat's appearance. It takes a few moments for him to notice that the messy-looking orange tom is really the "creature" reflecting himself (instead of another cat).
  • 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.
    • Clawguard and the rest of Hearteater's minions have these types of names. "Longtooth", "Scratchnail", "Bitefast", "Snoutscar", etc.
  • Naming Ceremony: Cats are given their face names at three months old in a ceremony.
  • Night and Day Duo: Dayhunter and Nightcatcher. They're identical twin brothers with contrasting personalities. Dayhunter is very chatty and extroverted, while his mute brother Nightcatcher is more aloof and serious.
  • Oh, My Gods!:
    • There's a great many used throughout the novel. In general, "Harah" is exclaimed often. Others include: "Skydancer's/Blueback's/Fela's Whiskers!", "By the Tails of the First Born", "Harah knows", "For the love of Whitewind", "Tails and nails", "declaws", "teats on a tom", "Blueback's Hindbristles", "Skydancer's Ears and Tears", "Heavenly Viror", and "Dugs of the Allmother". Most of these refer to famous kings, queens, or mythical cats, rather than the creator god Meerclar Allmother.
    • One of Hearteater's minions exclaims "By the Blood-light".
    • Amusingly, Lord Firefoot (one of the first cats created) uses "By my mother".
  • Our Humans Are Different: Humans are felines instead of apes. Or at least they are according to the "Just So" Story (which is confirmed to be true in many other respects). Long ago, a cocky prince named Ninebirds was deformed by Lord Firefoot. His tail was cut off, his fur was torn off, and his body was lengthened. Firefoot cursed Ninebirds' descendants to serve cats for all eternity.
  • 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 a few of the cat insults used.
    • Clawguard hate sunlight and use sun-related insults like "Sun sizzle you" (instead of "goddamn you").
    • "Me'mre" roughly translates to "droppings" and gets used by characters as "shit".
  • Pets Versus Strays: It's only lightly touched upon but there seems to be a point of contention about cats who live away from humans and cats who prefer to be taken care of by m'an. It's never clarified if cats like Hushpad who live amongst humans see them as simple servants or if they care for them on a deeper level. At most, Hushpad seems to tolerate her owner and uses him for food.
  • 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.
  • Rite-of-Passage Name Change: Cats are born with a heart name that is considered deeply intimate and personal, receiving their permanent face name at three months old. Face names are treated similarly to being on a Last-Name Basis with a cat.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Fencewalker. If only the same could be said for his parents.
  • Semi-Divine: Several mythical cats, including the Two and their kittens, have god-like powers and are immortal because they're descended from the Allmother.
  • 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.
  • The Unreveal: In the last few lines of the book, Tailchaser learns his tail name... but we don't see what it is.
  • 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).
  • Unsuccessful Pet Adoption: Twice with Tailchaser:
    • A m'an saves Tailchaser from death and makes him a bed outside their house. They give Tailchaser food and pet him, but Tailchaser is unattached to the m'an and, if anything, is embarrassed by having to eat cat food. Tailchaser leaves on his journey soon afterwards and it isn't clarified if he'll go back to his owner or not.
    • At the end of the novel, while on an island Tailchaser tries out life as an inside cat in order to be with Hushpad. He can't stand being cuddled by children and hates how bland his life is, so he runs away one day and makes it back to the mainland.
  • Ventriloquist Animal: The cross-species Common Tongue "Common Singing" in Tailchaser's Song is partially verbal, partially body language, and partially scent. This is how mute cats, like Nightcatcher (whose vocal cords were damaged in a fight), can communicate with other cats without much issue. Common Singing is actually more posture, gesture, and scent based than it is verbal. In contrast, "Higher Singing", which is specific to each species, is predominantly verbal.
  • 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.