Reading Lloyd Alexander is like eating a warm, happy plateful of pancakes with lots of fresh blueberries and cream — a simple delight with occasional bursts of “Yay blueberry!”
The Town Cats is a fun little story collection — more entertaining than Aesop, and not so morally twitchy.
The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man is as adorable as its main character, Lionel, a sweet young cat who is transformed into a sweet young man. The cats of The Town Cats are suave and streetwise, but Lionel is an earnest young creature who has spent his entire life in a secluded cottage with his grumpy old wizard. He asks to be transformed because he “doesn’t feel like a cat” since the wizard gave him the power to talk. After the transformation, it’s quickly apparent that Lionel may not feel like a cat, but he’s not a human either. The wizard points out that Lionel has put his shoes on the wrong feet, and Lionel exclaims, “But they’re the only feet I have now!”
With just two minutes of orientation on being human (1. Wear clothes; 2. There’s a thing called money, which you can’t eat.), Lionel goes off to see the village of Brightford.
Having lived his whole life around magic, Lionel earnestly explains to everyone he meets that he’s a cat. He meets people who are nasty, and people who are good, but he never meets anyone who believes him when he innocently introduces himself as a cat.
The plot moves along at a jaunty clip, and Lionel is a quick learner. My only complaint is that this story is too short. In the effortless style that is Lloyd Alexander’s trademark, we meet the townspeople of Brightford in just a few sentences each, but there could be more to this slim tale. In 107 pages, it’s pretty much impossible to create something as wonderful as, say, Prydain or Westmark. Therefore I say: More pancakes! More blueberries! Moar!
But The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man is definitely the best of the non-Prydain, non-Westmark books I’ve read.