by Lloyd Alexander
Age Range 9 – 11 years old
From the outside looking in, Time Cat seems like it should be a classic of children’s literature. Right up there with The Wind in the Willows, Charlottes Web, and Catwings. With an intriguing premise, a notable writer, and a stunningly memorable idea at its centre: that a boy, Jason, could and does travel through time by gazing into the eyes of his pet cat, Gareth. Together they pass through the pages of history with no real purpose just curiosity and wanderlust.
Author, Lloyd Alexander gets full credit for the central idea here, and though the narrative lacks suspense, the material could be adapted for cinema or animation with a dash of some desperately needed urgency to give it an edge and sense of purpose. As it stands, this 1996 novel plods along rather pedestrian-like with each chapter encompassing a singular adventure in a specific chapter of world history: we begin in Egypt, and soon travel to ancient Rome and Britain, while later chapters feature stopovers in Italy, 10th Century Japan, Peru, Germany and America.
It does seem to promise a bringing-to-life of these most famous chapters of world history, though rather than retelling history in a adventurous and fresh way, the adventures themselves are very much character-driven pieces with the surrounding details serving to give a wink and nod to those already in-the-know of the actual history.
The end result is a story that while filled with fairly interesting detail tends to become a little dull and lacking in suspense. The reader never feels that either Gareth, Jason, or their relationship are in any real danger. Though arguably, this one dimensionality might suit developing readers who are transitioning from shorter texts to novels.
In fairness, for its audience age, it does a reasonable if run-of-the-mill, job of immersing the reader in a time and place. The chapters do feel distinct from one another through remarkably minimal description:
‘A white sun, a green-blue sky. In a grove of palm trees, a temple rose at the end of a long avenue. Jason, with Gareth at his side, walked through a courtyard that seemed to stretch for miles.
“Why… we’re in Egypt,” Jason said in a hushed voice.’
Time Cat reads like a collection of short stories with no real connection at all other than the protagonists and a villain who resurfaces later on after first appearing in Britain , the latter of which could have been so much more promising had he been utilised more effectively.
Time Cat has an outstanding central idea and a well designed plot as Jason and Gareth have exactly nine adventures across nine lives throughout history, however the narrative lacks any real suspense and the magic in the storytelling falters, leaving Time Cat as a novel that you want to love but cannot quite.
C for Cat