Official covers of Into the Wild (reprinted) and Tailchaser's Song

Warriors and Tailchaser’s Song: Two Contrasting Cat Fantasy Worlds

WhiteWhiskers shines the spotlight on another cat fantasy novel, Tailchaser’s Song.

Official covers of Into the Wild (reprinted) and Tailchaser's Song
Official covers of Into the Wild (reprinted) and Tailchaser’s Song

As I have mentioned before on the blog, Tailchaser’s Song, by Tad Williams, is my all-time favorite cat fantasy novel. I am, of course, very fond of Warriors, especially TPB, TNP, DOTC, and some of the SEs, else I would not be here, hanging out and publishing articles. Tailchaser’s Song was published in 1985, 18 years before the publication of Into the Wild, so it may have been one of the inspirations for Warriors, but as far as I am able to discover, none of the Erins have publicly stated this. In this article, I will compare some aspects of the worlds in which Tailchaser’s Song and Warriors are set. I will do my best not to spoil any major plot points of Tailchaser’s Song, as I hope many Blogclanners will choose to read it. I think it has much to offer anyone who has enjoyed Warriors. (I don’t think it is a spoiler to reveal that the hero triumphs and the good guys win.)
If you do an internet search for Warriors and Tailchaser’s Song, you will soon come across posts from people who argue that Warriors was “stolen” from Tailchaser’s Song. This, in my opinion, is completely unjustified. Warriors and Tailchaser’s Song have these things in common: they are fantasy-adventure stories of cats living independently in the wild, and the hero is a young orange tomcat of humble origins who overcomes many obstacles and becomes the one to save his people from a great evil. There are also some aspects of the two cat cultures that are similar and other that are quite different, as I will detail below.

Tailchaser’s Song is a quest romance. I have often described it as “Lord of the Rings with cats.” The hero, Fritti Tailchaser, goes on a journey to find a missing friend and potential mate. The cats and other creatures he meets and interacts with on his journey shape the story. He gets mixed up with the great powers and great events of his world, in situations beyond his wildest imaginings or his worst nightmares, but he has the courage, wit, and luck to prevail, and his actions help determine the outcome. Although there are quest stories in the Warriors oeuvre (Firestar’s Quest, The Apprentice’s Quest, the first three books of TNP), the first arc (TPB) is a different form, and its plot does not parallel that of Tailchaser’s Song.

Clans Cats in Tailchaser’s Song are members of clans (Tailchaser is a member of the Meeting Wall Clan), but these are not the highly organized, rule-governed groups we see in Warriors. They are more like loose associations of cats living in the same area. There are no organized patrols, no boundary marking, no leader, and no warfare or rivalry with neighboring clans. They do have a meeting at the “time of The Eye” (full moon), like the warrior clans.

The First Walkers More like clan warriors in some respects are The First Walkers, who are a kind of feline knights errant. The First Walkers live in small bands, each led by a Thane (an old Anglo Saxon word for a minor nobleman). They have sworn “a paw and heart oath” to keep the laws of The First (see below) and live with honor and dignity. They patrol territories, and neighboring bands also gather together at the “time of The Eye.” There is no evidence that they have any kind of permanent camps. First Walkers are exclusively male. Membership is hereditary, so they must have mates and kits somewhere, but these are never mentioned in the story.

Naming Cats in Tailchaser’s Song have a naming system that is different from that in Warriors; each cat has two names: a face name, by which they are known to all, and a heart name, which is shared only with close friends, family, and mates. The heart name is given by the mother at birth, and the face name is given at a naming ceremony by the clan elders when the kit is three eyes (moons) old. In the case of the hero, Tailchaser is his face name and Fritti is his heart name. In addition, cats have a third name, the tail name. Although all cats supposedly have this name, many never discover what it is. The discovery seems to be some kind of spiritual accomplishment.

Religion/Mythology In the beginning, Meerclar Allmother gave birth to two cats: Harar Goldeneye (male) and Fela Skydancer (female). They produced many litters and all cats are descended from them. Their first litter was three males (The Firstborn). At the time of the of the story, two of The Firstborn still walk among the living. They are effectively immortal, have great powers, and play a central role in the story.

There is no equivalent to StarClan in Tailchaser’s Song. When cats die, it is said that their Kas (ancient Egyptian word for spirit) return to the bosom of the Allmother. Whether they have afterlives there as individuals or are absorbed into a collective spirit is not revealed. Certainly, they do not walk among the living or send omens or prophecies.

Social Roles Unlike the Warrior Clans or the First Walkers, ordinary cat clans don’t have an official leader. There are elders, who are not retired cats like those in Warriors, but more like respected senior warriors. They make their decisions collectively. There is no medicine cat, and there is not much said about sickness and healing in the story. Ordinary adult cats are Hunters, roughly equivalent to warriors in that this is the status of most adult cats. There is a coming-of-age ceremony called the Hunt Singing when a young cat reaches Hunter status, but there is no formal training process comparable to apprenticeship in Warriors. Kits are taught their hunting skills by their mothers, as they are in our world. There are also roles that have no equivalent in Warriors. One is the Master Old Singer (Oel-cir’va), a kind of historian and story teller (I have long felt that the Clans needed someone in this role). Another is the Oel-var’iz (Far Senser, Master Seer). This character is somewhat like the medicine cat in their aspect as an interpreter of dreams and omens, but it is not clear where their messages come from. It may simply be that their senses are far more acute than those of other cats.

The Court The center of the feline world in Tailchaser’s Song is Firsthome, where cats first arose, the site of the Court of Harar. The court is ruled over by a queen. There is a prince consort, but no king (the reason for this is explained in the book). Firsthome is home to a great population of cats. Like human courtiers, many of them are concerned with status, manners, precedence, gossip, and the like—the opposite of warriors. Some of the First Walkers look on the court with disdain.

Language Unlike in Warriors, all creatures in Tailchaser’s Song have a common language (The Common Singing). We never hear from a mouse, but foxes, dogs, ravens, squirrels, and even a frog can understand and be understood by the cats who are the central characters. Squirrel talk is particularly amusing; it is rapid, choppy, and repetitive, as you might expect if the chatter of squirrels were translated into words. Squirrels play an important role in the plot, which I won’t reveal here.

In addition to the Common Singing there is the Higher Singing, which appears to be species-specific. The speech of the feline characters is peppered with cat-specific words and expressions, such as Nre’fa-o (“good dancing,” “hello, goodbye”) and Mri’fa-o (“good dreaming” “goodnight”). Cats collectively are Az-iri’le (“we cats,” “the Folk”). Some other animals (but not all) have cat-centric names. A dog is a Fik-a (“loud cat”), a bird is a Fla-fa’az (“run-jump cat”), and a mouse is a Mre’az (“food cat”). A tree is Az’me (“earth cat”). And so on.

Authorship One last point I’d like to make, and one that may be controversial for some Blogclanners, is that of authorship. Tad Williams decided of his own volition to write a fantasy novel about cats. Hence Tailchaser’s Song is the product of a single writer’s imagination (and Williams is, in my opinion, an excellent writer). Tailchaser’s Song was his first published work, and he went on to write many more fantasy novels, none of which, unfortunately, feature cats. Warriors, on the other hand, is the product of a team of writers and editors (“Erin Hunter”) who were contracted by a corporation (Working Partners Ltd/Coolabi) that produces children’s and YA books on a large scale, to write a book about cats. Hence, Warriors books are a sort of commercial/industrial product, rather than a single person’s artistic vision. If Tailchaser’s Song is superior to Warriors in some respects (and I think it is), it may be because a single individual wrote in and put his own name on the cover. Of course, Williams didn’t go on to write dozens more books set in Tailchaser’s world, so his work isn’t plagued by the kind of inconsistencies that trouble many Warriors fans. Nevertheless, I am grateful that the Warriors series was created, whatever the motives.

The Heart’s Desire is found in an unexpected place.
—Eyeshimmer, far-senser to the First Walkers, to Fritti Tailchaser

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