My Five Tigers by Lloyd Alexander


My Five Tigers is a short book–the copy I have is only 118 pages–that Lloyd Alexander wrote about the first five of his cats: Rabbit, Heathcliff, David, Solomon and Moira. It’s easy enough to describe as well, being simply Alexander’s observations of how the cats interacted with one another and with their humans, and how the cats came into the Alexanders’ lives; the first two cats take up more of the book than the remaining three, though all get their fair turn.

I love Alexander’s writing pretty much across the board; for those who’ve only read the Prydain books, let me tell you, you’ve got much more enjoyment to come. It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read Time Cat, however, that Alexander had several cats of his own, at least as of the time of this book’s writing. Given that he lived for another fifty years after this book’s publication, I’m assuming that he had several more. Or they him. I’ve never been sure who owned whom in the cat-human relationship.

I have to admit that I tear up a bit every time I read the passage about how Heathcliff adopted them1, as I have had cats present themselves to me in exactly this manner more than once:

Until then, I had never heard of the contract under which a man who feeds a cat once is obliged to continue the practice as long as they both shall live. Heathcliff knew the law better than I and insisted on having it carried out to the letter. He disappeared at nightfall, but next morning I found him on the porch waiting for breakfast. With his pompous, owlish glance and ragged tail, he reminded me of an unemployed actor who, by bluff and brass, has made his way into a restaurant a little before the other diners; and waits at an empty table, napkin under chin, trying to look as if he intended to pay and wondering how soon before he is turned out.

The descriptions are a trifle anthropomorphic, true–I’m not sure I’d ascribe quite as much convoluted thought processes to cats as Alexander does–but they do have more social culture than most non-cat owners would believe. He was quite obviously won over to the cat faction, however, having been a dog person until his wife, Janine, convinced him fairly early in their marriage/homeownership that their house was not complete without a cat.

This book is definitely for fans of Alexander’s work, especially the cat lovers. Though intended for adults, I suspect that kids would like this as well; there’s nothing inappropriate for sensible kids, with the possible exception of the death of one of the cats…but then that may be a way to help kids deal with the death of their own pet. It’s nonfiction, and comparatively early in his literary career, so might not suit those who’ve read only his later fiction for children. Hopefully, that won’t put too many people off!

1I’m assuming it was very much Heathcliff’s choice!

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