Jul 12, 2014

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

by Charles de Lint

Lillian loves exploring the forested hills behind her Aunt's farm. But one day she gets bitten by a poisonous snake deep in the woods, and is about to die. The cats who gather there save her with a bit of magic that transforms her into a cat. I thought the story would take off with Lillian-the-kitten discovering how to live like a cat and having all kinds of feline adventures. Not so! She only wants to become a girl again. With the help of a fox (driven by curiosity about her unique circumstance) she finds a possum witch who can transform her back into a girl, but at a steep price. Undaunted, Lillian goes ahead. But when she realizes the consequences of her choice, she has to make things right again. This takes her on a quest to find some ominous-sounding bear people who might be able to help, and in the end she gets assistance from a tree spirit and the Father of Cats himself (a black panther) as well. I really enjoyed a lot of aspects of this story. It has a definite fairy-tale flair, with the girl having to go out on a journey to resolve her problem, work in servitude, solve riddles, befriend animals and the like. My curiosity kept me reading but I also really enjoyed her character- Lillian is a very determined and spunky girl (she reminded me of Ronia). I also liked the strong message the story had of facing consequences and living up to promises. And of course the animal characters were great. This is the first de Lint story I've really enjoyed, I'm glad I finally found one to my liking. Maybe The Squirrel Wife got me into the mood to read younger, magical fiction again.

A lot of the setting and even the magical elements, made me think this story was set in the Appalachain hills, or backwoods of Florida. Of course it's purely made up- but the presence of the panther, something in the way people talked, the myth of the spiders- it all made me curious how much de Lint had invented himself, and how much he had drawn on existing mythologies.

Apparently this book is expanded from a shorter version the author wrote earlier, called A Circle of Cats. The illustrations by Charles Vess are lovely- so full of green!
Rating: 3/5        285 pages, 2013

More opinions:
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
The Book Wars
The Book Monsters
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

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