Tag Archives: cats

Book Review: The Gate of the Cat by Andre Norton

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Once again we enter Andre Norton’s Witch World series, readers! Now, I know some of you are impatiently waiting for reviews of a Dean Koontz and a couple of Star Wars books to appear here. Fear not, please, they will be forthcoming! However, The Gate of the Cat and a couple of other novels have been patiently awaiting my attention, to the point that they are now becoming annoyed with me. As soon as they’re taken care of there will be analyses for Star Wars and Dean Koontz.

Until then, we must turn to today’s subject: The Gate of the Cat. The book starts out with young Kelsie McBlair heading out during the night to try and find an injured wild cat on her land. An American with Scottish heritage, Kelsie came to Scotland following a distant relative’s death in order to see if she would fit in at the ancient family estate and the town around it. But her real desire is to be a veterinarian – something that makes it hard for her to accept the hunting practices of the Highlanders. They like their deer hunts and consider wild cats to be vermin, attitudes which infuriate our heroine.

So when she’s tracking down an injured wild cat on her property, it doesn’t take her long to recognize the man prowling that she spots preparing to shoot same animal. Furious that Neil McAdams would pursue the wounded creature – and on her land, no less – Kelsie knocks his aim off, spoiling his first shot. When he tries to fire again, she makes another attempt to stop him. In the ensuing struggle, the cat escapes through a stone arch moments before the man hits Kelsie and sends her tumbling through the same portal.

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As you may have guessed, this is no ordinary stone arch. Nor is it your run-of-the-mill ancient Druid site. No, the three stones which make up this archway are a gate to another world; in this case, the Witch World. They specifically lead to Escore, the country to the east of Estcarp. A land of old balances that have been upset, Escore is was in the midst of a “cold war” before the arrival of the three Tregarth heirs. Now that “cold war” has become very hot, so that Escore is once again torn by conflicts between the Dark and the Light.

Kelsie literally tumbles into the midst of the hostilities after falling through the gate. Awakening sometime after her fight with McAdams, she gets to tend to the wild cat as she wished. But she also finds she is in a “dream” or nightmare world – one she can’t seem to wake up from. After attending to the cat, Kelsie has to do battle with creatures of the Dark, including a Sarn Rider and his pet hound. Confused and frightened, Kelsie winces when a strange call echoes in her mind. A yowl from the cat, which takes off toward the “sound,” convinces her that she wasn’t the only one to hear it.

Following the animal due to the pull of that strange mental summons, Kelsie comes across the remains of a war party. The lone woman in the party, though she is dying, is holding off yet another hound with a sparkling jewel in her weak hand. Kelsie manages to drive the hound off and keep it at a distance, then turns to try and help the dying woman. But there’s no help for Roylane, as the Witch identifies herself; there is only the “last gate” – death.

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Still, the dying Witch from Estcarp manages to give her jewel to both the cat and Kelsie, who eventually return the stone arch and the rocks that join it to form a rough circle. More trouble arrives as the hound follows them, attempting to gain entry to the circle by forcing one of Roylane’s dying companions through the archway. Only the timely arrival of Dahaun and a man from the Valley of Green Silences saves the two from the canine’s evil intentions.

On discovering that Kelsie is not of the Dark, Dahaun and her companion take the girl and the cat back to the Valley. There they help her clean up, start teaching her their language, and feed her. But when Simon Tregarth arrives and addresses her in English, Kelsie is thrilled to meet someone whom she can talk to plainly. She immediately asks how she can get back home and Simon has to tell her – repeatedly – that as far as anyone knows, there isn’t any way to get back to Earth.

This is where I leave you, readers. The Gate of the Cat is a good story, though recently this blogger seems to have lost some of her old interest in it. I don’t know why that is – it’s an enjoyable tale, with lots of adventure and many strong points. Perhaps the finale is too open-ended for my taste; Andre Norton didn’t always put her heroes and heroines together, but when she did she made it plain that they were in love.

In this novel, that wasn’t the case, which kind of annoyed me. I wanted a definite yes or no on the potential romance in this tale. But all I received was, “Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; why don’t you decide?” Sometimes, if the writer leaves enough clues, this type of ending is not an unpleasant one for me. But if there’s a dearth of evidence, I tend to hate such finales; I’m not sure the Andre Norton left enough breadcrumbs to confirm the hero and heroine’s mutual attraction, let alone their eventual happily ever after.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that she did do this, and I’m just being stubborn. Either way, The Gate of the Cat IS a good, worthy read. It just doesn’t seem to appeal to me as much as other Norton books do.

Hopefully, though, this won’t be a problem for any of you, readers. Pick up and read The Gate of the Cat at your earliest convenience. 😉 ‘Til next time!

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Spotlight: Thundercats – Panthro

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Last year I did a post on one of my favorite television series, Thundercats. A fantasy/sci-fi series for children, Thundercats revolved around a handful of humanoid cats, some of the last survivors of their race. It had magic, science fiction (sort of), and cats. For me, it was irresistable.

One of the seven Thundercats in the series was Panthro, voiced in the ‘80s by the late Earle Hyman. The strongest of the Cats, he was almost unbeatable in hand-to-hand combat. Based on the panther, he had blue skin, was bald, and had ears that immediately put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan.

He quickly dispelled whatever illusions I might have had about his sharing the Vulcans’ stoic refusal to show emotion, however. Panthro was one of the most cheerful characters I have ever “met.” He loved to laugh, which I found contagious when I began watching the show. He was a happy warrior; in battle he liked to taunt his enemies, a wide smile on his face. In the first episode he jumped into a formation of Jackalmen, one of whom tried to hit him in the back with a mace.

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Quick as a cat, Panthro turned and caught the weapon’s head, chuckling as he did. “If you were as mean as you are ugly,” he said, “then maybe you’d be trouble!” After this, he promptly crushed the mace and started throwing punches.

The writers for the original Thundercats series stated that Panthro’s character was “based on strength.” This is why he was, physically, the strongest Thundercat in the series. But his might did not show just in his feats of physical power or fighting prowess. It showed in his hearty, barrel-chested laugh and firm commitment to his fellow Thundercats, along with his adherence to the moral Code of his home world, Thundera.

Panthro could be serious and he could be frightened. He could also be angered. But none of these emotions ever made him lose his head. He was strong enough to admit, at least to himself, that he was afraid or angry, and then focus on the task at hand.

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Panthro’s Nunchuck

Of all the Thundercats, Panthro was probably the best fighter, not only with his bare fists but with his signature weapon. This was a nunchuk with a red and blue baton attached at each end. A technological genius, Panthro hid different tricks in both batons that he could activate in certain situations.

His spiked suspenders could also be used offensively, though Panthro did not often activate them as weapons. The spikes could be fired from the suspenders so that they would plunge into a rock wall or some other surface. This would anchor Panthro and halt any tumbles he took, preventing him from falling splat to his doom. It was possible, too, for him to fire these spikes out and have them windmill around his torso, forcing opponents to back off fast.

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The weapon he loved most, though, was his Thundertank. Remember when I said Panthro was a tech genius? After the Thundercats crashed on Third Earth, he salvaged the machinery he could from their wrecked ship and put together the Thundertank. Though he later built other vehicles for the Thundercats, along with most of the machines in Cat’s Lair, the Thundertank was Panthro’s “baby.” Even Lion-O was not allowed to use it without his permission; the one time he did, he almost crashed it.

While he was not my favorite character in the series, I have to say, I loved Panthro a lot. In the 2011 series….I had a few issues with the way the writers re-presented him to modern audiences.

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Panthro 2011

Voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson – an actor whose talent I greatly respect – the writers made the 2011 series’ Panthro a bigger, brawnier, and taller Cat than he had been previously. I think I could have accepted this change, but the fact that they also made him broody and angry upset me a great deal. Gone was the laughing warrior with the wit that cut like ice and the quicksilver smile. In his place stood a glowering sourpuss (pun intended), who was occasionally used for comic relief and made to look the fool.

By this I mean that Panthro had one crippling fear in the original series. It was never explained, but it really did not need to be. Some people are afraid of things for no conceivable reason; you ask them why this or that frightens them, and all they can say is it does.

What could scare the strongest Thundercat, you ask? Bats.

Yes, bats were Panthro’s biggest terror in the original show. He knew fear from other sources, of course, but he could and did master those fears. Bats were the one thing he could not get over. And that was okay; like I said, some people have irrational fears they cannot conquer no matter how hard they try. This one chink in Panthro’s armor did not lessen his strength. It just made him human. (Yes, I know he is technically a humanoid cat, not an actual human. It’s called poetic license. Live with it.)

For the 2011 series, the writers made Panthro afraid of heights. They also made him unable to swim. Previously, every member of the Thundercats could swim. They may not have enjoyed it all the time or to the same degree, but they all knew how to swim. Taking that away from Panthro, making him afraid of water and heights – it made him seem like a big baby who was frightened of anything he could not hit or blow up.

That was and remains a wrong choice on the part of the new show’s writers, since it directly interfered with Panthro’s role in the story. Instead of being the strongest Cat in mind and body, Panthro was reduced to being merely strong on a physical plane. The new show’s writers cut out his real heart and put a mechanism in its place, which upset me quite a bit.

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Another change I found less than pleasant was the scar they put over one of his eyes. Then the new show’s writers cut his arms off above the elbows. That was the last straw. Bad enough they disrespected his strength, to go so far as to make him a double amputee in need of mechanical arms was a bridge too far.

Laughing warriors are in short supply in current fiction, readers, as proved by the 2011 writers’ mistreatment of Panthro. Strong heroes are also going out of style. Nowadays a laughing warrior is portrayed as a bloodthirsty psychopath, while strength usually equals stupidity. Both these depictions are harmful stereotypes which must be abandoned if fiction is to continue to be a vehicle for truth.

Panthro is not the only strong, laughing warrior in literature, of course, but he was one of the best. New writers could learn a great deal about making tough, hearty heroes by studying him. And I mean studying him for love of their craft, not for love of money. We saw the results of the latter in 2011; the finished 1980s product is far superior to the one the new writers handed us.

So if you are a fiction writer, and you want to know more about Panthro, I recommend you look up the original series. The 2011 show did not do him justice; neither did the comics, in large part. And please remember that a happy warrior is not a psychopath or a maniac who likes killing, destroying, or maiming.

A happy warrior looks and acts like Panthro. So does a strong hero. We need more of both.

Thundercats – HO!

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Thundercats – HO!!

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I have been meaning to write a post about this subject for a while.  For those of you who have no idea what in the world I am talking about, no worries.  This blogger does not expect everyone to know everything about the things I enjoy, just as I hope no one expects me to know a thing about rocket science or the life span of a great white shark.  So hold on tight as I try to explain the subject of today’s post.   It might take a while.

Thundercats was a cartoon series which debuted back in the 1980s.  It focused on a species of humanoid cats.  The nobility among this race were called Thundercats, while the common folk were known as Thunderians.

I have always been a sucker for cats.  So when the series reran at odd hours during my childhood, I would scramble to watch the episodes.  To recap the general plot:  Thundera, the home of Thundercats and Thunderians alike, was a planet which somehow died.  Think Superman and Krypton; the core was unstable or something like that, and the planet went ka-blooey as a result.

A number of Thundercats and Thunderians escaped the planet’s destruction.  One such group of Thundercats included Cheetara, a character based on the cheetah; she could run 120 mph on a morning jog – and faster in combat.  There was also Tygra, based on the tiger, whose bolo whip could make him invisible to the naked eye.  He and Cheetara were hinted to be a couple.

Then there was Panthro, the strongest cat of the group; he was based on the panther.  There were the Thunderkittens, Wilykit and Wilykat, fraternal twins, sister and brother.  They were based on wildcats, but you could not be sure which kind from the look of them.

Jaga was the wise, Obi-Wan Kenobi magician/mentor in the group.  No one has any idea what kind of cat inspired his appearance.  And, last but most important, there was the young heir to the royal throne of Thundera – Lion-O, the future Lord of the Thundercats.  Yes, he was based on the lion.

Oh, yeah, and then there was Lion-O’s nanny, Snarf.  No idea what Snarf was based on; he was the only cat who walked on all fours most of the time.  The Thundercats walked like humans do, unless they had to climb or run up a steep mountain as fast as they possibly could.

Anyway, Lion-O and his escort, along with the convoy of ships following them, ended up under attack from a group called the Mutants.  The Mutants were humanoid animals, mainly resembling Lizards, Jackals, Vultures, and apes (these were known as Monkians).

The entire convoy except for Lion-O’s ship was destroyed.  The Mutants boarded their ship in the hope of recovering an ancient Thunderian weapon and the heirloom of Lion-O’s house:  the magic Sword of Omens.

Naturally enough, the Mutants were repelled.  But the ship was heavily damaged in the battle and would never make it to the Thundercats’ planned new world.  The best it could do was the third planet in a small solar system in a dinky galaxy.  (There was, apparently, intergalactic travel in the original Thundercats series.)

The trip was too long for the group to survive outside of suspension capsules.  Because he was the oldest, Jaga did not enter a suspension capsule, which could retard but not stop the aging process.  He piloted the ship to the Cats’ new home but died before the ship crash landed on Third Earth, a wild world with ancient secrets.

Lion-O was the second Thundercat to awaken from suspension, the first being Snarf.  Once he was awake, Lion-O realized he had grown to a full adult during his years of suspension.  The pod seemingly malfunctioned and did not slow his aging as much as it should have, since the Thunderkittens remained the same age as when they entered the pods – they were older than Lion-O.  He looks to be about thirty, if not slightly younger…

But his mind is all twelve year old boy.  Add a big dash of leonine pride to that, and you get the general recipe for the Thundercats series.

Third Earth at first seems hospitable enough.  But on an adventure out of camp, Lion-O runs into an ancient evil that has slept on Third Earth undisturbed for centuries:  Mumm-Ra, the ever-living mummy and self-proclaimed ruler of Third Earth.

Yes, this is kind of corny.  But there is a bonus point about this villain which I always liked.  Mumm-Ra could never stand the sight of his own reflection.  If soundly beaten in a fair fight by the Thundercats, he would retreat with dire warnings about how bad their next encounter would be.  If the Cats were hard-pressed, they would use any reflective surface that they could find to show him his own face.  The sight of how ugly he was would drive Mumm-Ra back to his black pyramid and into his sarcophagus, so he could regenerate and keep being “ever-living” – especially after the fright of seeing the evil etched into his own skeletal face.

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Three new Thundercats were later added to the roster.  Lynx-O, a blind Thunderian based on the lynx, became the team’s living voice of wisdom; Ben-Gali, based on the Bengal tiger, became the team’s new weapons expert.  Lastly we had Pumyra, based on the North American puma or cougar.  She and Ben-Gali looked to be about as perfect a couple as Cheetara and Tygra.

To a child, the world of the Thundercats, even if it is odd, is wonderful.  I never needed any explanation for anything when I watched the series re-air as a small viewer.  When I was older and looked up the series, I left the incongruities of the stories alone.  What mattered to me were the characters and the morals they imparted during every episode – because in the eighties, every cartoon series had a moral in each episode.  Or very nearly every series had a moral in every show.  Such contemporaries of the Thundercats as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or Transformers, for instance, had a moral to each story.

Characters in He-Man would lecture the audience directly at the end of every show, whilst Transformers let the moral lie in the story.  Thundercats followed Transformers in that regard, being only a bit preachier in the way the characters spoke to each other.  ‘Course, they were trying to teach a twelve year old future king who had grown to adulthood in his sleep how to be mature.   They had a pretty good excuse.

Even after Thundercats was canceled, there was still a fan base to appease.  I have no idea how many older children watched and enjoyed the series when it came out first, but there must have been enough.  After a while comic books were made to show the ongoing adventures of the Thundercats.

And, as the saying goes, it all went downhill from there.

I looked up the comics when I was trying to find out more about my favorite childhood series.  What I discovered in this search was utterly appalling.  Thundercats had begun life as an innocent children’s show, and I was not the only one naïve enough to have expected the comics to maintain that tone.  What I and other fans of the show found was that the innocence of the series had been ravaged and destroyed by the comic book writers.

After a few glances through the descriptions, I stopped reading, since I wanted to be able to sleep at night.  So I only know of a few things which I can say against the comics.  But it is enough.  If you are a child or have a child with you, stop reading here and/or send the child away NOW.

The writers for the comics had Cheetara captured at some point in their stories and raped by Mutants.  This was bad enough for me; Cheetara had been my favorite Thundercat growing up.  It got worse, I quickly found:  somehow, the two Thunderkittens had also been captured by Mumm-Ra in the comics.  The Ever-living Mummy then decided to use them as sex slaves – both sister and brother – for his personal amusement.

Reading this the first time, I nearly threw up on the keyboard.  Thanks to the reviewers on Amazon who had not been so fortunate, I knew that I never wanted to pick up a Thundercats comic book in my life.  But the knowledge has never really changed my opinion of these “stories” and the writers who created them.

And the thing is, these awful incidents in the comics were not only disgusting, they were illogical.  Throughout the TV series the Thundercats always made sure to keep tabs on each other.  They always came to the rescue if one of them ended up in trouble.  The idea that Cheetara could be captured, let alone raped, without the Thundercats making sure that the perpetrators suffered the consequences is more than slightly unbelievable.

This also makes the capture and corruption of the Thunderkittens impossible to consider.  The Cats made sure to take care of the Kittens; if ever they went missing, the adults would tear off after them.  That they somehow allowed the Kittens to be captured by Mumm-Ra and never tore the planet apart in at least an attempt to find them is totally out of character.

From left to right: Tygra, Wilykit, Lion-O, Wilykat, Panthro, Snarf, and Cheetara

From left to right: Tygra, Wilykit, Lion-O, Wilykat, Panthro, Snarf, and Cheetara

This was one of the reasons why I became worried about the new series which aired in 2011.  The new Thundercats TV show drew a great deal from the comics.  It added species which had never been in the original series, gladiatorial combat, and made the entire storyline far less sunny and happy-go-lucky.  It also subtracted Mumm-Ra’s vulnerability to his own reflection, replacing it with the vampiric weakness to sunlight.  Previously, Mumm-Ra had never had a problem moving around in the day time.  He is, after all, an ancient mummy, not a vampire!

I did enjoy some of the additions to the new series, readers.  But always in the back of my mind was the worry of just what the writers might pull from the comics for the series.  The darker tone of the show did not ease my fears.

Pumyra 2011

Pumyra 2011

The last straw came at the end of the first and only season of the new series.  This episode saw Pumyra turn on the Thundercats and join with Mumm-Ra, who apparently had taken her as his paramour in the bargain.  The fact that the writers would turn the originally sweet, innocent Pumyra into this was absolutely infuriating.  I was more than glad that the series died quietly after this episode.

Nevertheless, that does not mean that the writers are off the hook for what they did to this character – and that goes double for the comic book authors!  The original Thundercats series, the writers for the new TV show reportedly said, was “too much like a Sunday morning cartoon,” to be appealing to modern day audiences.

Well, duh!  That was the point!!!  That was what it was!!!!  No one in the 1980s had a problem with Sunday morning cartoons.  They especially did not mind if they had kids!!!!!

As for no modern audience being interested in the original series or “Sunday morning cartoons,” what are I and other fans like me – cat food?  We enjoyed the original series just fine the way it was!

And that is just the point.  These new writers did not want to reboot the series from its original foundation.  They wanted to change the premise of the story entirely.  Doubtless, the comic book authors felt the same way when they began crafting the comics for the Thundercats.

This really stuck in my craw, for one reason and one reason only:  the new writers felt the original show was too guileless – too innocent – to attract audiences today.  And I believe they are flat-out wrong in this indictment of the earlier TV series and others like it.  If you follow the in-crowd, you never try anything new.  So how will you know whether audiences today do or do not like and want “Sunday morning cartoons”?

But it is what this attitude highlights that I find most upsetting.  What is it with the urge in our “modern” age to destroy innocence?  From abortion to kindergarten programs which teach children about sex, it is horrifying to see just how far we have fallen in so short a span of time.  The world will rip apart the innocence of childhood and children as they grow up.  Why do we have to help it with comics like the ones about the Thundercats?  Why do we have to have television shows which do the same thing?

The answer is:  we do not need these things.  We really, truly, do not.  The fact that too many of us want to make them in order to be “hip,” “cool,” and to impress the people in the “right circles” is not a need.  It is following the crowd and supporting, ironically enough, the status quo which these mainstream moguls claim they want destroyed.

Marvel, DC, and most other “children’s entertainment” venues are doing this as we speak.  Even Disney is engaged in this disgusting game.  Disney has more than a few live action television shows which degrade boys and girls, making caricatures of the players in the stories and thereby the actors who portray the characters.  They are supposed to be funny, but I can tell you that I have never found even one thing comedic in the advertisements for these shows, let alone the actual episodes.

I do not know about anybody else, but I am absolutely fed up with all of this.  I am tired of the implication that I am backward, out of touch, and a rube because I like innocent pleasures and naïve kids’ shows.  As if any of the writers who have turned the art of professions meant to entertain children into lewd pap has the moral authority to tell me or anyone else that!

This has to end.  It has to stop.  Too many children have already been hurt by this.  They have grown into hurting adults who hurt their own children, either on purpose or in a search to find what they have been told is “ultimate freedom.”  These writers and others like them have sold children into slavery to ideas and misconceptions which have landed them in prison, in poverty, in disease, or in addiction.  And they have sold those children’s children into the same situations.  It has to stop!

How do we stop it?

How was Sauron defeated in The Lord of the Rings?  Aragorn’s army did not stop him.  Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring, which betrayed itself when Gollum bit off his finger, did the trick.  This demonstrates that, eventually, every tempest of horrors imaginable will end in its own defeat.

And just like Frodo, we can help it along.  We can show our children what innocent shows like the original Thundercats look like.  We can make sure they read good books, see good movies, and hear good music.  We can keep them innocent for as long as possible by making damn sure they are exposed to as little of that other stuff as possible.  The battle started when the Enemy went after our children, readers…

It is past time we fought back the same way.

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