Written by Eleanor Clymer, drawn by Robert Quackenbush
No special accolades here. Horatio is a library discard book I picked up out of the free box permanently placed outside of the librarian’s house down the street. It’s got a cat on the cover so I grabbed it. Cat’s out of the bag, I like felines. And this book is for cat people, written “for Melissa who likes cats and Matilda who is one”. And to be even-handed, perhaps, our main character, Horatio, is a person cat. Not only does he hate all creatures other than his kind Mrs. Casey, he thinks, rationalizes, wields irony, and has facial expressions like a person. He is grumpy. He likes to be treated with respect. In Horatio, we find an anti-hero in a bold cat form.
As the less-than-ill-willed central character capturing the heart of the tale, Horatio single-handedly saves an otherwise cliche book. Bottom-line story: a grumpy middle-aged cat re-finds his heart via two needy kittens. But if you are as lovely a curmudgeon as I, you will appreciate the way that Horatio, our reluctant hero, fulfills social demands of “good” while still preserving an entirely self-absorbed life. He simply combines moments of opportunity for helping himself with moments of opportunity for helping himself in a slightly different way. He is a fat house cat lost in the wild city night, hungry, abused, and followed. Spilling the milk out of a bottle on a doorstep (ah, the nostalgia of 1969), both fills his own hunger and gets the kittens to shut up about theirs. Getting himself to the safety of home also gives them a home (though he will NOT be the one to take care of them).
Also, Horatio lets certain things slide that could be potentially threatening to one’s masculinity, as it were. When seen with the kittens, he is often mistaken for their mother. It hardly touches him. At one point he even says, well, at least that misperception got me what I want. Horatio ducks and weaves through social expectations aiming solely for what will make him the most comfortable. Along the way, he does stuff that might even be mistaken for kindness, like cleaning the tired orphan kittens. He even learns to smile… and it’s his curmudgeonly ways coupled with his obliviousness of his social obligations that make these sorts of concessions all the more pleasing. The beauty of this story is that somehow, in this candid view of unconscious selfishness, of truly being exactly what you are, we fall in love with Horatio. Why do we love anti-heroes? Because of their honesty.
(AND, the artist’s last name is Quakenbush. I challenge you to find a more awesome name than that.)