Seymour’s First Clarinet Concerto

Some of you may have noticed a discussion of feline intelligence in the comments on my post introducing Kokoro. I’m citing Kokoro as the most intelligent cat I’ve known, while my father is championing Seymour, the cat of my childhood. In making his case for Seymour, Dad invokes a family legend regarding Seymour’s musical abilities. Now Dad provides additional information in support of his cause.

Book Cover

Full disclosure: What follows is hardly a disinterested book review. Given my close familial relationship with the author and protagonist, and given that the artist is a family friend, it could scarcely be otherwise. And yes, it’s also potentially a paid review: if you buy a copy through the links above or below, I’ll get a small cut out of Amazon’s share of the purchase price. If you choose to assume bias on my part and reject the book, though, you’ll be missing out on a pleasant experience. Biased or not, I promise to avoid the word most woefully overused in reviews of children’s books: “charming”.

“Seymour’s First Clarinet Concerto” is a tale of a cat and his boy. It’s a simple tale with an artfully concealed message about the importance of promises, friends, and promises to friends. The art is colorful and engaging. Children too young to appreciate the story will still enjoy the illustrations, but the text and the drawings hide enough jokes and references to amuse adults who are reading the book to their offspring for the thirty-seven thousandth time. Well, OK, maybe only twenty thousand times.

If there are a few minor deviations from reality here and there (I don’t believe the American Museum of Natural History admits cats, for example), what of it? The deviations are necessary to the story being told, and frankly, reality comes off worse in the comparison.

“Seymour” has been in the works for decades, and was – as Dad notes in the afterword – inspired by the real-life Seymour who did indeed listen as my sister and I practiced the clarinet (and other instruments). While he never offered explicit critiques, there was a certain amount of correlation between the quality of the music and the speed at which he swished his tail back and forth. He wasn’t our first family cat, but he’s the first one I remember. A very friendly creature he was, and never happier than when he had a lap to sprawl in.

Dad wrote the first version of “Seymour” in the 80s, but never found the right artist, or a publisher for it. Over the years, he pulled it out and tinkered with it, but it didn’t go anywhere until recently. When grandson Simon (my nephew) came along, Seymour gave Dad a metaphorical tail-thwack to the shins, demanding a place in Simon’s lap, and the project took on a new life.

Dad revised and updated the text, recruited Vic to illustrate, and hooked up with CreateSpace (who did a wonderful job putting the book together, by the way), and the result is not just a splendid gift for Simon, but also a wonderful tribute to Seymour.

Does “Seymour’s First Clarinet Concerto” clearly establish Seymour as more intelligent than Kokoro? I’d have to say that it does not, but it is a strong argument. Ball’s in your court, Ms. K-poof.

Buy yourself a copy. Get one for your child too. If you’ve got more than one child, get them each a copy. Don’t forget your nieces, nephews, and grandchildren, and you should even consider one for that annoying brat down the street who keeps walking on your lawn.

(And note: not only did I avoid “charming”, I also skipped “delightful” and “adorable”.)


Those of you who know the Science Fiction/Fantasy field may be wondering why I consider Jim Butcher an inspiration. Today’s post is an attempt at answering that question.

Unlike other creators who I consider general role models, Butcher is an inspiration for one specific aspect of his work. To date, he has published 14 novels in the Harry Dresden series without falling into the pitholes that long-running series with a single main character are prone to: telling the same story over and over again or warping the character in some arbitrary way to allow the author to start over.

As a counter-example in the same “urban fantasy” genre, consider Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Hamilton, IMNSHO, commits both sins. Through the first eight books, Anita faces a series of opponents of increasing strength, culminating in “Blue Moon” where she encounters a demon. In Blake’s universe, demons are at the apex of evil power, so Hamilton doesn’t have a whole lot of room to continue escalating Anita’s opponents; instead Anita, formerly a self-doubting heroine with a strong personal moral code throws her moral code out of the window, choosing to drift through a series of repetitious encounters and complaining about her unhappiness. She sleeps with vampires and a variety of weres and has multiple relationships at once, things she had previously vehemently rejected. She acquires new powers, each of which seems to serve little purpose but to drag her from one partner to another. In short, the later books of the series feature a character who shares little with the original beyond a name, and the stories have changed from fantasy-themed mysteries to fantasy-themed generic romances. (Disclosure: I read the first half-dozen books multiple times, haven’t re-read later books at all, and stopped reading them entirely around book 13; it’s possible things have improved since then, but it seems unlikely based on the synopses I read while writing this paragraph.)

How does Butcher avoid similar fates for Harry? Over the course of the series, Harry acquires a set of allies, people he can count on to assist him when an opponent is beyond his own abilities. His allies have lives of their own as well. They move in and out of the novels, things change in their lives when they’re not on stage, and they return with new motivations derived from their off-stage experiences. Harry grows in knowledge and power, not so much gaining new powers as enhancing and refining the ones he has. The cost of growth is in self-doubt and concern over his ability to continue doing what he believes to be his mission: protecting Chicago and its residents from the supernatural powers they don’t believe in and couldn’t fight if they did. The result is that Harry changes greatly, but he’s still the same person as in the first book, just more nuanced and thus more interesting. Meanwhile, each book still has a “whodunnit” at the core – or at the very least a “whydunnit”.

According to Butcher’s website, he has a definite end planned for the series, with another nine books to go, give or take. Unlike Anita, who seems to be hopelessly adrift and likely to remain that way until the public stops buying the books, Harry is going someplace. He may not like it when he gets there, and he definitely isn’t going to like the trip, but I have faith in Butcher that I will enjoy the trip and be satisfied that I’ve arrived at the right place.