|Author||S. F. Said|
|Publisher||David Fickling Books|
|1 January 2003|
ISBN 0-552-54818-9 (paperback)
|LC Class||PZ7.S1315 Var 2003|
|Followed by||The Outlaw Varjak Paw|
Varjak Paw (2003) is a novel by the British author S. F. Said and illustrated by Dave McKean. The illustrations in this book have a dark "gothic" quality. The novel received the 2003 Smarties Gold Award for the 6–8 years range, and has been adapted for other media.
Varjak Paw is a small Mesopotamian blue cat who lives with his family in the Contessa's house. Varjak has a brother called Julius, is always making fun of him. Because he has amber eyes instead of green eyes such as the rest of his family. When a large gentleman and two mysterious black cats enter the house, Varjak and his grandfather, Elder Paw, knows that something is wrong. The family is split apart, leaving Varjak to embark on a quest to the city for help. Using a form of secret cat martial arts called "The Way" handed down from his ancestor, Jalal Paw, the kitten must make his way through the city and overcome obstacles such as dangerous dogs, gangs of cats, and the mysterious "Vanishings."
He, whose amber eyes (called the colour of danger) set him apart from his family, listens to his grandfather's tales of the Outside. His older brother Julius is constantly bullying him. None of his family care to venture into the outside world, for they are happy and content inside, being fed by the old woman known as the Contessa. One day, a Gentleman appears inside the house with two black cats acting in synchronized motions as if they were one. Elder Paw claims to recognize the Gentleman. The Family thinks he is crazy when he says that he believes the Contessa has died. He seems to take care of the cats. When Varjak and his grandfather venture outside, his grandfather tells him stories of the mysterious Jalal the Paw. He says that Varjak must save them from the Gentleman by finding a dog to scare him away. When the Gentleman appears with his black cats, Elder Paw urges Varjak to climb the stone wall and buys him time by fighting the Gentlemen's cats. The two black cats kill Elder Paw, and Varjak said he looked like a broken toy. Varjak runs away into the city, where he meets a white and black cat named Holly, and her best friend, a brown cat named Tam. Varjak learns of the Vanishings, which were the mysterious disappearances of cats off the streets. He travels with Holly and Tam. In his dreams he is visited by Jalal the Paw, who teaches him of the Way, a secret form of martial arts that is only known to cats.
Varjak ran into a gang led by Ginger, and is immediately beaten up when he tries to fight back when they attacked him. Things were looking bleak until Holly rescues him. Varjak blacks out and dreams of Jalal the Paw, who teaches him part of the Way. After the fight, they rest for a bit and then went out to look for food. Varjak caught a mouse, which impresses Holly. Then Holly challenges Varjak to catch a pigeon, knowing that the pigeons would attack him. Varjak fails. They even failed with the combined teamwork with Holly and Tam. After several failed attempts, Tam got very hungry and could smell a fishy, delicious smell. However, Holly wouldn't let her follow the scent because it was dangerous, and could be linked to the Vanishings. Tam ignores the warning and said that she'll meet them later and goes off to follow the delicious smell. She never comes back, and after two days of waiting for her, Varjak and Holly set out to look for her. In Sally Bones' territory, Varjak finds a grotesque toy cat inside a cardboard box that has every aspect of a real cat. After a day with no luck on finding Tam, they spend the night in Sally Bones' territory. The next morning, Varjak has to go and do his business, and immediately regrets it when he realizes that Sally Bones, along with a dozen menacing gang members were watching him the whole entire time. Sally Bones sends out Razor (her lieutenant) to interrogate Varjak because she got the feeling that he had something to do with the Vanishings. Razor and Varjak get into a fight when Varjak doesn't tell him anything, and Varjak is forced to use the Way to defend himself. Varjak finds out that Sally Bones knows the Way, and Sally Bones is stunned to find out that Varjak knows the Way. Sally Bones and Varjak get into a fight that is interrupted by a dog named Cludge, who scares away all of her gang members. Cludge accidentally knocks Varjak out, but when he wakes up, he finds that the dog means no harm, and is even friendly. So then Varjak and Cludge became friends, which surprises his Holly because dogs were known as enemies to cats.
Varjak paw learnt the way yet only knew 3 Slow-Time This is performed by a cat by doing deep breathing until everything starts to slow down. The world is described to slow down around the cat, but the cat will go much faster in real time. A cat in slow time is often described as shimmering which is believed to mean that the cat you see in slow time is actually only its after-image and the real cat is moving too fast for you to see
Moving Circles When in slow time a cat can use a martial art known as moving circles which allows a cat to unleash all the pent up energy in their body through their flexibility. As a cat moves from stance to stance in moving circles kinetic energy builds up around their body like a cocoon acting as both a shield and an attack. When a cat breaks out of a moving circle they let the kinetic energy released guide their next strike- ensuring it lands with force closer to a lion's attack than a cat's.
Shadow-Walking By clearing their mind of all thought and all troubles a cat can become one with the shadows allowing a cat to walk anywhere undetected by anyone; no matter if they are in their field of view or not.
He realizes that he now has a dog, so he and Holly, along with Cludge, go back to the Contessa's house. Varjak looks for his family and finds them safe and sound, while Holly crept upstairs to look around for the Gentleman and the black cats. Varjak finds out that Julius has become head of the family, and is taunting him just as much as before even though Varjak was brave enough to venture to the Outside. Varjak and Julius soon get into a fight, which Varjak wins and becomes the new head of the family. However, his family doesn't approve of Holly and treats her as if she was worth nothing when she was trying to help them escape. Suddenly, the Gentleman appears with his black cats. He touches their collars and whispers something into their ear, and the cats leap up to action. They chase Holly and captures her and drags her upstairs.
Varjak goes upstairs using the skill Shadow-walk, where he finds dozens of cats inside a large cage, trapped by the Gentleman and his cats. It turns out that the Gentleman kidnaps them turns them into toys exactly like the one he found in Sally Bones' territory, that weren't quite alive but weren't quite dead either because they were once alive. However, methods of doing so have never been found (they come back out with glassy eyes and collars, are permanently smiling, and say phrases such as "Hello nice to meet you I am fine"). Varjak, upon finding out the truth, is horrified and engages battle with the two black cats. He uses every method of the Way, and was about to be defeated when Holly shouts out, "The collars!" Varjak uses his remaining strength and bits off the collar off one of the cats. The cat falls down and looks exactly like a broken toy, with the other cat looking at it in disbelief. The other cat looks a little bit sad and holds out his collar as if he wanted to be killed too. Varjak does it gently and the other cat falls down to the ground like a broken toy.
Downstairs, his family is in trouble because the Gentleman is holding Julius in the air. When the Gentleman looks at Varjak and the cats that he freed, the Gentleman drops Julius and picks up Varjak instead. However, when he picks Varjak up, Cludge breaks into the house by smashing a window while leaping inside. Cludge scares the Gentleman away, and Varjak, now a hero, starts up a gang with Holly, Tam, and Cludge in it.
- Varjak Paw, a young kitten and the main protagonist of the story
- Jalal the Paw, A Mesopotamian blue cat who ventured out into the Outside and found a home with the Countessa.
- Elder Paw, Varjak's grandfather and one of the few who remembers (part of) The Way of Jalal
- Sally Bones, the mysterious white cat who lords over the West Side of the city. She knows "The Way"
- Razor, Sally Bones' lieutenant
- Ginger, the ruler of the East Side of the city
- The Contessa, The old woman who owns of the family of Jalal
- The Gentleman, a mysterious man who appears one day at the Contessa's house
- The Black Cats, two black cats that accompany The Gentleman; perfect fighting machines that are almost invulnerable
- Cludge, a dog who Varjak meets and who saves him from the Gentleman
- Julius Paw, Varjak's older and stronger brother
- Father, Son of Elder Paw, mate to another, Father of Jay, Jerome, Jethro, Julius, and Varjak
- Aunt Juni, Mother to Jasmine, Aunt to Jay, Jethro, Jerome, Julius, and Varjak
Varjak Paw's name is allusion to the film Breakfast at Tiffany's. In the film, one of the main characters, Paul Varjak, has written a book called "Nine Lives". When he and another character look for the book in the library catalog, it is listed as "Nine Lives by Varjak, Paul". S.F. Said is not known to have commented on this connection.