Yesterday was International Cat Day and since I am a lifelong cat lover, I couldn’t let the day go by without penning a few thoughts on the special relationship that cats have with books and literature. But where to start? I considered reading something particularly cat-ish but had trouble deciding on what to read. The Cat –cher in the Rye? The Great Catsby? A Tale of Two Kitties? I could do something Shakespearean with either Romeow and Juliet or CleoCATra and Anthony. Or I could fall back on a particular favorite and check out Jane Austen’s Purrrrrrsuasion.
In the end, I chose to go with the Edgar Allan Poe story, The Black Cat, because I have been on a major Poe spree lately and because several people mentioned it to me as their favorite Poe story. My only reservation was that I really didn’t want to read about anything bad happening to a cat. For some reason, I can handle nice old men getting hacked up and buried around the house (as in The Tell Tale Heart) or drunken noblemen being buried alive in the wine cellar (like in The Cast of Amontillado) but the thought of a defenseless animal getting the brunt of Poe’s usual Gothic gruesomeness really bothered me. I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone else who may want to read it but, even though karma prevailed at the end, there were several parts of the story that made me a little sorry that I had read it.
So, still in search of something suitable to celebrate Cat Day with, I decided to talk about all my favorite fictional felines. Literature is full of cats. From the moment we start learning how to read, we are confronted with stories about cats who sit on mats. Then we meet Cats in Hats and Pusses in Boots and cats in any other accessory that catch their kitty-ish fancies. And eventually there’s the Cheshire Cat (or as he is called in Jasper Fforde’s delightful Thursday Next series, the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat), cats who befriend crickets in Times Square and cats that undertake incredible journeys. Aslan, Dorothy Gale’s friend, the Cowardly Lion, William Blake’s frightfully symmetrical tiger burning brightly in the forest and Kipling’s cat who walked by himself, and all places were alike to him. T. S. Eliot even wrote an entire book of cat poems called, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which was eventually adapted into the Broadway musical, Cats.
One of my favorite literary cats is from a little – known book that I grew up loving but that almost no one I know has heard of, Tiger Flower. This picture book had gorgeous art and told the story of a tiger who was swept away to a land where everything that should be big was small and everything that should be small was big. And instead of having to worry about being the king of the towering tangled green jungle, he could spend his days as Tigre Flower, a tiny tiger perched on a blade of grass with a flower in his hair.
Another purrrsonal favorite when I was a little girl was the cat in Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Although he had a small part in the story, he had such great purrrrsonality that he just stuck with me throughout the years. (Sorry about the puns. It is genetically impossible for me to not make cat puns when the opportunity arises.) Years later, Peter Beagle wrote Tamsin, a book that quickly became another favorite and featured two unforgettable kitties. If you love cats and enjoy reading fantasy / ghost stories, then you should definitely check out Tamsin! I really cannot recommend it enough.
Of course, even outside the covers of books, cats and literature have gone together beautifully for years. Cats have made excellent companions for many famous authors, most notably Hemingway and his many-fingered kitties but you can see more cat and writer parings here. And any writer or reader (famous or not) know that it is almost impossible to read or write without your feline friends wanting in on the fun. Experts have even discovered a 15th century manuscript with cat paw prints in ink across the pages. So here’s to cats and the book lovers who can’t get enough of them! Now, if you excuse me, I’m off to find my cat and give him some extra petting! I will talk to you all again soon but in the meanwhile, check out my T. S. Eliot Naming of Cats Necklace and my Aslan Narnia Necklace, both 10% off this week in honor of Cat Day!