It is a little-known fact that James Joyce, the
Irish writer best known for his Dubliners stories and the epic Ulysses,
once wrote a fable. What began as a letter to his grandson Stephen in
1936 became the children's story, "The Cat and the Devil." It is the
tale of a certain bridge over the River Loire in France that the devil
himself promises to build for the people of Beaugency. In exchange for
his good deed, he wants for himself the first person who crosses the
bridge. The mayor of the town agrees to the deal, but tricks the devil
by sending over a black cat instead of a person. This angers the devil,
who from then on calls the townspeople les chats de Beaugency,
the "cat people." He sympathizes, however, with the poor cat who crossed
the bridge and has jumped into his arms. He takes him as his own, and
the two (as we know from history) become lifelong companions.
It's not surprising that writer Edgar Allan Ðîå would pen a
spooky short story about a witchy black cat. In his story appropriately
titled "The Black Cat," the main character is a man quite
fond of animals, including his large black cat, Pluto. As bad luck would
have it, the man becomes annoyed with his furry friend, then angry, and
finally foul-tempered and abusive, and cuts out the cat's eye. Faithful
Pluto forgives him, which upsets the man even more, enough so that he
hangs the cat from a tree.
One evening, another cat, black with white markings on his chest (and
also missing an eye), follows him home. The two become companions, but
in time, the man, in a rage of psychosis, tries to kill the cat with an
ax. Luckily for the cat, the man's wife interrupts the scene, only to
get the ax buried deep in her head. The man hides her body in a wall,
but his hideous act is given away when the cat, who had mistakenly been
buried in the wall, too, cries out and is heard by the police. The
pattern of the white fur on the black cat's chest now reveals . . . the
We all know that most cats are good at mousing and taking naps, but
they're also pretty good writers. In 1942, Christopher Cat, in
collaboration with Countee Cullen, a leading poet of the Negro
Renaissance of the 1920s, wrote a book. My Lives and How I Lost
Them is the cat's account of his nine lives and what fates he
met along the way, including drowning and getting caught in a rat trap.
It is a humorous, sophisticated piece of writing by one very intelligent
cat that was certainly ahead of his time!
What's it like to be a Shakespearean actor and have to learn how to use
a litter box? WinStanley Fortescue, the protagonist in mystery novelist
Marian Babson's Nine Lives to Murder, can tell you.
Babson, who dedicates her book to "all the cats in our lives, and the
life in our cats," adds comic fantasy to this story of an actor being
pursued by a murderer. Before the evildoer has his chance, Fortescue
falls unconscious and lands on the acting company's cat, Montmorency D.
Mousa. When Fortescue comes to, his body has been switched with the
cat's. What transpires is a tale of feline experiences that make you
glad you don't have to eat mice for dinner!
The cat has always been an animal of mystery, so it follows that cats
feel right at home in mystery stories. Writer Lilian Jackson Braun
features cats as detectives in her mystery novel series that includes
The Cat Who Said Cheese and The Cat Who Blew the
Whistle. Journalist Jim Qwilleran and his feline sleuths
Koko and Yum Yum wander Pickax City trying to solve mysterious bombings,
murders, missing persons, and the like. These books are as tantalizing
as catnip and will have readers wishing these cats prowled their
neighborhoods at night.
Sneaky Pie Brown is yet another cat author who, together with
screenwriter and poet Rita Mae Brown, pens the "Mrs. Murphy" mystery
series. Sneaky Pie's main characters are Mary Minor Haristeen and her
clever cat, Mrs. Murphy. Together, these two solve crimes, sometimes
with the help of a Welsh corgi and a fat, gray cat, in novels like
Wish You Were Here, Rest in Pieces, and Murder at
Monticello. Mrs. Murphy's experiences with her circle of
animal friends and insights into human emotions provide the reader with
a cat's perspective on life. Still don't believe cats can write? Sneaky
Pie Brown's paw-print in the "Author's Note" proves it.
The cat in Rudyard Kipling's "The Cat That Walked by
Himself" is the embodiment of the typically independent nature
of the truly curious cat. The story describes a time when animals were
wild and Man and Woman lived in caves. Cat is determined not to lose his
independence as Dog, Cow, and Horse did when they became tamed by
humans; he declares he will always walk alone and go wherever, whenever,
he pleases. He makes the following bargain with Woman: If Cat ever
overhears Woman praising him, she will let him into the cave, where he
can sit by the fire and drink milk. One day, Cat stops Woman's baby from
crying and entertains him by chasing a string. Woman compliments Cat
and, thereby, fulfills the bargain. Cat can enter the cave, get warm,
and eat at his leisure, but he is still untamed and free to come and go
as he wishes. Unfortunately, Dog makes his own bargain with Cat and
chases him up a tree whenever he gets the opportunity! Such is the life
of a cat.
Tom Quartz, a name later used by Theodore Roosevelt for one of his own
kittens, is a miner's feline companion in Mark Twain's short
story, "Dick Baker's Cat." Baker tells his fellow mining
friends the story of when Tom Quartz, who cared little for hunting rats
but had a keen ability to find gold, almost meets his doom in the
blasting of a quartz mine. He survives the explosion with singed
whiskers and remains as smug (if not a little intimidating, as cats can
be!) as ever.
Guilio del Torre
Who is not familiar with Dr. Seuss's fun-loving Cat in the
Hat in his zany striped hat? Perhaps the best-known cat in
contemporary children's literature, the energetic cat who waltzes into
the home of two bored children on a rainy day is known to inspire young
and old to learn how to read. Quite an undertaking for such a silly
rhyming puss! Dr. Seuss used only 220 words for this classic, yet it
remains a timeless favorite of children and parents all over the globe.
If you don't remember what mischievous tricks this cat has under his
hat, perhaps you should reacquaint yourself— you'll be glad you did!
Do you remember the three little kittens who lost their mittens? They
cried because they could have no pie. They then found their mittens and
cried again until their mother gave them the pie. As naughty kittens
will do, they soiled their mittens and then had to wash them. What
happens at the end of this childhood rhyme? Their mother smells a rat!
This somewhat nonsensical poem has pleased generations of kiddies—not to
Arthur John Elsey
"I've often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat?" The
most famous cat in all of British children's literature is probably the
one Alice meets in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking
Glass. With a wide, toothy grin, the Cheshire Cat sits in the
bough of a tree and looks down at poor Alice, who is lost. When the girl
asks him what direction she should take, he, a cat of quick wit, says:
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to." Perhaps more
intriguing than his intelligence is the Cheshire Cat's ability to
disappear, a little bit at a time, a quality that helps him escape
execution by the king.
John Tenniel, Through the Looking
Did you know that it may have been a mouse who invented the belled cat
collar? Aesop writes about mice that fear a cat in his fable, "The
Bell and the Cat." The mice are hungry, beginning to starve, in
fact, but a cat looms outside their hole, and so they are afraid to go
in search of crumbs. A bold mouse makes the suggestion that they tie a
bell around the cat's neck so they'll know when the cat is near. Good
idea, the mice think, but one elder mouse rises and asks the
all-important question: "Who will bell the cat?"
David de Coninck
Puss in Boots, the matchmaker cat who wears red boots in the old French
children's story, is the type of cat everyone wants: He's clever,
charming, and a good hunter. Puss knows his master is poor, so he places
himself in favor with the king and devises a way for the man to meet
with the beautiful royal daughter. His plan works, and his master
becomes rich when he marries the princess. What becomes of Puss? He
becomes a lord, of course!
Puss in Boots