Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Favorite Literary Cats--T.S. Eliot, Wodehouse, and more

I am a huge cat lover, as anyone knows who regularly reads my blog.  My own two kitties are very sweet and loving, in addition to being adorable.  I also love to read, and I'm often tickled to find that some of my favorite authors write about cats, especially when the cat becomes a fascinating character in its own right.  So here is my list of great feline characters, from very enjoyable books.

1. Webster, from P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner Nights. 

This book is funny, lighthearted, and pure enjoyment from cover to cover.  But my favorite stories have to be "The Story of Webster" and "Cats will be Cats." In "The Story of Webster," Lancelot Mulliner is a bohemian painter, to the disappointment of his wealthy uncle.  When his uncle is called away to serve as a bishop in West Africa, he sends Lancelot his beloved cat Webster, in the hope that Webster's strict dignity anddecorum will inspire Lancelot to change his ways.  Indeed, Webster is such a well-behaved, dignified cat, and his stern looks are so disapproving, that Lancelot quickly falls under his spell.  But all is not lost--Lancelot only must discover a way to help Webster "unbutton" so he can return to the chaotic life he loves.  But in "Cats will be Cats," Lancelot's uncle has returned to England in some terrible trouble.  All of Lancelot and his uncle's thinking cannot save him, until finally it's the lovable Webster who saves the day.

2. Crookshanks, from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)  

I loved reading J.K. Rowling's books, and no list of literary cats would be complete without Crookshanks.  A large, highly intelligent cat, Crookshanks is the only character in the books who immediately recognizes Scabbers as an Animagus.  He is loving and affectionate towards Hermione, who defends him from Ron when he attacks Scabbers, and he is able to sense untrustworthy people. Crookshanks plays a crucial role in protecting Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban, making him a cat hero.  

3. Hobbes, from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes books.  

Calvin and Hobbes are some of my all time favorite comic strips.  Although Hobbes is technically an imaginary tiger, many of his characteristics are clearly inspired by house cats.  After all, what cat owner has never seen their cat lounging in the sun as Hobbes does?  Or has never had a cat spring from nowhere to randomly attack you? But although he's wonderfully playful, Hobbes has a deeper side, engaging with Calvin in philosophical debates, and gently mocking his friend's pretensions (a bit like Webster).  Hobbes' whimsy and his thoughtfulness never conflict; rather, it's as though he has thought deeply and realized that joyfulness and play is the best way to enjoy life.  His thoughtful, self-aware playfulness feels powerfully deep--as though Hobbes has discovered the key to a meaningful but enjoyable life, something the humans in the comic struggle to find in vain.

4. Puss in Boots, from the Mother Goose fairy-tales.  


Before he was popularized as an adorable swash-buckling hero, the cat from "Puss in Boots" was a trickster who helped his master, a young milliner's son, to marry a princess. Cats are funny creatures, and they certainly can be tricky.  In fact, I've often thought that all the odd occurrences up until the very end of the movie Paranormal Activity could be completely explained by the couple having a cat.  Although some people have criticized this story because it shows the cat getting everything he wants for his master by lying, isn't it more realistic to show that, than to pretend that truthfulness actually helps most people succeed?  Trust me, no one became president by telling the truth all the time.  But in Puss in Boots, the cat's loyalty and cleverness are certainly positive characteristics that my loving kitties share.  

5. All the Cats from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.  

T.S. Eliot, in addition to being a great poet, was also a huge cat lover.  In fact, he loved cats so much that he wrote an entire book of children's poetry about cats.  Andrew Lloyd Webber loved the poems so much that he wrote a musical based on them, and that is how the musical Cats was born.  The book contains so many lovable cat characters that it's hard to pick a favorite--how to choose between Macavity the Mystery Cat, Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, or the Great Rumpus Cat? The poems are so enjoyable to read that anyone who likes poetry or cats should read them.  And if you like musicals, well...

6. The Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. 

I couldn't believe I left the Cheshire Cat off my original version of this list, so I'm correcting it now.  The Cheshire Cat is mischievous and mysterious, at times philosophical, at times pure anarchy.  If dogs represent the loyal side of human nature, certainly cats like the Cheshire Cat represent the allusive, knowable side of our nature. It's like they are the id of our imagination.   

If there are any other literary cats I should include in the list, feel free to leave a comment!

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