Cats have peppered our literature for centuries as mysterious, clever, and sometimes mentally unsound, but always lovable characters. Here are ten of my favorite cats of literature.
Puss in Boots—Charles Perrault included the story of “The Master Cat” in his book Mother Goose Tales, which introduced the Mother Goose legend to the English-speaking world. “The Master Cat,” later to be known as “Puss in Boots” is about the youngest son of a miller who receives as his inheritance a very clever cat, who requests and receives a pair of boots from his young master. The cat then decides to make a fortune for his master and begins making gifts to the king on his master’s behalf. This clever cat then tricks an ogre into turning himself into a mouse, which Puss devours, moves his master into the ogre’s home, and tricks the king into giving his master the princess’s hand in marriage. Clever cat, huh?
The Cat that Walked by Himself—Another clever cat from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. This cat tricks the woman into letting him into her cave, sit by her fire and feed him three saucers of milk a day, but he is still the Cat who walks by himself and all places are alike to him.
The Cheshire Cat—This iconic cat from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland grins while making mischief. My favorite conversation in the book is when Alice meets him for the first time, and he explains why he is mad: “You see a dog growls when it’s angry and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”
The Cat in the Hat—Speaking of mischief, this cat takes the cake—and balances it on his head. With his cohorts Thing One and Thing Two, this Cat in the Hat just wants to play with you. He bounces up and down on a ball, while Thing One and Thing Two fly a kite down the hall. He makes a big mess, I really must say, but the moral is always put your toys away.
Jennie Baldrin—This sweet little stray from Paul Gallico’s Jennie kindly teaches Peter Brown, a little boy who has turned into a cat, how to behave like a cat. She teaches him how to treat a dog, how to catch a mouse, how to make himself twice his size and above all, when in doubt—wash.
Tobermory—An interesting story by Saki, Tobermory tells about the dangers of teaching a cat to speak, though in Tobermory’s defense, if you don’t want to know, don’t ask, or at least teach him social etiquette first.
Koko—This crime–solving cat with ultrasensitive whiskers has helped his human Jim Qwilleran solve approximately 30 crimes in Lillian Jackson Baum’s The Cat Who Series. Along with his cohort Yum Yum, Koko brings Jim’s attention to things that he would have otherwise overlooked, including feeding times.
Pixel—The cat referred to in the title of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, The Cat who Walks Through Walls, Pixel has an uncanny and inexplicable tendency to show up wherever the narrator happens to be and at one time actually walks through a wall. The explanation of this is simply that Pixel is too young to know that such behavior is impossible.
Melissa/Kitty—I don’t feel I can make a list of cats in literature without mentioning at least one cat from a book by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. She has written many books with cats as main characters, but my favorite is Melissa or “Kitty” from Murphy’s The Catswold Portal, though as a shape-shifter, I’m not sure if you can classify her as a cat. Melissa, a human in her world, discovers that she can turn into a cat and is the in reality a queen. Pursued by those who stole her kingdom, she escapes into our world as a cat and is reluctantly adopted by a painter. Unfortunately, she has a habit of turning back into a human at inopportune times. Plus, she still has to return to her world and do battle to claim the kingdom that is rightfully hers.
The Rum Tum Tugger—Of course, I had to include a cat from T.S. Eliot’s Old Posssum’s Book of Practical Cats. Let’s face it. These cats are so cool they had a musical made about them. My only problem was which one? Jennyanydots? Mungojerrie? Mr. Mistoffelees? Macavity? Finally, I decided on The Rum Tum Tugger, because I have loved so many cats that will do as they do do and there’s no doing anything about it.
Did I miss any of your favorite cats of literature?
June is “Adopt a Shelter Cat Month.” So if you are looking for a furry feline friend to help you solve mysteries, get rid of pesky ogres, or just sit on your lap and purr, consider visiting your local shelter.