Thursday, 29 April 2010

I think it is very difficult to write about

cats in books. Someone brought up the topic of animals in books yesterday or, I should say more accurately, the subject of horses in books and then dogs. Cats came lower on the list.
I never wanted to ride a horse, let alone own one. I did not read 'pony' books. Dare I say that Black Beauty was not one of my favourite books, that I did not eagerly await the next Ruby Ferguson to discover what was happening to Jill and her friends?
Then there were the dogs who were rescued by children or who rescued children and the dogs who were naughty or the dogs who (like horses) won ribbons.
There were horses and dogs and, occasionally, talking cats. Some of them were improbably human.
The odd thing though was that the lovers of pony books did not know about the cats. They did not know about Mickle in Joan Aiken's "The Kingdom and the Cave" who has his own personal 'mechanical stroker'. They did not know about Caliph in Margot Benary's the Ark who plays a miniscule and yet very important role in telling us so much about the other characters. They did not know about Benvenuto in Diana Wynne Jones highly imaginative "The Magicians of Caprona". Benvenuto thinks and communicates to Tonino in pictures, not words. Paolo has failed to understand that. It is important. It makes Benvenuto a cat hero and not a person-as-cat hero. There is Zachariah in Elizabeth Goudge's "The little white horse" who also draws pictures to deliver messages...again more cat than person-as-cat and right for the semi-fantasy world that has been created.
Nicola Morgan has just published another book with a cat in a central role. Spike has a chapter to himself and I have read that. He is a cat-cat, not a person-as-cat. His role is both limited and expanded by that.
It is difficult to do. Cats are probably more difficult to write about than anything else. Horses and dogs have a different sort of relationship with humans. They can be taught to obey. They will learn to do a range of actions or "tricks". They will perform. Cats please themselves. Even if it seems they have been 'taught' something there is no guarantee they will perform even for a reward. In the best writing they will behave exactly the same way.


Tony said...

By coincidence, I have just started Natsume Soseki's classic novel 'I am a Cat' - now there's a feline hero for you ;)

catdownunder said...

I do not know that one Tony - must look it up! Japanese?

Tony said...

Yes, early twentieth-century; he is a very famous Japanese writer, and this was his big break. Over the past year of so, I have read a lot of Japanese novels, but this is my first by Soseki.

catdownunder said...

Have not read much Japanese work - a couple of crime novels is about it! Am going to have to ask the library for an inter-library-loan I think!

Anonymous said...


At least one cat can write!

Cats may be difficult to write about, but they are easily the easiest animal to photograph, draw, sketch, illustrate and paint in just about any style you can think of. And they are purrfect in animated form!

Judy B

catdownunder said...

Judy, have you seen those coffee table type books of cats in the Greek Islands? Real purr material!

Frances said...

When cat lovers admire cats because of....these qualities.
Or dog owners admire dogs because of these....quite different qualities
I believe that each reflects the character of the owners.

Dog owners are more into loving, touching, embracing, forgiving.

Cat owners are more into ego, aloofness, detachment, choice.

catdownunder said...

Oh, as you will know I like to play around as a 'cat' but I hope I have some dog qualities too!