Literary Cats

“I meant,” said Ipslore bitterly, “what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?”
Death thought about it.
‘CATS, he said eventually. CATS ARE NICE!’

Terry Pratchett, Sourcery

The view of cats as evil led to incredible cruelties toward them. During witch hunts, cats were burned together with their mistresses. At the same times, there is evidence of cats being put into walls of newly built houses to bring luck.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the cat’s reputation was exculpated, and cats became popular pets in upper- and middle-class families, which is, among other things, reflected in numerous nursery rhymes, fables, cartoons, children’s stories and picturebooks. Cats became benign and often sweet characters, adapted to children’s and family reading. Most of modern cat stories are picturebooks portraying anthropomorphic cats, representing humans. The shape is, just as in George and Martha books, arbitrary and interchangeable. It is hardly worth mentioning the abundant felines rubbing against their owners’ feet or purring on their laps, merely to create an atmosphere. In hundreds of books, a child gets a kitten for pet. Occasionally, a black cat may prompt, most often erroneously, that its owner is a witch.

Maria Nikolajeva, Power, Voice and Subjectivity in Literature for Young Readers

Cats have their own subplot in our storybook app Midnight Feast.

by Bimal Das for Sailen Ghosh’s novel Jadur Deshe Jagannath (Jagannath in the Land of Magic), 1981


Rudyard Kipling’s etiologic story ‘The Cat who Walked by Himself’ (from Just So Stories, 1902) depicts the nature of cats as unreliable and independent as opposed to dogs as man’s true friends. The cat is, in his own words, “…not a friend…not a servant,” he is “the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to him.” The bargain between the cat and the humans, according to this story, includes the cats’ obligation to keep the house free from mice, to be nice to babies just as long as do not pull his tail too hard. For this, the Cat is allowed to be inside the house when he pleases, sit by the fire, and “drink the warm white milk three times a day for always and always and always.”

Maria Nikolajeva, Power, Voice and Subjectivity in Literature for Young Readers


  • Forest: Journey from the Wild by Sonya Hartnett (2001)
  • Varjak Paw by S. F. Said (2003)
  • Warrior Cats series by Erin Hunter (starting 2003)

midnight feast night cat

midnight feast cat clothing shop

midnight feast aquarium cats


In James Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil (1957), the cat seemingly plays a minor role. Yet on closer consideration, the story appears a parodic play with the Faust myth, where a cat rather than a woman is presented as sacrificial; besides the cat’s action is not voluntary and therefore less sublime. The Devil claims “the first person who crosses the bridge”, but, as in many folktales, he is outwitted. Had he said “the first human being”, the Lord Mayor woudl have to offer him one of his subjects. Instead, the cunning man sends a cat across the bridge, which presumably makes no difference, as cats are supposed to have no souls and thus have nothing to fear from the Devil. In the 1980 edition of the book, illustrated by Roger Blachon, the last doublespread shows the cat joyfully playing with the tip of the Devil’s tail, much to the latter’s annoyance. Yet the story certainly accentuates the association between the Devil and the cat, even though Blachon chooses to depict the cat white rather than black.

Maria Nikolajeva, Power, Voice and Subjectivity in Literature for Young Readers


Théophile A. Steinlen (1859-1923), Various projects of signs with black cats, India ink wash, graphite. At the end of the 19th century, the Black Cat, sign of the famous cabaret in Montmartre, was one of the symbols of the “Bohemian” side of Parisian Society




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