Literary cat shout-out: the cat from Coraline

Literary cat shout-out: the cat from Coraline

©Dave McKean

Mysterious, clever, and a bit magical, the unnamed cat from Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy (and awesomely creepy) children’s book Coraline is a paragon for black cats everywhere. Throughout the book, he serves as an aloof guide for eleven-year-old heroine Coraline—he’s kind of like the Cheshire Cat if the Cheshire Cat were actually helpful.

He appears in the 2002 novella by Gaiman (both in Gaiman’s text and in illustrations by Dave McKean) and in Henry Selick’s 2009 stop-motion film adaption. While the book is wonderfully creepy, no matter your age, the movie is really great too, with its gorgeous animation and perfectly cast voice acting, including Keith David, the enigmatic and dark voice of the cat.

©Focus Features

When Coraline Jones and her parents move into a new apartment, she explores the grounds and occasionally sees a black cat around who she describes as haughty and avoidant of her attempts to interact with it. But when she discovers a secret portal in her house to another world through a small door in the parlor, she encounters the black cat again, and this time, he sticks around for a chat.

It seems that whatever space Coraline enters through her parlor door lends some magic to cats, or at least this one. When she spots him on the grounds in the other world, he greets her with a casual “Good afternoon.” Coraline thinks the cat’s voice sounds like the voice at the back of her head, “the voice she thought words in, but a man’s voice, not a girl’s.”

They have a conversation about names, and he insists that cats do not need them (T. S. Eliot has left the chat) while proceeding to disappear and magically reappear behind various things in the garden, demonstrating his comfort and familiarity with this mysterious place.

©Focus Features

Despite his occasional sassiness, he’s pretty reasonable, as far as magical cats go, and he helps Coraline multiple times, giving her information about the world she’s walked into, the evil entity—the other mother, who looks like Coraline’s mother with buttons for eyes—she must defeat, and dropping clues on how, exactly to defeat it.

It’s even thanks to him, in the end, that the two are able to escape the other mother’s clutches and get back to the real world.

Once safely home, Coraline explores the garden with newfound fervor for real life, giving her new friend belly rubs when she runs into him, and even without his being able to talk in this world, they manage to converse.

©Focus Features

Here’s to mysterious, fictional cats, who know all the answers but can’t always be be bothered to share them.

“You must be the other cat.”

The cat shook its head. “No,” it said. “I’m not the other anything. I’m me.” It tipped its head to one side; green eyes glinted. “You people are spread all over the place. Cats, on the other hand, keep ourselves together. If you see what I mean.”

“I suppose. But if you’re the same cat I saw at home, how can you talk?”

Cats don’t have shoulders, not like people do. But the cat shrugged, in one smooth movement that started at the tip of its tail and ended in a raised movement of its whiskers. “I can talk.”

“Cats don’t talk at home.”

“No?” said the cat.

“No,” said Coraline.

The cat leapt smoothly from the wall to the grass near Coraline’s feet. It stared up at her.

“Well, you’re the expert on these things,” said the cat dryly. “After all, what would I know? I’m only a cat.”

It began to walk away, head and tail held high and proud.

—Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Video

Go Dog Go: A compelling and disturbing look at the canine psyche

One of my favorite childhood books was Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman. My dad read it to me often—I loved the ending, even though I knew what was coming every time—and, published in the early sixties, it was one of his childhood favorites as well.

So when I first saw South Park‘s illiterate cop Officer Barbrady do this book report on Go, Dog. Go!, it had me rolling. The rest of the book-centered episode is just as good, with Barbrady successfully learning to read but giving it up altogether upon completing Atlas Shrugged. But that’s a post for another day.

Literary cat shout-out: the Cheshire Cat

Literary cat shout-out: the Cheshire Cat

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This is the first in a series of literary cat shout-outs I’ll be doing here, because we love cats here at The Book Broad (me. I love cats.), and there are a lot of wonderful fictional ones. And who better to start with than the OG:

A cat so famous he transcends his source material, the Cheshire Cat is known for his disappearing body and mischievous grin—the latter a representation of how all cats feel on the inside when they get one over on us, I would imagine.

Per Wikipedia, a possible origin of the phrase “grinning like a Cheshire Cat” is one favored by the people of Cheshire, a county in England that has a lot of dairy farms; hence the cat’s grin because of the abundance of milk and cream.

I’d also connect Cheshire’s smile to the “cat that ate the canary” idiom that means to look very smug and self-satisfied about something (naughty) you’ve done.

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©Disney

He debuted in the 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, which included illustrations by John Tenniel, and he’s made appearances in the 1951 Disney animated adaptation, Tim Burton’s 2010 live-action remake, and Burton’s Through the Looking Glass in 2016—not to mention countless other Alice adaptations, including television, video games, and comic books.

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©Disney

Cheshire first meets Alice at the Duchess’s house, and later he’s found in the branches of a tree, where he engages her in confusing conversation, raising philosophical points that sometimes annoy or perplex her. But in the end, when the Queen of Hearts sentences her to death, he has her back by creating a diversion with his floating head.

To be fair, he framed Alice for the prank that put her on trial for execution in the first place—make of that what you will.

He may be a little mad, but he knows something we don’t, and his biggest trick might be hiding the fact that he’s the sanest one of all.

“And how do you know that you’re mad?”

“To begin with,” said the Cat, “a dog’s not mad. You grant that?”

“I suppose so,” said Alice.

“Well then,” the Cat went on, “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.”

―Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland