Beware the Cat: 13 Tales to Read with Your Cat This Halloween
Grumpy Cat, Henri, the Existential Cat, Lil Bub, Colonel Meow… Sure, cats are the stars of social media nowadays but beware of crossing them—as these tales illustrate.
William Baldwin’s 1553 satire Beware the Cat is credited as being the first work of prose fiction in English. In it the narrator presents several stories that feature talking cats. Readers are introduced to the story of Grimalkin, a variation of a tale audiences today know as King of the Cats. In the fairytale Owney and Owney-na-peak a man stumbles upon a secret meeting of cats in a graveyard and learns the secret of how to cure the king's illness.
As an adult I see Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats as more of a cautionary tale for cat lovers. An elderly man goes in search of a kitten and comes back with more than he bargained for. Another (really dark) children’s story is The Improbable Cat by Allan Ahlberg. A family fall in thrall of a small kitten they find in their backyard and proceed to serve the cat ignoring their own cares and needs. The only one not hypnotized by the new family member is David who is allergic to cats. Roald Dahl is better known for his children's books but he also wrote for adults. In his story "Edward the Conqueror" a stray cat comes between a husband and wife.
Not surprising several masters of horror found plenty of inspiration in felines. A mysterious white cat stalks generations of the same family in "The White Cat of Drumgunniol" by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe has to be one of Poe’s goriest. An animal lover turns sadistic under the influence of alcohol and is haunted by the cat he tortured and killed. You can find out exactly why no one is allowed to kill a cat in a remote town in H.P. Lovecraft’s "The Cats of Ulthar" while in Bram Stoker’s "The Squaw" a man accidentally kills a kitten while touring an old castle and must face the consequences. In Saki's "Tobermory" a family discovers they do not care much for what their cat has to say after it has been taught to talk.
Cats continue to exact their revenge in more modern works as well. A cat plans the perfect the murder in Patricia Highsmith’s "Ming’s Biggest Prey." In "The Cat from Hell" by Stephen King, a hit man is hired by an aging businessman to take out a cat that has been terrorizing his family as revenge for his company using cats in their laboratories. "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" by Neil Gaiman can be found in volume three of Sandman. A Siamese cat dreams of a world in which humans are the pets after her owners drown her kittens.
Ringler, William A, Jr. "Beware the Cat and the Beginnings of English Fiction." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 12.2 (Winter 1979): 113-126. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 113. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Literature Criticism 1400-1800 Online. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.