We’re cat-sitting at Casa Lizzi for the next three weeks. There are two of them now making free with the place, climbing on everything and shedding enough fur to line a parka. So I’ve been thinking some about cats.
What is the fascination fable makers have with cats?
They’ve had a mysterious – even sinister – repute in tales for thousands of years. Cats were furry, four-footed demons. Familiars. Agents of the underworld. Augurists could foretell the future from observing cats’ behavior.
In modern fiction cats tend to be more benign beings. Winged companions. Familiars, yes, but beneficent creatures, their reputation apparently rehabilitated in concert with that of the witch. Were-creatures. A secret race living amongst us.
Why cats? Why not dogs? Dogs have some representation but are significantly overshadowed by the appearance of wolves in these sort of stories. (And this post is about cats, not wolves.) So why cats instead of dogs or hamsters or pot-bellied pigs?
I think there are a couple of reasons. There is the feline spirit of independence and unpredictability. A dog needs and wants human companionship. It obeys. It wants to obey. A cat will initiate human contact at its own whim. And for what seems equally arbitrary reasons it will shun human contact or engage in actively hostile behavior. There doesn’t seem to be any way of predicting it. There seems to be something supernatural about it, an alien reasoning or a sudden possession by a malignant spirit.
Then there is the silent, padding secrecy. This too can seem almost supernatural. They simply appear as if by magic.
The motives and movements of cats are arcane. They appear creatures of enchantment. Dogs are mundane. Dogs are going to work, picking up the mail, grocery shopping: not the sort of topics that inspire tales of swords and sorcery.
That’s my theory anyway. What do you think?