The Literary Cat – Cat as Catalyst


The cat versus dog argument is as old as time. In The Curious Incidence of Dogs in Publishing  Daniel Engber argues that while cats rule the internet, dogs reign in print. Alison Flood responded with Are cats top dogs in the world of literature?, claiming that literary cats still hold the crown.

It must be taken into account when arguing this whether you are a dog or a cat person, because there will always be a certain amount of bias. I am not a dog person, I have always owned cats. The dogs I have known well only amount to two, my best friend’s Jack Russell terrier, some 20 odd years ago, and another friend’s pit bull, probably another ten years ago. Far from being at all ferocious, the pit bull would spend all of my visit to his home determinedly trying to lick me. When any exposed hands, feet or face failed him he would then proceed to drool on my shoes. He left me with the lasting impression that dogs are slightly dopey. Only my current neighbour’s dog, some little thing of which breed I have no idea, has really delighted me. He makes constant bids for freedom and bares his ridiculously small teeth at me when I admonish him to go home. There is a dog with a courageous spirit.

Now I have come across enough dogs in my reading. Growing up on Enid Blyton, it was clear she thought dogs were the real family pet. With the exception of a few, cats were never the centre of the family and usually had a puppy companion. They still never enchanted me enough to want a dog. Because dogs lack that mysterious, ethereal quality that cats have.

There may be some heroic dogs in literature, but a dog is mainly companion, loyal and steadfast friend. There are cats who are literary icons. Let’s face it, cats will always steal the show.

Let’s look at one of the most recognised figures in children’s literature

The Cat in the Hat
Everybody loves The Cat in the Hat. While it’s true Go Dog Go also sported a hat, he’s just not as stylish.


Literary legend Puss in Boots. Much argued-about by adults, and much-loved by children. But still a trickster.
The-Cheshire-Cat118 years on, the Cheshire Cat is still one of the most weird and wonderful magical cats in all of literature. While the term “grinning like a Cheshire Cat” was coined earlier than Alice in Wonderland,  it has since largely been associated with Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.



Cats are of course a traditional witch’s companion. Sometimes good, sometimes villain, usually black. J.K Rowling bent the black-cat-rules slightly with the wonderful Crookshanks, Hermoine Granger’s squashed-faced familiar. Crookshanks aided Sirius Black in uncovering the identity of Peter Pettigrew in one of my favourite plot-twists of all time. All thanks to the cat.



Another beloved cat in children’s literature, the Carbonel series by Barbara Sleigh featured the beautiful black cat Carbonel, but not a willing witch’s companion. Carbonel was kidnapped by the evil witch Mrs. Cantrip as a kitten, but he had a bigger destiny, as King of Cats. While he does enlist the help of children Rosemary and John (or subjects, rather) to escape, he always lets them know who is boss.


pangurbanPangur Bán first appeared in the 9th century. It is an old Irish poem written by an unknown Irish monk about his cat.  Twelve centuries on he appeared in Fay Sampson’s Pangur Bán series featuring Pangur Bán, his friend, Niall the monk, and Finnglas, a Welsh princess. You could definitely call him one of the oldest cats in literature.

Grimbold of the night world is one of the most outstanding cats in literature. He slips between the mundane and magical realms, a weaver of magic and a changer of fortunes. He may disdain human folly in a typical cat-like fashion, but Grimbold understands much more about humans than human do about themselves. A superb catalyst, aided by an equally brilliant little boy, in one of the finest tales of magic ever told.

2 thoughts on “The Literary Cat – Cat as Catalyst”

  1. Don’t forget Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat. He was a very poor familiar and written for younger readers than Carbonel.

    If you’re looking for dogs you can’t go past Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones.

  2. Excellent I’ll have to read both of those. I did like Roverandom by Tolkien, that was a great dog story.

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