APOLOGIES and a scary October story. I had major computer problems and a Saturday where so many things went wrong it was scary. Not to distract from this post, for the details see this week’s Friday Files. Now we are climbing out of the hole. And you my very kind readers are getting Caturday Thoughts a day late.
My favorite cat story is without a doubt, “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” This story has been reprinted and retold by many over the years and each versions has it’s charms. Since it was a folktale and an oral tradition until Lafcadio Hearn recorded it this is fine, it continues a wonderful tradition. First published in Gleanings from Buddha-Fields, Houghton Mifflin, Boston in 1897 it became number 23 of publisher Hasegawa Takejiro’s Japanese Fairy Tale Series 1898.
A boy is sent by his family to a Buddhist temple to study for the priesthood. But rather than practice his writing and calligraphy he draws nothing but cats on every available surface. Exasperated, the head priest sends him on his way to find somewhere he will fit in better, with only the advice to avoid large open places at night and sleep in a small space. Eventually the boy comes to another temple to seek shelter, and finds it deserted. But here are lots of blank walls and screens to draw on and they are soon covered with cats. Tired from traveling and drawing all over the great hall of the temple, he remembers the chief priest’s advice and crawls into a large cupboard to sleep. Of course it turns out the temple is not as deserted as it seems. To say more would be a spoiler, so look it up and enjoy.
“Ming’s Biggest Prey” Whatever else there is to say about Patricia Highsmith, she knew how to write a suspenseful story. Her first novel was Strangers on a Train, made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock. She was also a cat lover and had several cats over the years, including more than one Siamese. Ming, the hero of this story, is a Siamese with a problem. After being brought from a pet shop to the home of Elaine, on the Riviera no less, and pampered by her and her domestic Conchita, Ming’s world has been invaded by the new boyfriend Teddie. Teddie does not like Ming and ruthlessly tries to shove him overboard while the three of them are out sailing. Fortunately for Ming, his mistress arrives on deck in the nick of time. Is Ming out for revenge? What do you think? More I will not tell.
Highsmith also wrote “Something the Cat Dragged In”. Portland Bill, the cat, disrupts a communal game of Scrabble by bringing in a “present” of some human fingers. Alas, Bill’s part in the story is not large and the humans are a bit boring. I do love the cat’s name, though.
“The Sin of Madame Phloi” Lilian Jackson Braun is the complete antithesis of Patricia Highsmith in almost every way. Highsmith’s stories are noirish serious writing and Braun’s series of cat mysteries is as airy as popcorn and just as enjoyable if you like them. They had one thing in common, loving Siamese cats. Her first cat Koko, acquired when she was living in an apartment in Detroit, fell to his death from a window and she was grief stricken, quite naturally. Then neighbors in the building came to her with evidence that her cat had been pushed out the window by an oddball tenant, and her grief became combined with anger. To process it all she wrote, and the end result was the short story “The Sin of Madame Phloi.” This story is not like her novels at all. Even Patricia Highsmith might have liked it and Ming would certainly have related to it. It has been anthologized but is also in her short story collection The Cat Who Had Fourteen Tales, which contains several murders and ghosts in it’s stories, so it is a very appropriate volume for the season, beyond having my favorite story.
“The Cats of Ulthar” was one of H. P. Lovecraft’s own favorite stories, because he was a huge cat-lover! The town of Ulthar is home to an old couple who enjoy capturing and killing the people’s cats but no one wants to confront them, they are so nasty and evil. When a caravan of wanderers passes through the city, the kitten of the orphan Menes, traveling with the band disappears. Upon being told about the couple’s violence towards cats, Menes invokes a prayer with strange effects. The travelers leave and all the cats in town disappear. Even if you’re not a Lovecraft fan don’t be afraid to read this story. The style is a lot more straightforward than much of his output and it’s very effective. It’s in the public domain and you can read it here.
Sheridan LeFanu is known for ghostly, spooky stories and “The White Cat of Drumgunniol” is one of them. Due to the actions of a ruthless and nasty ancestor, a family is haunted by a white cat as a portent of death.
A more modern take on the scary cat story is that by Stephen King, “The Cat from Hell.” The cat in question would definitely appear to be more than an ordinary cat but it’s actions are not totally unjustified. It’s a bit gory, being Stephen King, but the cat, whether from hell or not, survives.