I went to see The BFG at the cinema at the weekend. The cast is incredible (Rafe Spall is making some surprising inroads into children’s films – he was in Swallows and Amazons the weekend before). Sophie was stunning in her Sophieness from the very first moment she poked her head out from under the blanket. But there was another character in that first scene who, though they didn’t have much of a part, went some way towards making this film one of my favourites of the year. And that was the ginger cat. Loyal as it padded with Sophie from room to room. Welcoming even as Sophie stood, feet bare, on the wet cobbles of a London street at night. Regal as it rode the tail of Sophie’s blanket along the austere wooden boards of the Orphanage dormitory.
This cat was, undoubtedly, played by several cats, but all put in a performance of a lifetime. So I decided to make a list (because everybody loves a list) of some of my favourite books with cats in (because everybody wants to be a cat). There is no obvious and fair way in which to put these into an order, but I have arbitrarily organised them into one anyway.
1. Maurice – The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
In which Maurice the cat is Amazing and an eponymous hero (means his name’s in the title) but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to be nice to people. And rats. ESPECIALLY rats. DO NOT eat the rats. Maurice!
This is a fascinating book. The story has value in and of itself – there’s rat culture, rat catchers, and a familiar vein of the Pied Piper leading the whole thing along. But beyond that, it’s an examination of how fairy stories work, and how stories in general work. It’s written by a man who spent his life pointing at the bits that didn’t quite fit the narrative, the bits that the author had shoved behind a tree or stranded on a desert island off-page, and saying loudly “What about that, then?” An icon, and an inspiration.
2. The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix
In which Mogget is sort of a cat, but he is also sort of a tribal deity, a demon in shackles, and a stealer of fish that other people have just caught. Basically he just does what he likes, and anyone who crosses him had better watch out because he is LITERALLY immortal.
Look, I know I say this every time anyone brings this up, but I love these books so much that I literally wrote my dissertation on this series. I’m enamoured. I’m enchanted. I’m going to have to annotate my own dissertation every time a new one comes out (looking at you, Goldenhand – Oct 2016). No but seriously. Cats, dogs, librarians, rivers, zombies. These books have them all. Go get ’em, champ.
3. Hairy Maclary – Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd
I read these when I was younger. Hairy Maclary is a series of picture books, and they are hilarious. Go, buy. You don’t have kids? Don’t care. You will enjoy, I promise.
4. You and Greebo – Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
It’s not my fault that Terry Pratchett wrote about cats a lot, ok! In which Greebo and You both make an appearance, which is why I picked this one. Greebo is the grumpiest, most fearsome of all the cats in the world and he rules an empire of his descendant cats. You (as in, Come here, You!) is a dainty little white-furred kitten. And within five seconds of meeting, it’s Greebo who’s cowering under the furniture.
A disclaimer that the main characters in this book, and indeed all the Witches books, are not technically the cats. There are some witches, and they go through some trials and adventures, especially this one young witch called Tiffany Aching. But we all know who’s really the centre of attention here.
5. Crookshanks, Mrs Norris and Professor McGonagall – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
In which Mrs Norris is probably lurking somewhere, and Crookshanks is VERY CLEARLY trying to tell everyone that the rat is a lying bastard, and is HORRIBLY MALIGNED for his trouble. Also in which Professor McGonagall appears, and has the potential to be a cat always, so she has all the bonuses. Opposable thumbs, and gets to be a cat? Life goals, right there. (I did not almost forget about Professor McGonagall, ok? Shush.)
This also has the advantage of being my favourite HP book. The Dark Lord slopes off for a bit, and Harry has some time to focus on his deeper psychological trauma, and meet some of his parents’ friends. I’m NOT CRYING.
6. The Cheshire Cat and Dinah – Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Dinah is Alice’s kitten. In Alice Through the Looking Glass she grows up into a bigger cat and has some kittens of her own.
7. Everyone, basically – Warrior Cats series by Erin Hunter
I read these books when I was younger, and my twelve year old cousin is SUPER into them now – though there are way more than when I was reading! Me and my friends all had cat names and we drew our cat selves and wrote stories of our cat adventures… If wishes were fishes, I’d have turned into a cat when I was twelve because of these books, is all I’m saying.
8. The Mousehole Cat and the Storm Cat – The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber
This is a picture book, but it’s also a YouTube video now! I remember having it on VHS and as a book when I was small and being absolutely enchanted by the haunting artwork and the folkloric story.
9. The Cat in the Hat – The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Let’s finish on a favourite. Who doesn’t love the Cat in the Hat. Except for people who’ve only ever seen the film. Yes, ok. But OTHERWISE. This dude taught us all a lot about the world, and in many ways he’s still teaching us cool stuff.
So there we have it! 22 cats in 9 books/series. What are your favourite cats in books? Have I missed any out? Which fictional cat would you love to take home? My vote would be for the Mousehole Cat, though I’m not sure I want the Storm Cat to follow! Let me know your favourite fictional cats in comments!