Top Five Cats in Literature

3rd Apr 2014

Top Five Cats in Literature
According to Barbara G Walker’s Encyclopaedia of Women’s Myths and Secrets, cats have had a relationship with women’s history since before the Norse Goddess Freya rode her chariot drawn by a team of cats. From the Egyptian cat worship of Bast, the Cat-Mother of the City of Bubastis, to Mither O’The Mawkins, the Scottish Goddess of Witches, cats and women have long been closely interlinked.

So perhaps it is of no surprise then, that women writers have turned to our fabulous feline friends as inspiration for their writing. With so many calculating cats to choose from, it’s hard to pick a mere five literary felines to celebrate. But here are mine:

Zachariah the cat, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

When Zachariah cuts himself, his blood is bright blue. This perhaps accounts for his proud and sometimes imperious manner. As the novel’s heroine, Maria Merryweather, challenges the wickedly villainous Coq Noir and ends the curse that blighted Moonacre valley for generations, Zachariah’s royal heritage, his knowledge of hieroglyphs and his ability to see in the dark come in very handy.

Minka, Minka and Curdy by Antonia White

When Antonia White suffered writer’s block, she turned to her cats for inspiration. The result is this charming portrait of a writer and her pets.

The story starts with Mrs Bell, who has always had a secret yearning for a Siamese kitten with a squint and a crooked tail. So when she is offered the chance to adopt Minka, she can’t resist. Minka quickly claims Mrs Bell as her as her own. She lands in her lap, jumps on to her shoulder, and entwines herself around her legs and heart. In fact, Minka proves my theory that we don’t choose our cats. Cats choose their humans.

But Minka’s and Mrs Bell’s domestic idyll is interrupted when Curdy, a fearless marmalade kitten, joins their home. Will Minka ever accept a rival for Mrs Bell’s affections?

Saha, The Cat by Colette

Colette is known for her gift for writing sensuality. But her other extraordinary gift was writing animals. In The Cat, she brings both together – as the Russian blue Saha, and the new wife Camille, struggle for the soul of Alain, the man caught between them.

Saha is a beautiful demon. She is greedy and jealous and she demands love. Without Alain, she pines and fades. By his side, she dominates every aspect of his life. As the rivalry between her and Camille intensifies to its devastating conclusion, Colette shows us that this was never a story about a spoilt cat, but a revelation of a man’s horror of women, and his obsession with an idealised form of love.

Grey Cat, On Cats by Doris Lessing

In Doris Lessing’s memoir of the felines she has known in her life each, cat’s unique personality and quirks are lovingly, but never sentimentally, drawn. Lessing writes that Grey Cat:

as arrogantly aware of herself as a pretty girl who has no attributes but her prettinessFrom kittenhood, Grey Cat poses and preens, seduces both husbands and tomcats, and is a shockingly bad mother (she always kills her first born, furious at the pain of labour). But it is her rivalry with Black Cat that makes this section of the book one of the finest descriptions of the relationships between cats and humans, and cats with other cats, ever written.

Kyrie, Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue, by Sian Norris

My list of cats in literature would not be complete without my own contribution to bookish felines. In my first novel, Kyrie is the warrior cat who is sent by the Kingdom of Cats to help Greta to rescue Boris, their prince, from the terrible Rat King.

Kyrie embodies all the qualities held in high regard in the Kingdom of Cats. She is brave, philosophical and peace-loving. She is well-travelled and incredibly wise, with an expert understanding of the harmony of nature. Perhaps most importantly of all, she and Greta are two strong and feisty female characters that I hope will inspire readers of all ages.

(Image via Flickr)


  • Lucy Rock says:

    What about Paul Gallico’s ‘Jennie’. And Thomasina…?? 🙂

  • Jill says:

    No Angus from “Angus, Thongs & Full-Frontal Snogging”? (Yes, I would consider this to be great literature.)