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    Cats in Popular Culture

    Cats in Popular Culture

    Ah, our feline muses. They have inspired enduring literature and art, as well as farcical cartoonish violence (think Tom and Jerry). They play a very prominent role in our popular culture, from Garfield, the lasagna-loving cartoon cat; to the iconic Catwoman, Batman's conflicted comic book and movie adversary and love interest; to the numerous fashion accessories that ailurophiles around the world are proud to wear. We commemorate real cats and the Krazy Kats on our postage stamps, so we can send their images out into the world to share with all our friends (and bill collectors).

    Symbols of Good Luck

    Symbols of Good Luck

    Black cats are a sign of bad luck, right? Or is it white cats? Well, it seems to depend on where in the world you live. Here are a few more beliefs about which cats are lucky or unlucky and when and why, all of which tell you more about people than about cats.

    • To this day, sailors around the world believe that cats on board a ship bring good luck. Should a cat should fall overboard, a bad storm will brew up and sink the ship.
    • In the northern parts of Europe, people believe that if a cat enters a house of her own volition, she brings good luck.
    • Abyssinian folklore decrees that an unmarried girl who keeps a cat is a wealthy catch.
    • The Japanese consider both tortoiseshell and white cats to be lucky; tricolor cats are thought to be lucky in Canada.
    • Contrary to the religious beliefs of the Middle Ages, the English now consider a black cat to be symbol of good fortune and white cats to be omens of gloom and doom. In Scotland, a black kitten on the porch is a symbol of future happiness and riches.
    • American folklore still aligns black cats with bad luck and, because the myth perpetuates, animal shelters often have trouble finding homes for pure black cats and kittens. Some shelters even refuse to allow black cats to be adopted during October because of sadistic feline rituals associated with Halloween.
    • Russians consider blue (gray) cats to be symbols of good fortune, and young couples are encouraged to move into their first homes with a cat to bring them good luck.
    • Other symbols of feline good luck in many places in the world include a cat appearing at a wedding and a sneezing cat.

    Sailors consider it good luck to have a cat on board.


    Across the centuries many authors have loved cats. From Aesop’s Fables, written in the sixth century BCE to the Grimm’s Fairytales penned in the nineteenth century, cat stories have endured and continue to delight children. In more recent times, many have been adapted for both the stage and screen to reach an ever-increasing audience.

    The story Puss in Boots, penned by French author Charles Perrault in 1697, about a cat who uses trickery and deceit to gain power, wealth, and the hand of a princess in marriage for his penniless master, is another fairytale that also continues to enthrall.

    Puss makes an appearance in the third act of Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Sleeping Beauty and has also starred in numerous pantomime versions regularly brought to the stage around the world. In England, this pantomime has almost received the status of a Christmas-time tradition. Puss has even had to learn how to lace on ice skates for on-ice versions of this perennial favorite.

    Walt Disney honored this famous fictional feline with an animated black-and-white movie in 1922. In 2004, a new generation was introduced to Puss in the popular computer-animated Shrek movies, with the character Puss-in-Boots loosely based on Perrault's original feline. The cat made his appearance in the second Shrek film and also starred in Shrek 3 and Shrek 4. Following on the success of these films, Puss got a starring role in a spin-off film called Puss in Boots: The Story of an Ogre Killer, in 2011.

    Nineteenth-century writers and poets began celebrating cats as mysterious yet delightful characters in their works. Baudelaire wrote "mysterious cat, seraphic cat and strange cat" in his two poems The Cat and Cats. French writer Verlaine praised feline virtues in his work La Femme et la Chatte (The Woman and the Cat).

    Other popular stories include Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and Louis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, which immortalized the Cheshire Cat and its cheesy grin. Once again, Disney transformed Alice into a classic animated movie, and Cheshire Cat merchandise, from mugs to bed throws, continues to be popular souvenirs to take home from Disney theme parks around the world. In 2010, avant-garde film director Tim Burton made another film version of this classic tale, casting Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, and using the latest 3-D cinematic technology to perpetuate the story for future generations.

    Poetry works such as Edward Lear's the Owl and the Pussycat and T. S. Eliot's whimsical poetry collection Old Possum Book of Practical Cats have also been adapted into other art forms. The latter was adapted into the musical Cats by Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and has been performed around the world in twenty languages. (See Songs of the Cat.)

    In 1907, British author Beatrix Potter delighted children with her book The Tale of Tom Kitten, a story about three mischievous kittens named Tom Kitten, Mittens, and Moppet who ruin their mother Tabitha Twitchit's tea party. After she's groomed and dressed the threesome to receive company, they go out to play and lose their clothes to some puddle ducks. When their mother finds out, she banishes them to a bedroom, telling her guests they have measles. But they continue to disturb the tea party with their boisterous play in their upstairs bedroom. The story was adapted into an animated children's film in 1993.

    Today, writers such as Shirley Rousseau Murphy, author of the popular Joe Grey Mysteries, and Carole Nelson Douglas, with her protagonist cat Midnight Louie, continue to delight a growing audience of loyal readers who enjoy mysteries solved from a feline standpoint. Another popular writer is Rita Mae Brown who, along with her feline co-author Sneaky Pie, has authored many popular mystery stories.

    A balloon of Felix the Cat from the 2011 New Year's parade in London.

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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