When I was 10, I fell in love with a book. Not with any book, mind you, but with Carolyn Sherwin Bailey’s Finnegan II: His Nine Lives, the story of a New York City alley cat who goes to live in the country.
It was a rare week that Finnegan didn’t make the trip home with me from the library.
Since then, I’ve read countless cat stories and even written a few. Below is my personal list of the top 10 fictional cats of all time. Now, I know “fictional” can include not only literature but also cartoons and movies — however, my list today consists only of literary felines.
1. The Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland
The cryptic cat with the good-natured grin has been a favorite since Lewis Carroll’s girl-gone-down-the-rabbit-hole fantasy was first published in 1865. He can vanish at will, “beginning with his tail, and ending with the grin, which remained sometime after the rest of it had gone.” He is also the voice of reason — well, comparatively speaking — in the upside-down world that is Wonderland.
2. Puss in Boots
The clever cat who wins his penniless human a fortune and a princess’s hand in marriage is another eternal favorite. There are quite a few variations on Charles Perrault’s story, including the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat and an update with a Salem twist by Barbee Oliver Carlton called The Wonderful Cat of Cobbie Bean.
3. Mehitabel of Don Marquis’s archy and mehitabel
Mehitabel is the sassy, free-spirited lady-cat friend of Archy, the poet-cockroach. Mehitabel claims that she has been reincarnated — that she may even have been Cleopatra. She turns up periodically with kittens but insists that she is “always a lady” and blames the low-life toms she meets along the way.
4. Macavity of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
McCavity the Mystery Cat (affiliate link) isn’t quite as malevolent as he’s portrayed in Cats. Yes, he’s a master criminal: “He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)… He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare.” But he has a certain raffish charm that I’ve always found appealing.
5. Edward Lear’s Pussycat
We’ve all cut our limerick teeth on the story of the Owl and the Pussycat who elope in their pea-green boat and have a wedding feast of “mince and slices of quince, which they ate with a runcible spoon.” We leave them dancing hand-in-hand — well, talons-in-paws — “by the light of the moon.” Romance doesn’t get much better than this.
6. Peter of Paul Gallico’s The Abandoned
Peter is a young British boy who suddenly finds himself turned into a large white cat. He is guided through the dangers of street life by Jenny, a kindly, talkative stray. Peter learns many things from Jenny, including “the wistful melody of the stray, the unloved, and the homeless, the yearning and the need to belong, to be loved, to be surpassingly important to someone.”
7. Tailchaser of Tad Williams’s Tailchaser’s Song
Tailchaser is a dreamer with a purpose. A number of cats from his clan have gone missing; among them is Hushpad, the lovely she-cat he has fallen for. So he sets off to find her and, in the process, comes face-to-face with the evil at the root of all the disappearances.
8. Firestar of the Warriors series
Firestar is a pet kitten who leaves his home to join the Thunderclan, one of the cat clans chronicled in Erin Hunter’s popular series. He trains as a warrior and eventually becomes the brave far-seeing leader of the cats who have taken him in. He is also very compassionate and works hard for the common good of all the clans.
9. Tag of Gabriel King’s The Wild Road
The young silver cat with the “sharp, intelligent, Oriental face” is haunted by dreams of 2 cats in trouble and of a one-eyed black cat named Majicou calling to him. The dreams turn out to be all too real: Majicou needs him to save the King and Queen of Cats from the sinister Alchemist.
10. Casey in Joyce Stranger’s Born to Trouble
Casey is black barn cat with a suspiciously Siamese-sounding meow. The lovable, talkative Casey (whose father is a wandering Sealpoint) has a slew of narrow escapes on the farm. His misadventures are beautifully interwoven with the happenings in the human lives around him. Stranger based him on her beloved Siamese, Kym.