Cats in the 20th Century (Cats in Literature-H.P. Lovecraft)

H.P. Lovecraft holding Frank Belknap Long's cat, Felis.

HP Lovecraft holding Frank Belknap Long’s cat, Felis.

The American writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) used cats in many of his works, and they played an important part in his science fiction short stories and novels.  The Cats of Ulthar (1920) is a short story that focuses on the ill-fate of those who kill cats. A defenseless black kitten is stolen by a couple in the town who kill cats.  The cat Menes then chants a curse that causes the all the town’s cats to gather, attack and devour the couple in revenge.  The town then passes a law against the killing of cats. 

In the story Rats in the Walls (1924) the narrator moves to his ancestral home with his seven cats, but it is his black cat, Nigger-man, that becomes anxious, roving around the Gothic house sniffing and scratching at the ancient walls.  Once both narrator and cat find out the truth of the priory, the cat remains unfazed by the diabolical happenings, but his owner, on the other hand, goes mad. 

In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943) the protagonist wanders the moon until he is saved by howling cats that take him back to earth.

“Carter now spoke with the leaders in the soft language of cats, and learned that his ancient friendship with the species was well known and often spoken of in the places where cats congregate. He had not been unmarked in Ulthar when he passed through, and the sleek old cats had remembered how he patted them after they had attended to the hungry Zoogs who looked evilly at a small black kitten. And they recalled, too, how he had welcomed the very little kitten who came to see him at the inn, and how he had given it a saucer of rich cream in the morning before he left. The grandfather of that very little kitten was the leader of the army now assembled, for he had seen the evil procession from a far hill and recognized the prisoner as a sworn friend of his kind on earth and in the land of dream.”

 

In the collection of short stories, Something About Cats, Lovecraft contends that the cat lover is devoid of the need for society by turning away from “pointless sociability and friendliness, or slavering devotion and obedience.”  The cat lover is like his cat companion a ‘free soul’.(Lovecraft, 1949 pp.4,8)

FURTHER READING:

H.P. Lovecraft, The Cats of Ulthar

H.P. Lovecraft, Something About Cats

H.P. Lovecraft, Rats in the Walls

H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

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