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Cats Have Nine Lives
Image by kilskerry. Used with permission.

"A Cat in despondency sighed
And resolved to commit suicide
She passed under the wheels
Of eight automobiles
And under the ninth one she died"

That cats have nine lives is an old wives' tale referring to cats' uncanny survival skills. The number of lives for a cat depends though. While in most countries the cat is said to have nine lives, in Arab and Turkish proverbs poor puss has a mere seven lucky lives (something that was then inherited by countries that were invaded by Muslims at some point, like Spain) and in Russia, is said to survive nine deaths (ergo, ten lives).

Why cats are often depicted having nine lives can be explained by the fact that during the ancient times, the number nine was considered a mystical and lucky number, the sum total of the "trinity of trinities", also being due to their associations with magic and their tendency to survive considerable falls and their noted agility seen when they dodge death. In popular culture, though, the expression is used more literally. Cats will often be seen dying many spectacular deaths until only one life remains.

Related to Cats Are Magic.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Advertising  
  • 9 Lives cat food, with commercials featuring its mascot Morris the cat.

     Anime and Manga  
  • In the Tokyo Mew Mew dub by 4Kids, Mew Zoey's powers include nine lives, apparently. This might have been foreshadowing for the Grand Finale; since they lost the license, we'll never know.
  • In Soul Eater, Blair has her soul eaten by the protagonists. She survives and explains it by saying "Do you know how many souls cats have?". In a later chapter, she's stuck inside a massive pressure cooker in the Flying Duchman's Nidhogg Factory, supposed to be hot enough to melt down a soul. When she shows up on a subsequent page without a scratch after the process, the only explanation she offers is "Because I'm Blair".
  • Pokémon:

     Comic Books 
  • Wildcat of the Justice Society of America had nine lives granted to him decades ago, in a retcon created by Grant Morrison. Just before Infinite Crisis, however, Jay Garrick killed the last life to strip Wildcat of metahuman powers and make him unable to be controlled by the Spear of Destiny. In a later retcon it is claimed that he always has nine lives at any given moment, however many he loses, so when he is executed by the Fourth Reich (Long story) they need to shoot him nine times in quick succession to get it to stick.
  • In the French-Belgian comic book Thorgal, one of Frigg's winged cats gets killed in battle and later returns unharmed, invoking this trope upon its second appearance.
  • The EC Comics story "Dig That Cat...He's Real Gone!" (The Haunt of Fear #21) had a doctor discover that a cat does have nine lives thanks to a special gland, and also discover that he can transfer it into a human. He performs the process on a man, and they then go into show business. (Cause you know, that's the only possible use for it.) The man becomes "Ulric the Undying," and does things like leaping over Niagra Falls and getting the electric chair. For his grand finale (his eighth life) he'll be sealed into a coffin and buried alive for three hours. As he lies there, he reflects on the whole experience...and then realizes that the process of transferring the gland also killed the cat... Which means that gland only gave him eight lives.
  • There's a story in the Flight series of comics that shows a cat frolicking around nad being followed around by what appear to be a bunch of ghostly kitties. When the cat misses a step and falls to its death, it's revealed the ghost cats are actually his previous used-up lives. In an interesting variation, the previous lives actually do something to help bring him back to life, one filling his air with lungs, another mending his broken bones, with even one just smoothing out his rumpled fur. The story ends with the cat waking back up and continuing on his merry way, his lives still following him.
  • Lampshaded by Black Cat in Ultimate Spider-Man. When she turns up alive again Spider-Man asks how and she responds with "I could make a 'cats have nine lives' joke, but frankly it's beneath me."
  • Catwoman sometimes refers to nine lives when she narrowly dodges death.

    Fan Fic 

     Film - Animated 
  • The Aristocats:
    • Edgar, a Big Bad of a butler, decides to abandon the cats in the countryside in the first place because he figures that since they have nine lives, he will not live long enough to inherit Madame's fortune from them.
    • Cat Duchess mentions that he could have lost his life saving her daughter, and Thomas O'Malley wryly comments that he has "a couple to spare."
    • Roquefort, having been told by Thomas O'Malley to get help from Scat Cat's gang of alley cats while he goes to confront Edgar (a dangerous task considering Roquefort is a mouse), complains that while O'Malley has nine lives, he only has one.

     Film - Live Action 
  • In Batman Returns, Tim Burton took it literally - Catwoman took eight occasions when she should have died. These include three considerable falls that would likely have killed a normal person, four bullets that should have seen her bleeding to death and a massive self-inflicted massive electric shock that was fatal for the other person involved. Burton blurred the lines with a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane approach.
  • In Madhouse, the sister-in-law's cat literally has nine lives. She loses four of them over the course of the movie (drowned in an aquarium, run over by a car, blown up, and finally an accidental cocaine overdose). Each time, it would come back usually seconds after being buried.
  • In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Sassy references the idea after barely surviving going over a waterfall:
    Sassy: "Was that my sixth life? Meh, I'll just say it was my fourth."
  • Alluded to by Adlai Stevenson in Thirteen Days when he says, "I'm an old political cat...but I've still got one life left."

    Literature 
  • Referenced in Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones: the main character has nine lives, so his nickname is Cat.
  • A prequel, The Lives Of Christopher Chant, introduces a breed of cats that literally have nine lives.
  • The cats in Diane Duane's Feline Wizards series have nine lives via a form of reincarnation where they keep some but not all of their memories. Occasionally, they'll get a tenth one.
  • In one of the Majyk books, by Esther Friesner, in which this trope figures frequently, a cat also loses half a life, the other half of which gets returned in the form of a kitten.
  • Maurice of The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents not only has nine lives, he haggles with Death over them. Maurice dies from wounds inflicted while taking out Spider the Rat King, and meets Death who comes to take away one of his lives and the life of Dangerous Beans, one of the talking rats who had also been killed in the struggle. Maurice asks him to take away two of his lives, instead. Death decides since he'll be leaving with two lives anyway, he does as Maurice asks.
  • The book series The Nine Lives of Romeo Crumb takes this quite seriously; if a cat is left in near-death condition for too long, it can lose up to and including all of its lives at once.
  • Erin Hunter's Warrior Cats series features a variation: only Clan leaders have nine lives, which they receive from their ancestors on ascending to the position. And there are still instances in which a Clan leader can lose multiple lives from a single injury, sometimes even all nine. It's been made a little bit more complex than just being given nine lives. Whether or not lives are simply subtracted or not given at all is a matter of circumstances.
  • Six Lives of Fankle the Cat by George Mackay Brown, is a work one that uses the "reincarnation" version.
  • In the second Fablehaven book, the guardian of an ancient artifact is a cat that must be killed 9 times. Each of its incarnations is more deadly than the last.
  • This was one of the abilities of the title character of the series The Nine Lives of Chloe King as the reincarnated princess of a race of cat people. In the first three books, she lost three of her lives. And then the series got cancelled.
  • One of the poems in the book Captain Beaky and His Band by Jeremy Lloyd is about the ghost of a ginger cat (in plimsoles and a paper hat) describing how he lost all nine lives.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, a cat describes the Eleusian rites as trying to find the secrets of cats. Which is to say, cats can be reborn nine times without drinking from Lethe. (They figure if you blow it nine times, you had best start over with a clear slate.)
  • In the Goosebumps Series 2000 book Cry of the Cat, an evil cat has been given nine lives by an experiment, but is still vengefully annoyed when the protagonist accidentally costs him one of them. It can also replenish lost lives by taking them from others, turning them into cats in the process.
  • In the Liavek story "The Green Cat", a suicidally-inclined girl is in possession of a cat, and cannot honorably die and leave the cat uncared for. She resolves to have her luck (a sort of natural magic) bound to the cat, which means she will die when the cat does. But the magician who does it binds her luck to the cat, not the cat's body, and cats in this universe prove to have nine incarnations...
  • Felines (anthropomorphic cats) in Tide Lords don't have nine lives, but their immortal masters can resurrect them if they die. The actual limit depends on the severity of the wounds and the individual feline; none of the immortals are sure where everyone else got the number nine.

     Live Action TV 
  • In Charmed, the main characters once had to deal with a cat-turned-warlock who would become more powerful each time he was killed; his ultimate goal was to be killed nine times, which he figured would make him immortal. To defeat him, he had to feel the pain of all his nine deaths at once.
  • In Tales from the Crypt episode, "Dig that Cat...He's Real Gone," a cat's gland is implanted into the brain of a homeless man named Rick, giving him eight chances to cheat death. He soon gets greedy and uses his newly found gift for profit by becoming a top carnival act. On his seventh life, Rick is buried alive for a circus act, confident that he will have one life left. However, as he thinks about his successes, he comes to the realization that the cat that was used to give him his nine lives died AFTER the experiment, meaning he only had EIGHT LIVES instead of nine. Cut to his men shoveling the last pile of dirt onto his coffin, unable to hear Ricks screams of terror down below.
  • In the pilot of one of the attempts for an American remake of Red Dwarf they turn The Cat into a female, fearless warrior with nine lives.
  • In episode two of Mongrels Marion has used almost all his nine lives (in tragically amusing ways, including Death killing him by accident) and is desperate to survive one more day to complete the Jailbait Wait so he can make love to the kitten he has fallen for. Naturally this is easier said than done.
  • This comes up in an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Salem learns that he has nine lives rather than six, and so he decides to do dangerous acts like eat poisoned sushi. At the end, he finds out that he has only one life left and freaks out.
  • In one episode of the old Batman TV show, Batman and Robin watch Catwoman fall into a chasm. Later they are wondering if she survived and Batman comments, "Cats are said to have nine lives." It's revealed she did. The villain appeared in exactly nine two-part episodes of the show, and each defeat (which usually meant an arrest) resulted in her symbolically losing one. Although she never truly died, the ninth time was considered her final defeat, as far as the show was concerned.
  • The Chaser's War on Everything did a sketch about Cats being turned into a gritty dramatic film about working class cats reminiscent of Billy Elliot and Trainspotting in response to the former being turned into a "toe-tapping musical". "The police shot Gerald!" "But he's got nine lives..." "They shot him nine times!"

    Magazines 
  • From the MAD parody "The Faketrix":
    Underdone: Weird! I saw that cat walk by, and then I saw it walk by again!
    TryNtease: What's so weird about that? A cat has nine lives! When it walks by a tenth time, THEN it's weird!
    Underdone: Whoa!! There goes the same cat for the TENTH time!
    TryNtease: Red Alert! That means our enemies are now in our world! Run!

    Newspaper Comics 
  • There was a Garfield book, Garfield: His 9 Lives, later turned into a TV special, revolving around this, though it was more reincarnations than anything. (The Garfield we know best is #8.)
  • Occasionally came up in Krazy Kat. In one strip, Ignatz asks Krazy if he has life insurance. Krazy responds that he has three of his lives insured—"When I get rich I'll insure the other six."

     Tabletop Games 
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Bastet werecats have access to a powerful rite that grants them nine lives. However, the rite can only be performed once and the player has no idea if it was successful until she dies, since the storyteller makes the roll. In a subversion, each resurrection deteriorates the cat somewhat: you lose a permanent Willpower point which can never be raised past the new level, just enough health is healed to put you above death, and you still have to remove yourself from the circumstances causing/following your death and could very well die a second time doing so. And the spell won't bring you back if your death reduced your body to chunky salsa or a pile of charred bones, nor will it work if you die from old age or Vampiric embrace, nor if your permanent Willpower would be zero (such as from previous resurrections).
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • First edition had, in the Fiend Folio, a creature called the Guardian Familiar. It resembled a cat and had to be killed nine times to stay dead, and the description suggested this could be the source of the story that cats have nine lives.
    • In AD&D this was the special power of the domestic rakasta (the rakasta subraces were all based on different cat species, and each had a different "energy surge" power). Domestic rakasta can use their energy burst to avoid death, but can only do so nine times in their life. (Which would actually give them ten lives, because of the fencepost error.)
  • In the Star Trek Customizable Card Game by Decipher, the personnel card for Spot (Data's pet cat) gave Spot nine lives. This, in addition to Spot's other abilities, made Spot a Lethal Joke Character.

     Video Games 
  • The battle with Evil the Cat in the first Earthworm Jim game plays this trope to the hilt. Every time he's shot, a numbered ghost flies away, and after the ninth time, the battle ends.
  • Video game hero Bubsy is a bobcat, starting with nine lives.
  • In Blinx, the maximum number of RETRY (rewind time after death) Time Controls Blinx can hold is 9. Blinx, the main character, is an anthropomorphic cat.
  • Auriaya, a boss in World of Warcraft, is accompanied by a Feral Guardian (basically a big angry panther) which will respawn when killed. Precisely eight times. The achievement for killing it and then defeating her is called "Nine Lives".
  • Referenced and parodied in Conkers Bad Fur Day. Death complains that squirrels are even more annoying for him than cats, because squirrels have as many lives as they think they can get away with. Later in the game he's seen attempting to kill Catfish as they apparently have the same amount of lives as their furry namesakes.
    Greg: "I don't bloody believe it! They've got fish versions of the little bastards now!"
  • Played with in Blade Kitten. Though Death Is a Slap on the Wrist for Kit (she merely gets sent back to the last checkpoint she touched with no health or money loss), you get an achievement if you let her die nine times on the same level.
  • In Fallout 3, while you don't meet cats, it is common knowledge that radiated cats have 18 half-lives (a physics joke: half-life is an important concept in nuclear physics), as said by your robot butler.
  • There's an old Amiga/Atari game out there called 9 Lives, with a cat as player character.
  • Dungeon Crawl has a playable race of sentient cats, the felids. Unlike any other race of the game, they can have extra lives. Upon dying, they "respawn" somewhere in the same level and can go back to finish off what killed them and eat their own corpse.
  • In The Lion King, the maximum number of Video Game Lives Simba can have is nine. Simba is a lion cub.
  • The Guppy/Dead Cat item in The Binding of Isaac gives the player 9 lives. It also has the side effect of setting your max health to one once you get it, and every death afterwards.

     Web Comics 
  • In Nip and Tuck, their pet cat seems determined to use them all up. And according to Tuck, their pet cat is running up credit on some more.
  • In Ratfist, Mr. Black becomes a cat-man, which gains him eight extra lives, handily explaining why he's alive in the future even though Space Tiki's time portal cut him in half. Later, he gets arrested and loses the rest of his lives during an escape attempt.
  • Those Two Bad Guys in RPG World are two werecats that get killed several times during the comic.

     Western Animation 
  • An early episode of T.U.F.F. Puppy had the Chameleon try to murder Kitty by blowing her up one for each of her nine lives. Interestingly, there were a total of ten explosives on hand. He probably wanted to make sure she was dead.
  • Looney Tunes used this several times.
    • One notable appearance was in "Dough-Ray-Meow", which had a cat being done in by a parrot, who tells him he would've inherited a large sum of money if he wasn't dying, "and you can't take it with you!" Upon hearing this, the lives fly back into his body and he sits up, saying "If I can't take it with me, I'm not going!"
    • Friz Freleng's 1941 short "Notes to You" has Porky Pig being kept from sleep by an alleycat's singing. At the end of the cartoon he dispatches the feline with a shotgun...only to have all nine of the cats' ghosts serenading him. (The same premise and gag were re-used in Freling's 1948 short Back Alley Oproar, with Sylvester as the pesky cat and Elmer Fudd as the would-be sleeper.)
    • Freleng's 1954 short "Satan's Waitin'" has Sylvester gradually losing all nine of his lives in pursuit of Tweety; they're shown lining up together on a bench in a Fire and Brimstone Hell presided over by a devil-dog.
    • In Frank Tashlin's "The Stupid Cupid", a cat decides to shoot himeself. He falls down, and we see a white version of him labled "2". He shoots himself, falls down, and we see another white version, but with the number "3". And so on...
  • In a Columbia short, a Frank Sinatra cat is electrocuted in a mishap with high-tension wires and a power box. His nine lives are seen flying away headed for Heaven...but the cat recovers his wits just long enough to give a quick tug on the last soul's tail and call them all back.
  • The Disney animated short Pluto's Judgement Day featured angelic cats representing lost lives of an individual cat appearing in Hell.
    One little, two little, three little angels,
    Four little, five little, six little angels,
    Seven little, eight little, nine little angels,
    All that's left of Uncle Tom!
  • One Secret Squirrel episode features a mad scientist who harnesses "the secret of a cat's nine lives" to create eight clones of himself.
  • The Secret Show: A teleporter accident causes Victor to get his DNA mixed with an evil cat, getting feline features and mannerisms, and yes, nine lives. When the cat escapes, he's killed eight times trying to recapture it.
  • In The Ninth Life of Sherman Phelps, a cartoon originally from YTV and also seen on the Nicktoons TV Film Festival, Sherman is a cat who's unknowingly lost eight of his lives. Those eight are trying to kill him because they can't enter Heaven until he loses his ninth.
  • In at least one episode, Eek The Cat was shown to have a card with his 9 lives marked on it.
  • Pursuant to Tom and Jerry:
    • There has been an occasion where Tom was killed so thoroughly, he watches his other eight lives go by on clouds as angels as he rises toward heaven.
    • The time Tom was literally scared to death multiple times in succession — the numbered spirits dragged each other along by clinging to the tail of the one in front, and when Tom smacked into a wall while running in terror, the spirits kept going and reentered his body.
  • In CatDog, Dog starts drinking from a bottle in one episode, and Cat yells "That's where I keep my other lives!" Dog spits out what he's drinking...and somehow the other lives escape and they have to chase after them.
  • In the Ren and Stimpy episode "Terminal Stimpy", it is revealed that Stimpy has already died 7 times and has only two lives left. Being Stimpy, he wastes one more life during the episode.
  • This is the premise of Fraidy Cat, a segment of the Filmation Animated Anthology Uncle Croc's Block. Fraidy is already nervous because he's on his final life, and it doesn't help that the ghosts of his eight previous incarnations keep appearing to him. At least one of these ghosts, who was an undertaker in life, hopes to bring Fraidy over to the afterlife. Pretty morbid for a kids' show, eh?
  • On Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a magic cloak that gives the wearer nine lives supposedly originated from an Egyptian cat goddess. Needless to say, Catwoman wanted it (as did Two-Face and others).
Katsu: It is said cats have nine lives. (To his henchmen.) Destroy her ten times over!
  • Parodied during a sketch on Robot Chicken. When a cat, about to be hanged, tried to trick the hangman.
    Cat: I regret that I only have one life to give for my country.
    Hangman: Yeah, nice try. Get nine nooses!

     Real Life 
  • In 1929, Fritz von Opel was toying with rocket-propelled cars and decided to break the land speed record with a railway car propelled by rockets. He dubbed it RAK-4 after the previous three made a good show of themselves. Also, the RAK-4 was, like the RAK-3, unmanned but, unlike its predecessor, this one had a live being inside its cab to test the effect of g-forces. It was a grey tabby that was a bit anxious during embarkment. The RAK-4 had 120 kg of dynamite to power it, and the explosives decided to detonate at once, instead of successively, thus vaporising the car and almost killing the crew. The cat? Walked away with minor injuries. One down, eight to go.


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