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Literature / Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

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A collection of cat poems written by T. S. Eliot. They were largely written for his godchildren, and are thus rather more whimsical and cheerful than his more famous poetry. Nonetheless, it does contain Eliot's gift for allusions and sharp observations. The first edition, published by Faber and Faber, also featured his own illustrations. Other versions included illustrations by Edward Gorey.

Eliot's poems describe a number of curious and most singular cats, all of whom encompass common (if exaggerated) aspects of feline behaviour. Unlike its more famous adaptation, the musical Cats, the poems have little connection with one another, and there is no overarching storyline.

Provides examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Gus the Theatre Cat's proudest achievement was playing a character called "Firefrorfiddle, the Fiend of the Fell."
  • The Alibi: Macavity's specialty. No matter what crime he's committed this time, on its discovery he always manages to be a good distance away and doing something else.
    He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
    At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: When Growltiger kicked the bucket, there was celebration throughout England and as far away as Bangkok.
  • Animal Naming Conventions: Cats are said to have three different names, a family name bestowed by their humans, one name unique to them, and a third secret name "that no human research can discover, but the cat himself knows, and will never confess".
  • Appropriated Appelation: Growltiger rejoices in his title of "The Terror of the Thames."
  • Aroused by Their Voice: Growltiger apparently uses his deep voice for amorous purposes.
    And the Lady seemed enraptured by his manly baritone
  • Awesome McCoolname: "The Naming of Cats" decrees that every cat should have one as his/her second name; one of those amazing names that "never belong to more than one cat." It gives Munkustrap, Quaxo, Coricopat, Bombalurina, and Jellylorum as examples.
  • Beyond the Impossible: When people say Macavity's wickedness knows no bounds, they mean it:
    Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity
    He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
  • The Big Bad Shuffle: Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer are clearly less evil than Growltiger, who is nothing compared to Macavity.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Great Rumpuscat breaking up the Peke/Pollicle feud.
  • Captain Ersatz: Macavity, of Sherlock Holmes's archrival, Professor Moriarty.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Jennyanydots teaches mice and cockroaches. Presumably, she's fed by her human owners.
  • Cats Are Lazy: Played with. Several of the poems feature cats who lie around all day, but most of them, such as Jennyanydots and the Jellicle Cats, turn out to have more active nocturnal lives. The one cat who does nothing but sleep is Old Deuteronomy, and he's not lazy, he's just Old.
  • Cats Are Magic: Parodied with Mr. Mistoffelees, who is only a stage magician. However, many of the other cats are suggested to have borderline supernatural powers.
  • Cats Are Superior: The practical cats display either disdain for or general unconcern with the humans in their world. And don't get them ''started'' on dogs.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: Or at least the best ones do.
    Old Deuteronomy's lived a long time;
    He's a Cat who has lived many lives in succession
  • Cat Stereotype:
    • Jennyanydots is a cheerful and apparently lazy tabby homemaker.
    • The illustrations seem to show the villainous Growltiger to be dark-colored.
    • The Siamese Cats sneak up on Growltiger in "sampans and junks".
    • Mr. Mistoffelees, the Original Conjuring Cat, is entirely black.
    • The well-to-do and gentlemanly Bustopher Jones is a tuxedo cat.
  • The Chessmaster: Macavity always has an alibi (and one or two to spare).
  • Civilized Animal: They're pretty clearly just heavily romanticized cats. References to clothing are sparse and ambiguous (for instance, Bustopher Jones's "white spats" might just be a poetic description of his fur color).
  • Cool Cat: The Rum Tum Tugger, Skimbleshanks, and Mr. Mistoffelees.
  • Cool Teacher: Jennyanydots. She not only instructs her household mice in such useful subjects as music, crocheting and tatting; she cooks for them too!
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Macavity.
  • Ear Notch: Growltiger's description states, in pertinent part, "One ear was somewhat missing, no need to tell you why ... "
  • Evil Makes You Ugly:
    • Growltiger:
      His manners and appearance did not calculate to please;
      His coat was torn and seedy, he was baggy at the knees;
      One ear was somewhat missing, no need to tell you why,
      And he scowled upon a hostile world from one forbidding eye
    • Macavity:
      You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
      His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
      His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed
  • Fantastic Racism: Growltiger.
    But most to Cats of foreign race his hatred had been vowed;
    To Cats of foreign name and race no quarter was allowed.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Among Macavity's many heinous crimes is cheating at cards.
  • Femme Fatale: Griddlebone, Growltiger's lady-love who inadvertently exposes him to a deadly ambush.
  • Forehead of Doom: Macavity is described as having a "highly domed" forehead.
  • Formally-Named Pet: Mr. Mistoffelees.
  • Furry Reminder: Many of the poems speak of their subjects as though they were human, but "Growltiger" especially. So it's a bit of a shock to read that the bosun is off "prowling for his prey" behind a tavern.
  • Heroic Canines, Villainous Felines: Inverted. According to "Of the awefull battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles: together with some account of the participation of the Pugs and the Poms, and the intervention of the Great Rumpuscat", dogs cause ruckuses, and cats have to break them up.
  • I Have Many Names: "Each cat must have three different names." An everyday one, a unique one, and one that only the cat knows.
  • I Know Your True Name: The cat's third name should be only known to him or herself.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Gus" is short for "Asparagus."
    That's such a fuss
    To pronouce ...
  • Karma Houdini: Macavity repeatedly escapes justice and will likely never be caught.
  • Let's Duet: Growltiger and Griddlebone's tragic night of romance:
    The lovers sang their last duet, in danger of their lives
  • Living a Double Life: By day Jennyanydots does nothing but sit around the house—that's what makes a Gumbie Cat!—but she dedicates her nights to improving the manners of the household mice and cockroaches.
  • Love Interest: Griddlebone disposes Growltiger to show his sentimental side.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Much like his inspiration, Moriarty, Macavity's behind every crime.
    They say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known,
    (I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
    Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
    Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime.
  • Meaningful Name: Every cat's secondary name gives clues to its personality. Growltiger is a fearsome villain, and the Rum Tum Tugger is engaged in a constant tug-of-war with his owners.
  • Mr. Muffykins: The Pekes and the Pollicles (and the Pugs and the Poms).
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Griddlebone; Macavity; and Growltiger, Terror of the Thames.
  • Narrative Poem: "Growltiger's Last Stand" and "the Pekes and the Pollicles".
  • No One Sees the Boss: Macavity's not there!
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Gus repeatedly exalts "Firefrorfiddle, the Fiend of the Fell" as his greatest theatrical triumph, but the details of that performance are left to the reader's imagination.
    • Subverted in "Growltiger", where "One ear was somewhat missing, no need to tell you why" is quickly followed by:
      The Persian and the Siamese regarded him with fear—
      Because it was a Siamese had mauled his missing ear.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: "The Ad-dressing of Cats" suggests this conclusion.
    You now have learned enough to see
    That Cats are much like you and me
    And other people whom we find
    Possessed of various types of mind.
    For some are sane and some are mad
    And some are good and some are bad
    And some are better, some are worse—
    But all may be described in verse.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Played with. Growltiger is ambushed while wooing Griddlebone on his barge.
  • Outlaw Couple:
    • Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, possibly. The stage adaptation went with this interpretation, but the original poem gives no information about their interpersonal relationship or even their genders (beyond describing them as "plausible fellows").
    • Growltiger and Griddlebone also likely qualify, since we know from "Macavity" that she us hardly an innocent Love Interest.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Gumbie, Jellicle, Bravo Cat.
  • Picky Eater: The Rum Tum Tugger
    If you offer him fish then he always wants a feast;
    When there isn't any fish then he won't eat rabbit.
    If you offer him cream then he sniffs and sneers,
    For he only likes what he finds for himself
  • Pirate: Growltiger and his crew are widely feared.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Against Macavity.
      He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair.
    • "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles" mentions that there's supposed to be a Police Dog patrolling the area, but he misses the entire rumpus because he sloped off to the pub for a drink.
  • Policeman Dog: A canine policeman is mentioned in "The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles".
  • Priceless Ming Vase: It was Mungojerrie—or Rumpleteazer . . .
    ... down from the library came a loud ping
    From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming
  • Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat: Mr. Mistoffelees is described pulling kittens out of a hat as one of his conjuring tricks.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer:
    They were plausible fellows who like to engage
    A friendly policeman in conversation.
  • Revenge Ballad: "Growltiger's Last Stand", about the pirate cat Growltiger being finally taken down by his enemies, the Siamese.
  • Scenery Dissonance: Growltiger is ambushed and assassinated while wooing a lady under the moonlight of a peaceful summer night.
    Now on a peaceful summer night, all nature seemed at play,
    The tender moon was shining bright, the barge at Molesey lay.
    All in the balmy moonlight it lay rocking on the tide—
    And Growltiger was disposed to show his sentimental side.
  • Scout-Out: Averted. Presumably the organization was not yet under trademark.
    So she's formed, from that lot of disorderly louts,
    A troop of well-disciplined helpful boy-scouts
  • Shout-Out:
    • Old Deuteronomy is named for a book of The Bible.
    • Macavity's poem contains several to the Sherlock Holmes canon. The description of Macavity's appearance echoes the description of Moriarty in "The Final Problem", and the list of his crimes includes references to several of Holmes's cases. Not to mention "the Napoleon of Crime".
    • Amongst the many Smoky Gentlemen's Clubs where Bustopher Jones gets fed is the Drones.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Rum Tum Tugger
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine:
    Growltiger to his vast surprise was forced to Walk the Plank.
    He who a hundred victims had driven to that drop,
    At the end of all his crimes was forced to go ker-flip, ker-flop.
  • Uncertain Doom: "Growltiger's Last Stand":
    Then Griddlebone she gave a screech, for she was badly skeered;
    I am sorry to admit it, but she quickly disappeared.
    She probably escaped with ease, I'm sure she was not drowned—
    But a serried ring of flashing steel Growltiger did surround
  • Walk the Plank: Growltiger's fate.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Gus, the Theatre Cat.
  • Yellow Peril:
    • The one appearance of "foreign" cats is when Growltiger is ambushed and disposed of by a horde of Siamese. Possibly Fair for Its Day, since Growltiger is unequivocally a villain, but it's presented as a case of Grey-and-Gray Morality.
    • The Great Rumpus Cat breaks up a street fight between Pekingese and Yorkshire Terriers, Pomeranians, and Pugs. The narrator makes a point of saying that the Pekingese are "Heathen Chinese" and "no British Dog".
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Implied by the end of "Mr. Mistoffelees". The list of Mr. Mistoffelees' amazing feats culminates in the mysterious appearance of a litter of kittens.