Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Cat in the Hat

Go To

"It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how."
The Cat

The Cat in the Hat is a children's storybook written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss in 1957, which started off his series of books for beginning readers. In fact, Dr. Seuss created it as a challenge by a publisher friend to provide an alternative to the insipid Dick and Jane children's reading primer series. It would prove so successful in that regard that it proved a Genre-Killer to the older series as Seuss' style became the norm in kid lit.

The story opens with two children who are stuck inside their house due to rain while their mother is out when they suddenly get a visit from the eponymous character, a six-foot-tall cat who wears a tall striped hat. The Cat offers to entertain them by performing various tricks, with help from his funny-looking assistants, Thing One and Thing Two, despite the objections from the kids' pet fish. Eventually, after the Cat and the Things end up making a mess of the house, the kids take control of the situation, and the Cat makes up for it by cleaning the place on his way out right before the mother returns.

The Cat became one of Dr. Seuss' most enduring characters, returning the following year in a sequel titled The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, in which he leaves a "cat ring" in the bathtub and spends the rest of the book spreading the spot around in an attempt to get rid of it. In addition, he hosted three other books by Seuss and also served as the narrator for the otherwise unrelated Daisy-Head Mayzie (published after Seuss' death).

It got adapted in 1971 by DePatie-Freleng Studios which expands upon the storyline. It was followed up with Dr. Seuss On the Loose (in which the Cat introduced animated adaptations of The Sneetches, The Zax, and Green Eggs and Ham) and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (in which the Cat matches wits with the title character of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!). The Cat later starred in puppet form in The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss. The original book also got a Living Books title. The Cat also often serves as a narrator or host in other Seuss-related works made after Seuss’ death.

A Soviet animated short was made in 1984. It changes the Cat's hat into a cap (for Added Alliterative Appeal), which is transformed into a number of things throughout the cartoon. Thing One and Thing Two are absent.

A ride based on the book opened with the Universal's Islands of Adventure park in 1999.

It received a Live-Action Adaptation in 2003, starring Mike Myers as the titular Cat, which was poorly received by fans and critics and is today considered one of the worst movies ever. Seuss's widow, who had complete control over his estate at the time, disliked the overabundance of child-inappropriate humor so much that she vowed never to produce any future live-action adaptations of her husband's works for the rest of her life.

The Cat and the two children have also starred in the The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, which began airing on PBS in 2010. It stars Martin Short as the titular Cat.

After acquiring exclusive adaptation rights to all of Dr. Seuss's work in 2018, Warner Bros. announced a feature-length Animated Adaptation by Warner Bros. Animation aiming for a 2024 release. Warner Bros also announced a feature film starring Thing One and Thing Two that's also aiming for a 2026 release.

The books contain examples of:

  • An Aesop: A little silliness and mischief is fine, but it's important to know when to stop. Or, as the cat puts it, "It's fun to have fun, but you need to know how!"
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The cat is never malevolent. He is simply trying to have fun and doesn't understand the damage he is doing (and in his defense, he does clean up the house afterwards).
  • Central Theme: A little troublemaking is ok as long as it's not taken too far.
  • Cliffhanger: The book ends with the kids trying to decide whether to tell their returning mother about the cat, and even asks the reader what they would do. The sequel refuses to resolve itnote .
  • Constrained Writing: It was written using a specific constrained vocabulary consisting only of 236 different words you would expect a six-year-old to know. Seuss started writing the book with the first two words he found that rhymed from a 300-400-word list the director of Houghton Mifflin's education division, William Spaulding, had provided him.
  • Get Out!: The Fish says this to the Cat after falling into a pot when the Cat falls off the ball and drops everything he was holding while balancing on said ball.
  • Matryoshka Object: In the sequel, the Cat has Little Cat A under his hat, who has Little Cat B under its hat and so forth. Underneath Little Cat Z's hat is the "Voom", which unleashes some kind of divide by zero effect only for when the Godzilla Threshold has been reached (in this case, cleaning up the yard).
  • No Name Given:
    • The boy who narrates the story is never given one. He goes on to be Named by the Adaptation however: "Dick" in the 1997 Living Books adaptation, and "Conrad" in the 2003 live action film, along with his mother "Joan".
    • The Cat and the Fish are never referred to other than by what they are. While the fish does introduce himself as "Carlos K. Krinklebein" in the 1971 television special, the Cat hasn't been named anything else in any of his subsequent appearances.
  • Only Sane Man: The Fish. Neither he nor the kids know the Cat, thus he is a stranger that they cannot trust.
  • Order Versus Chaos: The Cat is The Trickster who only cares about having fun. His foil is a fish who insists on strictly following the rules.
  • Person with the Clothing: He is just called the Cat in the Hat.
  • Put on a Bus: Despite being a prominent character in the first book, the fish is never even mentioned in the sequel. Partly justified since most of the story takes place outside, and because the kids remembered their last encounter with the Cat and are far less trusting of him as a result, making the fish's role unnecessary.
  • Rain, Rain, Go Away: It's raining out when the Cat makes his appearance.
  • Reset Button: Before he leaves, the Cat always manages to undo all the damage he's caused.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Do Sally and her brother tell their mother about the misadventures they had with the titular cat? We'll never know.note 
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A stage version of the book was shown in London sometime in 2011 and was even available on Netflix at one point.