What’s The Cat That Walked By Himself all about?:
This is a short story about the beginning of domesticated life and in Kipling’s inimitable style we see a host of animals become the servant or friend of first Man.
What did I think?:
This story was first published as part of Kipling’s Just So stories in 1902 which I was sure that I had read but couldn’t remember this one at all! The writing has a magical quality and the story is so endearing that I can easily imagine reading it to children. The tale begins as first Man and first Women meet and start building a life together in a cave, even making a first Baby. Meanwhile, in the forest, the wild animals are looking on in interest, all apart from the proud Cat that is. He is determined that he is not put out in the slightest, after all:
“He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.”
One night, the Woman creates the First Singing Magic with a shoulder blade of bone as the wild animals look on, entranced by the fire but not entirely certain what it all means. The Dog, led by his nose and thinking the smells from the cave quite wonderful approaches the woman and asks her what she is doing to be creating all these amazing smells. The Woman makes a deal with the Dog. If he will go out hunting with the Man and guard the cave at night he can have as many of the good smelling bones that he likes. Thinking that sounded like a pretty sweet deal, the Dog agrees and he becomes known as the First Friend of Man. The Cat is indifferent however and scoffs:
“This is a very wise Woman, but not as wise as me.”
The next day the Woman cuts long armfuls of fresh, green grass and once again, by the fire, makes a Second Singing Magic. This is very appealing to the Horse and he decides he wants to go to the Woman, beseeching the Cat to come with him. However the arrogant Cat only replies:
“I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come.”
The Woman again offers an exchange to the Horse and manages to get a leash over his neck in return for fresh green grass three times a day. In this way, the Horse becomes the first Servant of Man and helps him in his hunting. The pattern repeats itself again when the Cow promises to give her milk to the Woman each day in return for grass although the Cat has been following his companions and his curiosity gets the better of him. He asks the Woman where his friends are and the Woman says that she has no more need for friends or servants so he should return to the Wild, especially as he is the Cat who walks by himself. The Cat is petulant and doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be allowed in the cave to sit by the warm fire and try the milk. So the Woman makes a deal with him. She tells him if she should speak one word in his praise he may come into the cave, two words and he may sit by the fire and three words, that he will be allowed to drink the milk three times a day forever.
The Cat has to use all the craftiness in his character to trick the woman into praising him on three separate occasions, but he manages it admirably. He is able to enter the cave, sit by the fire and drink milk. However, he hadn’t bargained for his three friends Dog, Horse and Cow to turn the tables on him so perhaps he isn’t the cleverest cat in the world, after all!
This was a lovely, lovely story that I’m so glad I found. It’s written in a sort of fairy-tale style, which is why I think it would be so appealing to children but I think there’s many things there adults would appreciate also. For example, I had to laugh when Kipling tells us that First Man used to be very wild too, that is, until he met First Woman and she tamed the wildness out of him! It’s also a marvellous tale of the characters of animals – the sensitivity of dogs noses, the speed and swiftness of the horse and of course, the independence of the cat. I’m not really a cat lover myself, I’ve had a particularly bad experience personally with them and I’m much more a dog person which is why I did have a little chuckle when Cat got his comeuppance at the end of the story. Great fun and beautifully written this is a treat however for all animal lovers.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: The Wedding Gig by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew