June 9, 2014

Tolkien and Cats

In this post I examine a topic that isn't discussed very often by Tolkien fans, cats and dogs.  Which did Tolkien prefer?  Did he even ever write about cats and dogs in his stories?  Hit the jump and find out!

The Professor

     It is often said that there are two types of people, cat people and dog people.  Even though we have a feline staying in our house I like to think of myself as more of a dog person.  However, I wanted to know what J.R.R. Tolkien thought on the subject.  While he never explicitly stated which (if any) he preferred and while he never owned a cat or dog I think we can reach a safe conclusion as to what kind he like more based on his writings.

     While cats and dogs aren't the most prominent characters in Tolkien's works they are still vital to many parts of the tale(s).  The best example of this is in the 'Lay of Leithian'.  Huan, the greatest hound to have ever lived, was extremely important in helping Beren and Luthien in their quest to capture a Silmaril.  Without him Luthien would not have even gotten to Tol-in-Gaurhoth and who knows how much more damage Carcharoth would have done (I don't want to give away too many spoilers though for those who have yet to read the tale ;-) )

Luthien Escapes Upon Huan by Ted Nasmith

     Another positive example of a dog can be found in one of Tolkien's shorter tales called "Roverandom".  While on holiday near the seaside Tolkien's second son, Michael, lost a favorite toy dog.  To try to comfort him Tolkien made up a wonderful story of a dog named Rover who, after bothering a wizard, is turned into a toy and goes on adventures all the way up to the moon and under the sea.  At one point in the tale we learn of the Isle of Lost Dogs, "where all the lost dogs go that are deserving of lucky. It isn’t a bad place, I’m told, for dogs; and they can make as much noise as they like without anyone telling them to be quiet or throwing anything at them. They have a beautiful concert, all barking together their favourite noises, whenever the moon shines bright. They tell me there are bone-trees there, too, with fruit like juicy meat-bones that drops off the trees when it’s ripe.” 

     In another short story by Tolkien a dog is a key player.  In "Farmer Giles of Ham" Garm, the talking dog of Farmer Giles, warns his master of an approaching giant which starts a remarkable avalanche of events.  While Garm is not the hero of the tale, he is a key figure that always tries to help and do what is right.

     Those are a few examples where dogs are portrayed in a positive light, but cats are featured in some of Tolkien's stories as well.  In earlier versions of the previously mentioned 'Lay of Leithian' one of the main antagonists was Tevildo, Prince of Cats.  He was one of the Ainur (angels) who rebelled with Melko (Satan) against Iluvutar (God)  Over the years his character developed and later became Sauron.

     Cats also play an important role in the story of Beruthiel.  This Queen of Gondor kept 10 cats, one white and nine black, that she used to spy on her enemies or people she suspected.  She even used the one white cat to spy on the other nine.  It is said that she could converse with these animals and read their minds and memory.  Eventually the terrible reign of Beruthiel came to an end when she and her cats were put on a boat left to drift away.

Reporting to Beruthiel by Paula DiSante
Probably the best example of Tolkien's dislike for cats was in a letter written to Allen & Unwin in reply to a cat breeder who wanted to use names from The Lord of the Rings for her felines.  Tolkien said, "I fear that to me Siamese cats belong to the fauna of Mordor, but you need not tell the cat breeder that." (Letters no. 219)

Through these stories and examples I think an obvious answer becomes evident.  It seems that Tolkien was certainly not fond of cats while he did seem to like canines.  In many of his stories dogs play an important part and, while not perfect, are almost universally "good".  Cats, on the other hand, are associated with the opposite (evil, torment, fear, deceit, etc.).   It seems that Tolkien was certainly not a cat person.

An earlier version of this post was originally posted on my other blog, www.animatostudios.blogspot.com.

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