My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It was like being transported to Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful, fanciful animated world to discover that T.S. Eliot wrote this delightfully whimsical book because, to quote himself, he was of “a Catholic cast of mind, a Puritanical temperament, and a Calvinist heritage.” To me, Eliot was always a grim, grave intellectual who would not deign to regale himself with anthropomorphic cats. It was part of curiosity about the writer himself and my interest in anything about cats because of my first cat at home. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a compact collection of amusingly scintillating and elegantly profound poems about why cats behave the way they do and who they are really.
And the more I read, the more I enjoyed it because it was full of wittily whimsical rhythms and brilliantly capricious expressions like a pleasant medley of amiable Dickensian characters. The psychology of the indomitable, the incredible cats through his amiably keen observation of feline behaviors in everyday life is conveyed through the live practical cats:
- Jennyany dots, a neat, elegant tabby Molly living in a tidy, smart household.
- Growltiger, a sailor cat., living in the harbor, who knows all the taverns and pubs around, the
- Rum Tum Tugger, who is and will always be himself
According to nominative determinism principles, Eliot gives the inscrutably and ineffably particular names to the cats that befit their characteristics and personalities. The names become the cats, and the cats become the peculiar existence.
The poetry was the inspiration of the mega Broadway musical hit “The Cats.” However, to go against the grain, I think that rather than the famed musical version, Hiroyuki Morita’s animated version of “Whisper of the Heart” about a good-hearted high school girl traveling to the land of talking biped clothed cats because of her kindness to cats, is close to Eliot’s idea of practical cats. The anthropomorphic cats in animation are free in all expression that human actors cannot perform with theatrical effects, which forces the audience to believe that what they see are cats. It is impossible to disassociate the visual fact from visceral imagery. The humans in makeup imitating cats render the feline characters fatuous and clownish. Ben Jonson, the great Elizabethan English playwright, would have adopted Eliot’s practical cats with his superb masks and sans the ludicrously exaggerated makeup and costumes.
In conclusion, with wits and simplicity, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a hidden gem of Eliot’s works that is enjoyable by general readers, even if they do not have cats at home. Indeed, Eliot himself was a cat lover, and this adorable collection of poems might have been the whimsical scribbling of his cats at home from his daily lives with them. But what a way of tribute to his lovely creatures it is! Upon reading this book, you might want to write like him about your cats or other pets you have at home. I should think so, for I want to and am doing.