BOOKS: The Cat Who Came In From The Cold: A Fable
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2004:
The Cat Who Came In From The Cold: A Fable
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Ballantine Books (c/o Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY
10019), 2004. 103 pages, hardcover. $15.95
This fable takes place thousands of years ago, in the
forests of southern India, and is aimed more at children than at
adults. Billi, a wild cat, lives with his feline family. Tragedy
strikes and Billi finds himself alone. He decides to take a journey
of discovery through India.
His journey takes him into many villages and to meetings with
other animals such as dogs, a parrot, and a cow. He has seen the
attention that these animals get from their human keepers, and
wonders what it would be like to have the pleasure of being part of a
human family. He questions them about their lives with humans,
trying to get a better perspective on life as a domestic animal.
Billi eventually chooses a family and joins them.
“And that is how, several thousands of years ago, in India,
the first cat chose domestication,” concludes Masson.
Unhappily, the fable falls between two stools. If one wishes
to seduce children to be kinder to animals by way of fable, the
message has to be far lighter and more subtle. If one wishes to be
didactic, and discuss issues as heavy as the hypo-crisy of many
Buddhists, Hindus and Jains in their treatment of domesticated
animals, then one is writing a text on animal welfare.
The Cat Who Came In From The Cold echoes in title and
inspiration The Cat Who Walks Alone, by Rudyard Kipling. Like
Masson, Kipling was profoundly concerned about animal (and human)
suffering. But, writing in Victorian times, when most literature
for children was ponderously moralistic, Kipling won enduring
stature by emphasizing a memorable story, allowing readers to
interpret the morals for themselves.
Because Kipling refrained from preaching, some of his
sarcastic remarks against racism and imperialism were misread in
later decades, at great cost to his reputation. Yet because Kipling
was an unforgettable story-teller, his works endured, to be better
understood and appreciated–and increasingly influential–in recent
–Beverley Pervan & Chris Mercer