Quirky Books: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot

The original book "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," written by T. S. Eliot with decorations by Nicolas Bentley, was released in 1939. The poems are interesting; however, decorations are not as vivid and fanciful as the later version with illustrator Edward Gorey. Bentley's drawings are simple with clean lines, a watermark compared to Gorey's work.

This book lets the poems shine. Holding the same amount of interest to the reader, the tales of cats remind me of a ragamuffin group of friends. Some live in fancy hotel suites and are entertainers. Others are more allusive. Most of them are out prowling the city streets.

My favorite is "the Old Gumbie Cat." Jennyanydots, an older cat who hangs around the house enjoys the warm rays of the sun, and betters the cockroaches. I had a house cat, Purl. She was a Siamese who spent most of the time sunbathing. The big difference is how she hunted. Eating the flies, spiders and birds, she would eat cockroaches, if they were any in the house.

What cat are you? Growltiger is a fighter. Rum Tug Tugger is a spoiled housecat who is generally dissatisfied with everything. The Jellicles are party cats. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer are entertainers with a few tricks to get about town. Old Deuteronomy is a relaxed older gentleman. The Rumpuscat can silence a dog. Mr. Mistoffelees is a magician, always appearing and disappearing. Macavity is never to be found. Gus enjoys the theatre. Bustopher Jones finds friends everywhere. Skimbleshanks rides the rails. Cat Morgan sails the seas.

The edition with Gorey's illustrations was released in 1982. It contains wonderful artistry giving new meaning to the poems. It is playful, though sinister. Perhaps Gorey it is a companion to "Cats," the Broadway play first appeared in London in 1981. The Broadway play "Cats" is based on this book, though the story line of "Cats" was altered to show a greater plot and interaction.

Each cat has a unique personality. The poems make their character humorous. "He's a twenty-five pounder, or I am a bounder, and he's putting on weight every day." Tabbies are always friendly and get extra food where ever to go. I have known many Tabbies and the owner always notes their cat adopted a neighbor and is noticeably rounder.

This book is fun to read. If you love cats you will love this book. T. S. Eliot also includes poems for "the Naming of Cats," and "the Ad-dressing of Cats." So it is useful in addition to being entertaining. Difficult to say which edition is better, because one allows readers to learn about cats, while the other adds nuance and livelihood to the overall work.

Quirky Books
Mr. Mistoffelees with Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer by T. S. Eliot