There are plenty of canine companions in the world of books, but cats can still compete for the crown of top literary pet
Book people, I need to know where you stand on a vital issue: literary dogs versus literary cats. Last week, I wrote about how cats and literature were a perfect combination; my own favourite was, I'd decided, Macavity, but you all came up with so many more suggestions – how could I have forgotten Edward Lear's Pussycat?
But after reading Daniel Engber's wonderfully straight-faced piece, on how dogs are actually "the champs in print, while kittens win online", I'm not sure what to think. He's checked it out with some assiduous browsing – there's even a graph– and found figures to support his thesis. "The other day I went to visit Yahoo and plugged in the words 'cat' and 'cats.' (I tried them 10 times each.) My searches pulled an average of 1.8 billion hits, nearly two giga-cats of data on the Internet" he writes. "Then I did the same with 'dog' and 'dogs,' and received one-third as many results." But in the world of letters, he continues, "on Amazon, canines held the lion's share of search results, by a healthy 2-to-1. A look at Google Books returned the same disparity: The corpus holds 87 million cats and almost twice as many pups."
Engber puts forward many suggestions for why dogs fit books, and cats fit the internet. "If cats tend to sit for quiet portraits, it's in part because they tend to sit. When they do go outside, it's to pad around alone, which makes it hard for cats to gin up exploits fit for publication." And: "Cats like to stare at things and lurk: They're built for surfing on the Web. We bond with them in little spurts, like videos on YouTube. Dogs, meanwhile, demand a lasting interaction. They're thick and shaggy, musty-smelling like a book, and while they have their standard tricks, they're famously unable to adapt."
I'm kind of swayed. After all, how can I forget the books I read and reread as a child: Colin Dann's Just Nuffin, the tale of an abandoned puppy, Eleanor Estes' Ginger Pye, about a lost puppy, the fantastic What-a-Mess, Timmy from the Famous Five, and also from Blyton, Shadow the Sheepdog ...
I learned Irene Rutherford Mcleod's Lone Dog by heart, and it's still one of the few poems I can recite in its entirety: "I'm a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog, and lone; / I'm a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own".
I wept over Jack London. When Buck is beaten– well, oh my goodness. "Buck refused to move under the rain of heavier blows which now fell upon him ... So greatly had he suffered, and so far gone was he, that the blows did not hurt much. And as they continued to fall upon him, the spark of life within flickered and went down. It was nearly out. He felt strangely numb."
And then there's Tintin's Snowy, Dorothy's Toto, George RR Martin's direwolves from A Song of Ice and Fire – I want one of those.
But, but ... and I speak as a dog person, not a cat person ... the literary cats we came up with last week are still better. Thanks crazyjane, for reminding me of Yeats's Minnaloushe ("The cat went here and there / And the moon spun round like a top, / And the nearest kin of the moon, / The creeping cat, looked up.") Thanks pfuel13 for Mog. There's the cat from The Horse and His Boy, there's Pangur Ban, and, oh best beloved, kenwyn points us to The Cat That Walked by Himself. "All places," of course, "are alike to him."
I'm afraid the literary dogs – at least the ones I've come up with – just can't compete. Engber's numbers might suggest that literature has gone to the dogs, but surely cats are top for quality.