Monday, December 12, 2016

Giant Cats in Literature

Some time ago, I wrote this list about cats through literature, but they were more the cuddly, domestic types. I promised to write a follow-up post with more majestic, giant cats, and this is it. They are certainly imposing, gorgeous and fierce enough to deserve a list of their own. Here are the examples I could think of. At the end, we noticed something quite interesting about all of them.

Richard Parker
He was the Bengal Tiger who became the accidental lifeboat companion of Piscine Patel, the teenage shipwreck survivor in 'The Life of Pi'. This big cat acquired his unusual name as the result of a clerical error at the zoo, when he was mixed up with a human. It's a fascinating read to see how the boy works carefully to establish himself as the alpha animal during their 227 days on the sea together.

This black panther is a Rudyard Kipling character who was born in captivity in an Indian menagerie. He managed to break his lock and chains and escape to the jungle, and later in life assisted the wolf pack who raised Mowgli the 'man cub'.

Shere Khan
While watching 'The Jungle Book' as a kid, I remember the skin-chilling impression I got whenever this name was mentioned. His name probably translates to 'tiger sovereign' and his arrogance is boundless. Shere Khan kept his menacing eye on Mowgli for years, providing the dark element to the story. From a plot perspective, he kept 'The Jungle Book' from becoming too lighthearted at any time. His dark presence was always a threat (and I remember hating him as a sensitive little kid).

This bouncing, good-humoured resident of the Hundred Acre Wood represents the sanguine personalities among us. He may also be the poster boy for people with conditions such as ADHD. Think of his tireless exuberance, and how he sometimes fails to realise that his actual skills fall far short of his bubbly confidence. This makes perfect sense, if you buy into the fascinating theory that each of the characters in the Pooh Bear stories have their own forms of personality disorder.

The Pink Panther
Can you read this name without having his theme song play through your head? I remember the cartoons on TV when I was little, and took him on face value as a cool, pink dude with loads of swagger. It came as a big surprise to discover that the pink panther in the movies with Detective Jacques Closeau was not actually a big cat at all, but a rare gem. I was a bit miffed about that.

The Cowardly Lion
He was a member of the foursome who traversed the Yellow Brick Road on their way to consult the mighty wizard at the Emerald City. The poor guy shouldered a shame complex almost as heavy as himself. All he wanted was a dose of courage to help him through life. The perils of their travels demanded confidence and bravery from him many times, but he wouldn't believe he had it all along until he received his little trinket from the wizard.

Remember when we all fell in love with this cute lion cub in the mid 90s? The whole story was a bit of a family affair, so I'll sum up his relatives too. There were his parents, Mufasa and Sarabi, and his uncle Scar, who was a traitorous Richard the 3rd type of character who wanted the throne for himself. A lot of the plot dealt with Simba escaping death traps from his uncle, along with his playmate Nala, who later became his wife.

Elsa the Lioness
She was the real life friend and companion of author Joy Adamson and her game warden husband George. They brought up the orphaned female cub by hand, treating her like a domestic pet but also trying to instill in her the skills to live in the wild like her peer group. When she was old enough, the couple finally released her.

He was one of the escapee protagonists from the movie 'Madagascar'. Alex initially had second thoughts about joining the others, since he was self-proclaimed king of the zoo, and a celebrity with lots of attention to boot. Captivity was treating him kindly. It was hard to imagine that returning to the wild could top such a pampered, leisurely lifestyle. His story included coming to terms with his roots, including the heartache of his African father Zuba, when he was first captured.

And my very favourite literary giant cat ...

He's the wise and strong king of Narnia, who always has the welfare of his dear subjects firm in his regal paw. C.S. Lewis' wonderful allegorical writing makes it clear who he represents, or if it doesn't instantly, it may dawn on readers down the track. Even before we're introduced to the King himself, he begins to make an impact. Remember when Mr Beaver breathed the name 'Aslan' with such awe, which evoked contrasting feelings in Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. And who could ever forget that culminating scene on the stone table, when he sacrifices himself in the place of Edmund, the traitor?

Do you notice anything interesting about this list? Sure, they're an eclectic bunch pulled from far and wide, but that's not it. My 12-year-old mentioned it straight away when he looked down this list. 'Some of those cats really aren't very cool.' How true! A fair share of these characters, rather than being rulers of the jungle, are very issue-laden. At first I wondered if it's some type of tall poppy syndrome, with story-tellers unconsciously wanting to take these fierce beasts down a peg or two. 

But perhaps what these stories are getting at is something better. If noble, majestic beasts have their struggles and insecurities, then why should we expect any less? We could take them as encouragement to draw upon the dignity, beauty and strength in each of us, no matter what is going on in our lives.

What are your thoughts? Are there any giant cats I've missed, and who are your favourites? 


  1. Great list, Paula - quite a few of my favourites and I love that Aslan gets pride of place :)

    1. Hi Jenny,
      Yes, he definitely deserves it. He's in a class of his own, especially compared with some of those others on the list :)