This coming Saturday, June 22nd, will be the Feline Home Forever Ranch's Open House (http://www.felineranch.org), and in honor that I am doing a Feline-oriented blog.
While getting ready for a show I have been reading John Richard Stephen's book, The King of the Cats, and Other Feline Fairy Tales. The book has proved fascinating in that the editor has not only collected a lovely range of stories, from all over the world and centuries, but has compiled many of them in such a way as to show variations of a tale.
An example of this is the oft-told tale, "Dick Whittington and his Cat," which is an English rags-to-riches folktale. The basic story is how a poor cook's servant, Dick Whittington, has only his cat to call his own, and is given a chance by the master of the house to sell something on the master's merchant ship. And since poor Dick's only possession is the cat he allows himself to be talked into giving over the puss.
The merchant ship ends up the port of a unknown land, which is over run by rodents, and the cat becomes the heroine of the day. So much so that the ship's captain is able to sell the cat for amazing price.
So young Whittington grows rich, marries, the merchant's daughter, and later goes on to become the Lord Mayor of London - three times.
The editor found the version he used in Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book, entitled, "The History of Whittington." The story is attached to a Richard Whittinton (1358- 1423), who was the Lord Mayor of London three times, but was of a well-off family.
Other versions told in the book are: "The Origin of Venice" (c. 1256), German; "The Genoese Merchant" (15th century), Italy; "The Island of Kais" (1299), Persia; "The Honesty Penny", Norway; "The Cottager and His Cat," Iceland.
I have to admit I found "The Genoese Merchant" ironically amusing. It is a story within a story, with a priest trying to teach a friend about supply and demand. At one point the priest tells the story of the cat helping a king, but his tale ends with another merchant going to the same land to try his luck. He goes with valuable presents for the (now mouse-free) king. The King is well-pleased with the presents, and gives to his new friend the most valuable thing in the kingdom - one of the new kittens.
The editor also does much the same type of treatment for "Puss in Boots," and offers a selection of lesser known cat fairy tales.
Mr. Stephens ends the section with a possible theory as to the popularity of the theme - of a land that doesn't know cats. He mentions that until 1500 B.C., when the Greeks stole a few dozen cat, that the Egyptian's had made it illegal to export the sacred cat. In Europe, before the arrival of the cat, pest control was done by skunks and weasels.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.