Day 418: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Cover of Old PossumIt took me longer to find this wonderful book than to read it. I came across it months ago in a used book store, bought it, and immediately opened it up. After I read the first poem, I got interrupted and put it down. Shortly thereafter, my husband, in a fit of tidiness, put it “somewhere safe.” He finally found it again, months later.

Some of you may know that T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is the source material for the musical Cats. Since the book is not as well known on this side of the pond as I assume it is on the other, I had not read it until lately and was frustrated during the musical at not being able to understand most of the words, much less which cat was which.

But these poems are delightful. They zip along with the kind of rhythm and rhyming that smaller children adore, and although I don’t think they’ll understand all the vocabulary, that can be explained to them. I was wondering whether modern children would understand or care about things like the clubs along St. James, but I decided that was unimportant. They would focus instead on Macavity, who isn’t there (I have a cat like that), on the names like Rum Tum Tugger that roll around in your mouth awhile, and on the proper way to address a cat (“O Cat”).

A comment on the cover I have shown here. This cover is not for the copy I bought, which was illustrated by Axel Scheffer. I thought Scheffer’s illustrations were cute, but it was hard to tell one cat from another. The reason I’ve attached the cover with Edward Gorey’s illustrations to my review is that Gorey’s version was the one I chose to buy for my young niece.