Giving Cats Everywhere A Bad Name

This post was originally a response to jcornejo33’s post about the kitten possibly being evil incarnate. However, the word count of the final product makes me hesitate to classify it as a “comment.” So here we are.

I have a rather wild theory about the cat and whether or not it is evil. I wouldn’t say it is evil incarnate, but it’s certainly not winning this year’s Miss Congeniality award. In fact, the cat (assuming that Tian Li’s white cat is the same cat that Xanther finds) is regarded with fear and mistrust by a number of people. In his first section, Jingjing tells us that the cat scares him. He talks about how the cat’s shadow creeps around at night, moving while the cat itself stays still (102-103).

Astair also dislikes the cat. Granted, Astair dislikes all cats, but comments by the Narcons lead one to believe that perhaps this isn’t personal bias talking. Astair calls it gruesome and disgusting. She wants to immediately throw it out of the house. Her lack of pity for the creature is odd even to Astair: “But where is her pity?” (684-685). Narcon 3 chimes in with “Because you weren’t wrong, were you, Astair?” (686) And Narcon 27 tells us that “she sensed what only one other could know”(687).

I think that this “one other” was either Jingjing or Tian Li. Jingjing feared it and Tian Li (in my opinion) was glad to be rid of it. When Tian Li tells Jingjing that the cat is gone, she says that it is “…gone at last. Gone for good “(702). Now, I’ve lost a few cats in my time and have never said that they were “gone at last.” That sounds like she has been waiting for it to leave. She can sleep now. Jing jing says that he had never seen her sleep before (694).

Even Xanther has a moment when the cat seems to be a little sinister. She hints that she experienced the cat has a “figure of terror, a predator, death personified” (804).

Alright. So now that we’ve got our bags all packed, let’s move into Crazy Town, USA. The burning question: What is the cat?

Some people are saying that the cat is a Narcon in physical form. Not a bad theory. The fact that the cat is weightless – maybe not really there – could support this idea (825). My theory also fits with the masslessness (is that a word?) of the creature. I think that the cat is Danielewski’s take on a Pontianak. Jingjing gets that Pontianak monster card with the owl on it. A Pontianak is a vampiric ghost in Malay lore. They have some connection to women who died in childbirth and /or the death of a child. The Pontianak usually takes the form of a woman. However, the Kuntilanak (the Indonesian version), can take the shape of an animal, especially birds.  The cat seems to draw on Xanther’s life force like a vampire. It “took more than one tiny breath” and “kept taking it too” (815). If Xanther hadn’t somehow stopped it, it would have killed her. The death of a child.

There is one more aspect of the Pontianak that makes me think that there could be some connection.  Lore says that the cry of the Pontianak sounds like the cry of a baby. When the creature is far away, the cry is loud. When it is nearby, the cry is soft. The cries heard by the characters were not described exclusively as meows. Some sounded like people or children. It could be the same cry but interpreted differently. Ok, so if we assume that the (…) represents the cry of the cat/whatever-the-heck-this-thing-is, the size of the (…) would indicate volume. The ellipses start off big and get progressively smaller. As each character hears the cry, they get smaller and smaller. The creature gets closer. Finally, when Xanther finds the cat, the ellipsis is the smallest one in the whole text (470). The cat is right there. Dun Dun Dun!

Ok. On to the wrap up! I hope I haven’t repeated something someone already said. This theory could be completely wrong. It’s entirely possible I’m making connections where there are none.  It could be that the Pontianak is what Tian Li is afraid of and what the cat is protecting Xanther from. There is just something about the cat that keeps me from seeing it as a protector. Artemis this cat is not.

That’s a Sailor Moon reference in case you were wondering.


One response to “Giving Cats Everywhere A Bad Name”

  1. creativekat24601 says :

    Along with the wealth of evidence I read in this post pointing out the possibility that Xanther’s cat could be some form of a Pontianak/Kuntilanak or some other interpretation of this creature of lore by Danielewski, I found a couple more features of the novel that provide additional evidence for this theory. I noted as I read that you mentioned this creature is typically tied to the ideas of the death of a mother in childbirth or simply the death of a child, as well as the fact that this creature is most typically known to take the form of a bird.

    You mentioned in your post already how Jingjing drew one of these Pontianak monster cards with an owl on it, and we can see from the preview for the next volume of The Familiar at the end of this first volume that the first section of the second volume is going to involve an owl. The bird references so far are blatant in the text. There is also a tie in this preview section to the loss of a child/children, considering the owl, Oria, returns to her nest to find “her three fledglings gone.” It was also a significant and repeatedly stated worry of Astair’s that she would lose her own daughter to a seizure, most prominently in her memory of Xanther’s longest seizure on pages 241-254, along with her instantaneous worry when Xanther comes crashing through the door all scabbed and bruised after she and Anwar return with the rescued “kitten.”

    I think that all of these factors combine to provide a significant amount of plausible evidence to back up your theory that perhaps, while the kitten might be a narcon, might be evil incarnate, it also might be a reference to a malicious creature that feeds on the fears and worries of mothers for their children. This seems to be a common theme throughout the novel itself: the struggle of guardian figures to control their anxiety concerning the wellbeing of their charges. This coupled with the novel’s obvious ties to birds, specifically owls, leads me to believe that Danielewski definitely meant to apply some connection to this lore, or perhaps the ties just occurred through sheer happenstance. Then again, Danielewski isn’t one known for lazy coincidences in his works.

    Also, good reference.

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