Spotlight on Wonderland: The Cheshire Cat

Cheshire Cat
Here kitty, kitty, kitty…wait, where’d he go?? In typical feline fashion, the Cheshire Cat is a cunning and intelligent provocateur who disappears at the blink of an eye, and by all accounts, is completely mad.

As evidence, just see how it toys with the Queen of Hearts when she calls for its head at the croquet game. After upsetting the King with its nonchalant attitude,  it slowly vanishes, leaving the dimwitted royalty and executioner to ponder whether a body without a head can be beheaded at all.

As far as Alice’s Wonderland acquaintances go, the Cheshire Cat is the one characters she enjoys spending time with, introducing to it to the King as as her “friend.” Alice makes no secret of her fondness for cats (much to the dismay of the Mouse), and she looks to the Cheshire Cat for much needed advice and conversation.

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First seen curled up and “grinning from ear to ear” in the Duchess’ kitchen, Alice learns the Cheshire Cat is the pet of  the tempestuous Duchess. Yet, it displays none of her ill manners or outbursts. Rather, this mysterious creature seems to greet all events and persons with equal nonchalance and bemusement.

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The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good- natured, she thought: still it had VERY long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

“Cheshire Puss,” she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider.

Philosophical and vague, the Cheshire Cat fits right in with curious cast of Wonderland characters. When first meeting Alice, it tries to explain to her that everyone in Wonderland is inherently mad, even Alice herself. Is the  Cheshire cat talking nonsense? Or is it trying to provide meaning to an irrational world? Quite the profound metaphysical musings for an grinning cat.

What do you think of the Cheshire Cat? Is it a philosopher, friendly guide, patronizing provocateur, or just another mad Wonderland resident?

Did you Know:

The phrase “grinning like a Cheshire cat” pre-dates Lewis Carroll’s tale. There are many suggested origins. One popular story notes that the cats in Cheshire, England, an area dominated by dairy farming, would grin from the abundance of cream.

The “Cheshire Cat effect” is a scientific phenomena that describes why a stationary object seen by one eye disappears when the other eye focuses on a moving object.

Visit the Maryland Room gallery in Hornbake Library from October 2105-July 2016 to explore the Cheshire Cat and the rest of the Wonderland cast of characters in the exhibit Alice 150 Years and County…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz.

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