An invention of Lewis Carroll’s, the Cheshire Cat is an immortal icon and these days, he keeps turning up in all sorts of weird and wonderful tattoos
The Cheshire Cat first saw the light, in literary terms, as far back as 1865. That was the year of publication of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the magnum opus of Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson).
The British author introduced him in the sixth chapter of his book, entitled ‘Pig and Pepper’. Here, the infamous Cheshire Cat is in the company of other emblematic figures such as the Duchess, the Cook and the Baby.
His appearance on this occasion is only a fleeting one, and he remains almost on the sidelines. A disquieting presence that prefers to lurk on the margins. So the Cheshire Cat, during his brief conversation with Alice, has managed in just a few lines to outline the main theme of the entire story: a little bit of lunacy. That little bit of madness which is utterly indispensable in order not to be overwhelmed by the rigidity of life.
Then the Cheshire Cat makes a reappearance halfway through the eighth chapter, during the famous croquet match on the lawn with the Queen of Hearts, but at that stage in the story, he is a silent presence. Ethereal and beatific, floating in the air above the players, his head the only part of him visible to the rest of the world.
The Queen, annoyed by that strange flying creature, starts to hold forth on whether or not they can or should decapitate a head without a body. Intimidated by these remarks the Cheshire Cat disappears once and for all.
The British origins of the Cheshire Cat are clear enough, seeing as how representations of “strange felines” (demonic cats?) have always been the order of the day. Carroll probably came across some curious effigy in the village church of Croft-on-Tees (North-East England) where his father had worked as rector. Or else he was struck by the gargoyle in the church of St. Nicholas in Cranleigh where the man of letters was often at home.
Not to mention the fact that the man himself actually came from the county of Cheshire. In those parts, there is in fact a cat carved in stone which smiles at passers-by from the tower of the church of St. Wilfred.
Last but not least, painters loved to draw lions with their teeth showing (but not in the least bit scary) on the sign of public houses to welcome punters in. And then, in Cheshire again, an excellent cheese was produced which was supposed to be eaten from the edges in towards the centre. And it just so happened that in the centre there was the logo of a grinning cat, branded by the cheesemonger…