The Cats of Ulthar by H.P. Lovecraft (1920)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror August 20, 2013
Egyptian priests believed that cats possessed magnetic forces of nature. In the West, witches believed that black cats could share their magical secrets. Mistresses of Runecraft wore cat skins to inspire clarity in reading the Runes. What is striking about any cat is that if you watch it while sleeping, all curled up into a perfect little circle, frequently the head touching its tail, it forms a shape similar to the ouroboros, a symbol of rebirth or immortality.
Cats are a favorite in literature, their bewitching grace often used as a symbol or metaphor. T.S. Eliot is famous for his Bustopher Jones, A Cat About Town. Poe had Pluto in The Black Cat. Yeats wrote his Cat and the Moon. Lovecraft was a true cat lover too. In his The Cats of Ulthar he gives us a dark and moody tale about fear and revenge.
Near the river Skai, in the countryside of Ulthar dwells and old cotter and his wife who delighted in slaying cats, which puzzles and frightens the local folk so much, they keep a clear distance from the evil couple. One day a caravan of “dark wanderers” travel through the village. With them is their leader, a man with a headdress of two horns, and an orphaned boy named Menes. Menes’ only possession is his tiny black kitten.
At night, voices of screeching cats prevail. Menes awakes and cannot find his kitten.
Read the short story (15-minute read) at the H.P. Lovecraft Archives
Portrait of H.P. Lovecraft with his cat.
If you’ve not experienced a story with “sand animation,” try this YouTube presentation of The Cats of Ulthar. Narration is from Dagon & Other Macabre Tales, background music by Toshio Masuda. Only about 10 minutes long, this is a fun, artistic way to watch and listen to fiction.
Do you have cats? Tell us their names.
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4 responses to “Night Cats by the River Skai”
I’d read this story before but re-read it this morning via your link. Thanks for reminding me of it. I love how the little boy inthe caravan has the same name as an Egyptian pharoah too (it sounded familiar so I looked it up). The sand drawing was also fascinating. I’d never seen that done before.
I have no cats (or other “familiars”) myself. I think I’m allergic to them if they have longer hair. I’ve never “trusted” them either, since watching the classic sci-fi movie, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”…
That sand animation was amazing to me, Jay. Glad you liked it. I re-read stories all the time. It’s like discovering an old friendship again.
Oh these names are so European! I just love it. One of my cats is Mr. Bibs. Thanks for commenting, Latasha.
Dorgan and Freya are our feline friends that share our home