The Cheshire cat as
John Tenniel envisioned it in the 1866 publication
The Cheshire Cat is a
fictional cat appearing in
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It appears and disappears at will, engaging
Alice in amusing but sometimes vexing conversation. The cat often points out
philosophical points that annoy Alice.
At one point, the cat disappeared gradually until nothing was left but its
grin, prompting Alice to remark that she had often seen a cat without a grin but
never a grin without a cat. This has become a point of notability for the cat:
most people remember it most strongly performing its vanishing act.
Disney's version of the Cheshire cat in the 1951 Alice
There are reports that Carroll found inspiration for the Cheshire Cat in a
carving in a church in the village of Croft-on-Tees, in the north east of
England, where his father had been rector. Another view is the cat is based on a
gargoyle found on a pillar in St Nicholas Church Cranleigh, where Carroll used
to travel frequently when he lived in Guildford. The cat is named after
Carroll's home county, Cheshire. Others attribute it to a carving on the west
face of the tower at St. Wilfrid's Church, Grappenhall Village Warrington,
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says grinning like a Cheshire cat is
"an old simile, popularized by Lewis Carrol". Brewer adds, "The phrase has never
been satisfactorily accounted for, but it has been said that cheese was formerly
sold in Cheshire moulded like a cat that looked as though it was grinning."
A more likely origin for the story concerns the cats that lived in the port
of Chester. Until the late 1970s, a monument to the Cheshire Cat stood beside
the River Dee, where there had formerly been a cheese warehouse. It was said
that cats sitting on the dock would wait for the rats and mice to leave the
ships transporting Cheshire cheese to London and were the happiest cats in the
kingdom, hence their grins. The monument was destroyed when Copfield House, a
house that stood on the site of the warehouse, was demolished in 1979.
The Cheshire cat's radically altered form in
American McGee's Alice, 2000
The cat also makes appearances in other works based on Alice in Wonderland.
For instance, he can be found in Disney's film version of the books, wearing
pink and purple stripes and singing of the
Jabberwocky in Sterling Holloway's memorable voice. American McGee's Alice
features a tattooed, emaciated Cheshire cat who is Alice's constant companion
and guide. The cat also appears in Jasper Fforde's novels about Thursday Next, in which it is the librarian of the great library in the
"Please, would you tell me," said Alice, a little timidly, ... "why your
cat grins like that?"
"It's a Cheshire cat," said the Duchess, "and that's why."
The cat also uses logic to offer non-solutions to Alice's question:
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad.
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
Another example of this practice is presented when Alice asks for directions:
"... thought Alice, and she went on. "Would you tell me, please, which
way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where –" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"– so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long
From American McGee's Alice
"Only a few find the way, some don't recognise it when they do, some
don't ever want to."
"Only the insane equate pain with success."
"How fine you look when dressed in rage. Your enemies are fortunate that
your condition is not permanent ... and you're lucky too. Red eyes suite so
few." – A comment to Alice after the player finds a "rage box" (a power-up)
for the first time.
"Here's a riddle, when is a croquet mallet like a billy club? I'll tell
you: whenever you want it to be."
"52 pickup is a staple of juvenile humor, but when the deck slices and
dices, it's no laughing matter."
"Bravery and I are not on intimate terms. My natural curiosity is
tempered with caution – thus I've lived long."
"Slowly, the grin disappeared, until nothing was left but the cat. This
is nearly as scary as the other way around." (Regarding