Lovecraft on Cats and Dogs

Monday, November 9th, 2015

H.P. Lovecraft was obviously not a dog guy:

I have no active dislike for dogs, any more than I have for monkeys, human beings, negroes, cows, sheep, or pterodactyls; but for the cat I have entertained a particular respect and affection ever since the earliest days of my infancy. In its flawless grace and superior self-sufficiency I have seen a symbol of the perfect beauty and bland impersonality of the universe itself, objectively considered; and in its air of silent mystery there resides for me all the wonder and fascination of the unknown. The dog appeals to cheap and facile emotions; the cat to the deepest founts of imagination and cosmic perception in the human mind. It is no accident that the contemplative Egyptians, together with such later poetic spirits as Poe, Gautier, Baudelaire, and Swinburne, were all sincere worshippers of the supple grimalkin.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    I counter with Happy People: A Year in the Taiga Trailer:

    A documentary depicting the life and work of the trappers of Bakhtia, a village in the heart of the Siberian Taiga, where daily life has changed little in over a century.

    One thing I learned from Happy People is that a dog in the Taiga is like a horse in the American Frontier: not merely a “best friend” but a lifeline. A brooding hunter becomes emotional when recalling a dog who gave up her life defending him from a bear attack.

    All parts are on YouTube; each is 50 min:
    Happy People Part 1: Spring
    Happy People Part 2: Summer
    Happy People Part 3: Autumn
    Happy People Part 4: Winter

    You don’t take your cat on an adventure. That pretty much sums it up for me.

    But don’t misunderstand me; I like cats as well, despite toxoplasma gondii, but that essay is the most blowhardy thing I’ve read all year, and if it had been my introduction to Lovecraft it would have been the last of it.

  2. Harold says:

    “The dog appeals to cheap and facile emotions; the cat to the deepest founts of imagination and cosmic perception in the human mind.”


  3. Jon says:

    While from a practical perspective a dog may fight a bear or a burglar for you and a cat might decimate the mice that threaten to decimate your life-line grain store, the issue addressed by Lovecraft is the “appeal” of the animals.

    It is clear that dogs are pack animals who are generally willing to subordinate themselves as beta animals, thereby transforming their owners into illustrious alpha pack leaders. The cheap and facile emotion is one of lording it over the betas as a great alpha leader.

    The relationships between cats and humans are more complex because the cats are not sloppily subservient, so the appeal is to a more complex relationship between semi-independent creatures.

    The different nature of the two kinds relationships can be compared to the relationships of political parties and voters. Many canine-type voters will simply take pride in their subservient loyalty to their favored party, which will often take that loyalty for granted and abuse it. The behavior of a labor union that forsakes the Democrat party in response to the Keystone Pipeline stymieing is a relatively feline behavior, and it is based on somewhat less-facile emotions.

    This is the difference between a blind loyalty of the team-player beta governed and the alpha governing, as distinct from a kind of mutual cooperation of governing peers with some self-respect.

    Imagine a world in which the leaders are leveraging deepest founts of imagination and cosmic perception to discern the inscrutable interests of the voters rather than patting themselves on the back for being alpha pack leaders.

    It thus may well be that the canine-centric aesthetic is at the root of much political disfunctionality, and the world might be a better place if there were fewer dog-lover voters.

  4. R. says:

    Interesting that he writes, “human beings, negroes”…

  5. Thales says:

    Not surprised — cats are insane, inscrutable creatures. If cats did not exist, Lovecraft would have had to invent them.

  6. Spandrell says:

    Yet another toxoplasma junkie.

  7. Slovenian Guest says:

    Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii. It is capable of infecting virtually all warm-blooded animals, although felids such as domestic cats are the only known definitive hosts in which the parasite can undergo sexual reproduction. Congenital toxoplasmosis is associated with fetal death and abortion, and in infants it is associated with neurologic deficits. That’s why pregnant women are advised to stay away from cats.

    It is known to remove a rodent’s innate fear of cats:

    When a healthy rat smells a cat, it flees. But rats infected with the Toxoplasma brain parasite actually follow cat odors, often presumably to their doom, red in tooth and claw. That Toxo-infected rats approach cats has long been a well-known example of a parasite manipulating the behavior of its mammalian host.

    Infections with toxoplasmosis usually cause no symptoms in adult humans, but when I see choirs singing welcome songs at train stations, while bearded men on inbound trains are screaming “Allahu akbar!”, I think toxoplasmosis. Crazy cat ladies? Liberals? Again, toxoplasmosis!

    Also, Lovecraft didn’t write about the domestic cat, you know, Felis silvestris catus, but some mythical fable creature. Yes, from that point of view cats are superior, because they have nine lives…

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