Catwings

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Ursula K. Le Guin is renowned for her science fiction but I have always known her as the author of my beloved children’s book series. Catwings is exactly the kind of intrusion fantasy I love (see my post on The Little White Horse). The story of a normal stray cat giving birth to a litter of winged kittens with an uncertain destiny captured my imagination because it felt like it could be true. The idea of cats with wings feels natural, like they always existed but we forgot somehow, so these books always remind me to pay attention lest I miss the magic.

Like all the best children’s books, it’s full of clever observations. As the catwings make their way through the dangerous city, they fly in the open on a dreary day because, “Nobody looks up when it’s raining!” Since then, I always do. I also related to the owl's slow processing, “for the owl thinks slowly, but the owl thinks long.” But my favorite moment will always be the end of the first book where the catwings find solace with two children in the countryside:

“Oh, Hank,” Susan whispered, “their wings are furry.”
“Oh, James,” Harriet whispered, “their hands are kind.”

This exchange always comes to mind whenever I interact with any kind of creature. Kindness to animals is a precious value.

Finally, I have a special fondness for a character who appears in later books. Jane is a tiny black kitten fending for herself in the big city. I've always felt a certain kinship to her, with my middle name being Jane, and the image of a fierce kitty who is spiky and misunderstood but really just scared. It's sweet to read how the other catwings soothe and reassure her, and how eventually she opens up without losing her same adventurousness and self-confidence.

Le Guin once shared the story of how the catwings entered her life: “I drew a picture of a cat with wings on my shopping list. The cat kept flying around in my head until I sat down and wrote the story.” I'm glad she did so we could see them, too.

Adrian PatenaudeComment