The Cheshire Cat
Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality.The Cheshire cat
This philosophy-quoting, suddenly-materialising, cryptic advice-dispensing feline has been a pop culture staple ever since we first encountered him in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. We see him on t-shirts, tattoos, home decor items, and phone cases of both classic literature fans as well as angsty teenagers. While his exact origins and inspiration are as mysterious as he is, we’ll attempt to take a closer look at this ‘grin without a cat’ and see what we can learn about this enigmatic character and his role in the stories.
There is some speculation that his character was inspired by a real-life cat owned by Carroll’s friend and illustrator of the original books, Sir John Tenniel. The cat is said to have had a distinctive grin, which inspired Carroll to create the character. Another theory states that Carroll was inspired by a 16th-century sandstone carving of a grinning cat he saw on the west face of St. Wilfrid’s Church tower in Grappenhall.
The first time that Alice encounters the grinning cat is in the Duchess’s kitchen, then later again outside in the branches of a tree. It appears and disappears at will, leaving only its iconic grin behind. It’s the only character that really listens to Alice and engages her in baffling conversation, yet provides her with the advice she needs to continue her journey through Wonderland.
Although his role is limited in the original book, this character is brought more into the spotlight in later adaptations. In both the 1951 and the 2010 Tim Burton versions, the Cheshire cat –voiced by the brilliant Stephen Fry– appears more frequently and engages with Alice on a deeper level, making it possible for her to fulfil her destiny as the ‘champion of Wonderland.’
The way that he appears and disappears at just the right moment to advise Alice has led to numerous fan theories that he represents Alice’s subconscious mind and inner voice of sanity in a world that is otherwise nonsensical and without rhyme or reason. Whatever the truth about this fantastic feline or how we choose to see him, there’s no doubt that he’s magnificently written, and we just can’t help thinking about him for days after reading the book or watching the movies.
Check out the Mad Hatter's Tea Party to meet the characters!