The Cheshire Cat (// or //) is a fictional cat popularised by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and known for its distinctive mischievous grin. While now most often used in Alice-related contexts, the association of a "Cheshire cat" with grinning predates the 1865 book. It has transcended the context of literature and become enmeshed in popular culture, appearing in various forms of media, from political cartoons to television, as well as in cross-disciplinary studies, from business to science. One distinguishing feature of the Alice-style Cheshire Cat involves a periodic gradual disappearance of its body, leaving only one last visible trace: its iconic grin.
|Alice's Adventures in Wonderland character|
The Cheshire Cat as illustrator John Tenniel depicted it in the 1865 publication
|Created by||Lewis Carroll|
|Species||Tabby British Shorthair Cat|
|Gender||Male (the Queen of Hearts cries "off with his head" when the cat upsets the king)|
|Quote||"Most everyone's mad here."|
"You may have noticed that I'm not all there myself."
There are numerous theories about the origins of the phrase "grinning like a Cheshire Cat" in English history.
- A possible origin of the phrase is one favoured by the people of Cheshire, a county in England which boasts numerous dairy farms; hence the cats grin because of the abundance of milk and cream.
- According to Brewer's Dictionary, "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] The cheese was cut from the tail end, so that the last part eaten was the head of the smiling cat.
- In 1853, Samuel Maunder offered this explanation:
This phrase owes its origin to the unhappy attempts of a sign painter of that country to represent a lion rampant, which was the crest of an influential family, on the sign-boards of many of the inns. The resemblance of these lions to cats caused them to be generally called by the more ignoble name. A similar case is to be found in the village of Charlton, between Pewsey and Devizes, Wiltshire. A public-house by the roadside is commonly known by the name of “The Cat at Charlton”. The sign of the house was originally a lion or tiger, or some such animal – the crest of the family of Sir Edward Poore.
- The first known appearance of the expression in literature is in the 18th century, in Francis Grose's A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Second, Corrected and Enlarged Edition (1788), which contains the following entry:
Cheshire cat. He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shows his teeth and gums in laughing.
- The phrase appears again in print in John Wolcot's pseudonymous Peter Pindar's Pair of Lyric Epistles (1792):
"Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin."
- The phrase also appears in print in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel The Newcomes (1855):
"That woman grins like a Cheshire cat."
A survey published in 2015 showed how highly fanciful were many purported explanations seen on the internet.[verification needed] The expression has been explained as an amalgam of the widely used phrase "grinning like a cat that got the [spilt] cream" (which could apply to any part of the country, although Cheshire was the pre-eminent milk, cheese, and cream-producing county for several centuries) with Cheshire's unique privileged political status. On their own, either of these would have been something to grin about. The county was described as a palatinate from the 1290s and was promoted to be a principality in 1397, following the support its men gave King Richard II. No other English county has been honoured in this way or was accorded such unusually wide privileges. These included its own "borderland" laws and taxes, and a considerable measure of independence from national government, which persisted into the sixteenth century. These privileges attracted many who "arrived as fugitives from justice and this seems to have become the principal motivation [for escaping to Cheshire from the Kings laws] as the Middle Ages wore on". Once safely across the border into palatine Cheshire's jurisdiction, these transgressors could grin cheekily at any pursuing King's Sheriffs, and "disappear" into the countryside. Certainly, dictionaries show the word "caitiff" derived from Old French or Anglo-Norman in terms such as "cowardly or base villain" or "mean despicable fellow", and with its diminutive "cat" meaning "a 'sharp' fellow", as in the beat generation idiom.
Lewis Carroll's characterEdit
The Cheshire Cat is now largely identified with the character of the same name in Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice first encounters the Cheshire Cat at the Duchess's house in her kitchen, and later on the branches of a tree, where it appears and disappears at will, and engages Alice in amusing but sometimes perplexing conversation. The cat sometimes raises philosophical points that annoy or baffle Alice; but appears to cheer her when it appears suddenly at the Queen of Hearts' croquet field; and when sentenced to death, baffles everyone by having made its head appear without its body, sparking a debate between the executioner and the King and Queen of Hearts about whether a disembodied head can indeed be beheaded. At one point, the cat disappears gradually until nothing is left but its grin, prompting Alice to remark that "she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat".
Oxford professor E.B. PuseyEdit
The name Pusey was suggested by Alice's deferential address of the cat as "Cheshire Puss". Pusey was an authority on the fathers of the Christian Church, and in Carroll's time Pusey was known as the Patristic Catenary (or chain), after the chain of authority of Church patriarchs.
Riddle: What kind of a cat can grin?
Answer: A Catenary.— David Day, Queen's Quarterly (2010)
Source of imageryEdit
There is a suggestion that Carroll found inspiration for the name and expression of the Cheshire Cat in the 16th century sandstone carving of a grinning cat, on the west face of St Wilfrid's Church tower in Grappenhall, a village 4.9 miles from his birthplace in Daresbury, Cheshire.
Carroll wrote in his memoirs that he "saw a Cheshire cat with a gigantic smile at Brimstage carved into the wall". This refers to a roughly-cut corbel in Brimstage Hall, Wirral (previously in Cheshire) which resembles a smiling cat. This is another possible inspiration for the character.
Lewis Carroll's father, Reverend Charles Dodgson, was Rector of Croft and Archdeacon of Richmond in North Yorkshire, England, from 1843 to 1868; Carroll lived here from 1843 to 1850. Some historians believe Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland was inspired by a carving in Croft church.(p62)
Another possible inspiration was the British Shorthair: Carroll saw a representative British Shorthair illustrated on a label of Cheshire cheese. The Cat Fanciers' Association profile reads: “When gracelessness is observed, the British Shorthair is duly embarrassed, quickly recovering with a 'Cheshire cat smile'”.
In 1992, members of the Lewis Carroll Society attributed it to a gargoyle found on a pillar in St Nicolas's Church, Cranleigh, where Carroll used to travel frequently when he lived in Guildford (though this is doubtful, as he moved to Guildford some three years after Alice's Adventures in Wonderland had been published) and a carving in a church in the village of Croft-on-Tees, in the north east of England, where his father had been rector.
The Cheshire Cat character has been re-depicted by other creators and used as the inspiration for new characters, primarily in screen media (film, television, video games) and print media (literature, comics, art). Other non-media contexts that embrace the Cheshire Cat include music, business, and science.
Prior to 1951 when Walt Disney released an animated adaptation of the story (see below), there were few post-Alice allusions to the character. Martin Gardner, author of The Annotated Alice, wondered if T. S. Eliot had the Cheshire Cat in mind when writing Morning at the Window, but notes no other significant allusions in the pre-war period.(p62)
Images of and references to the Cheshire Cat cropped up with increasing frequency in the 1960s and 1970s, along with more frequent references to Carroll's works in general. (See generally the lyrics to White Rabbit by the rock group Jefferson Airplane). The Cheshire Cat appeared on LSD blotters, as well as in song lyrics and popular fiction.
In Disney's 1951 animated film, Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat is depicted as an intelligent and mischievous character that sometimes helps Alice and sometimes gets her into trouble. He frequently sings the first verse of the Jabberwocky poem. The animated character was voiced by Sterling Holloway (Alice in Wonderland) and Jim Cummings (2004–present).
In the 1985 television adaptation of Carroll's books, the Cheshire Cat is voiced by Telly Savalas. He sings a morose song called "There's No Way Home", which simply drives Alice to try and find a way home even more.
The Cheshire Cat appears in Walt Disney's 2010 Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton. British actor Stephen Fry voices the character. In the movie, Cheshire (as he is often called; or sometimes "Chess") binds the wound Alice suffered earlier by the Bandersnatch and guides her to Tarrant Hightopp, the Mad Hatter and Thackery Earwicket, the March Hare. He is blamed by the Hatter for desertion when the White Queen is deposed by the Red; but later impersonates the Hatter when the latter is sentenced to decapitation. Throughout his appearances, "Chess" is able to make himself intangible or weightless, as well as invisible (and thus to survive decapitation), and is usually depicted in mid-air, at shoulder-height to human-sized characters. In the video game adaptation of the movie, Chess is a playable character who can not only turn himself invisible, but other objects around him as well.
Each major film adaptation of Lewis Carroll's tale represents the Cheshire Cat character and his traits uniquely.
|Screen media adaptation & Distribution medium||Cheshire Cat's behavior||Cheshire Cat's appearance|
|Alice in Wonderland
Animated film by Walt Disney Studios)
|Mischievous, and takes pleasure in misdirecting Alice. He is able to dislocate his head from his body (does so in jest), but is also capable of invisibility, and frequently enters and exits the scene with all parts faded away except for his grin or eyes.||Thick build and a primarily pink coat with purple stripes. Wide smile and close-set, piercing yellow eyes. Character always depicted in good lighting with strong visibility, unlike other adaptations which obscure or shadow him|
|Adventures in Wonderland
broadcast TV show
|A sarcastic and playful rendition of the character. In this adaptation, the Cheshire Cat has the ability to appear and disappear in any location. He is quick to play practical jokes on the other characters in the show.||Closer resemblance to a tiger or lioness than a house cat. Coat has a lilac base with stripes painted in a violet accent color. Form possesses human-like mouth and facial structure|
|Alice in Wonderland
|A grinning cat who teaches Alice "the rules" of Wonderland. Her favorite pastime is appearing and disappearing.||A fluffy grey cat with a human face and feline features|
|Alice in Wonderland
live-action film directed by Tim Burton
|Disappearing and reappearing at will, and able even to change his size, levitate himself, assume the appearances of other characters, and become intangible at will. The cat plays a few jokes and toys with the other characters, but is helpful on a few occasions. He speaks in a slow and fluid manner.||More slender build, with a round head and grey coat with blue stripes. Bright aqua eyes (with slit-shaped pupils) and prominent teeth. Often more backlit than other adaptations, with only a faint, luminescent glow (self-generated) bringing his features into view|
In addition to the Cheshire Cat's appearances in films central to its Lewis Carroll origins, the Cheshire Cat has been featured in other cinematic works. The late filmmaker Chris Marker gave his monumental documentary on the New Left movement of 1967–1977, Le fond de l'air est rouge (1977), the English title Grin without a Cat. Like the original, it signifies that revolution was in the air, but failed to take root. In the film, it is also stated: a spearhead without a spear, a grin without a cat.
The Cheshire Cat has been seen by television audiences in a broadcast spin-off. The Cheshire Cat appears in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (a spin-off of Once Upon a Time) voiced by Keith David. While looking for the Mad Hatter's house from the trees, Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat in giant form where the Red Queen had promised him that Alice would be good food for him. They end up engaging each other in combat until the Knave of Hearts arrives and throws a piece of one mushroom side into his mouth, which shrinks the Cat back to normal size, and he leaves.
The Cheshire Cat appears as an avatar character in the video games American McGee's Alice (2000); and the sequel Alice: Madness Returns (2011), the Cheshire Cat is portrayed as an enigmatic and snarky, yet wise guide for Alice in the corrupted Wonderland. In keeping with the twisted tone of the game, the Cheshire Cat is mangy and emaciated in appearance. His voice was provided by Roger L. Jackson, who also voiced the Mad Hatter and The Jabberwock in the game.
The Cheshire Cat appears in Sunsoft's 2006 mobile game Alice's Warped Wonderland (歪みの国のアリス, Yugami no kuni no Arisu, Alice in Distortion World), serving as the guide to Ariko (the "Alice" of the game) and helps her chase after The White Rabbit. In the game, Cheshire Cat is portrayed with a humanoid body and wears a long gray cloak with a red-string bell around his neck, leaving only his nose, razor-sharp teeth, and wide grin visible. In Wonderland, Cheshire Cat is the "Guide", an important role that makes him feared by the other residents, and is compelled by Ariko's inner will to help her unlock her suppressed, traumatic memories and overcome her suicidal depression. Later in the game, Cheshire Cat gets beheaded by the Queen Of Hearts, but is still alive and his body is able to move on its own. Due to the White Rabbit's deranged state, Cheshire Cat fulfills his role of absorbing Ariko's negative emotions, though the task puts a large strain on him.
In this game, the Cheshire Cat has many other abilities, such as invisibility, disappearing and appearing at any location at will, superhuman strength, capable of seeing the invisible Small-Time, and can enter the real world in the form of a gray-furred cat. Cheshire Cat is described to have a low, soothing voice and speaks in a matter-of-fact, sometimes cryptic manner. While his playful, odd behavior sometimes frightens Ariko, Cheshire Cat has a very warm, caring, and loving demeanor towards Ariko, acting as her devoted confidant and protector throughout the game. In some of the bad endings, adsorbing too much of Ariko's negative emotions twisted Cheshire Cat's personality, causing him to become possessive of Ariko and murderous, killing anyone to monopolize Ariko for himself or even outright eating her.
The Cheshire Cat appears in Heart no Kuni no Alice, a dating sim game and its related media, as a young man named "Boris Airay", with cat-like attributes such as a tail and cat ears, and is one of the many love interests for Alice in Wonderland.
In the third volume of Shazam!, the Cheshire Cat is shown to live in the Magiclands location called the Wozenderlands. When the Scarecrow and the Munchkins were taking Billy Batson, Mary Bromfield, and C.C. Batson to Dorothy Gale, the Cheshire Cat appeared near the Blue Brick Road. He went on the attack only to be fought off by Shazam and Lady Shazam.
Cheshire Cat is used as a metaphor to describe several scientific phenomena:
- The Cheshire Cat effect, as described by Sally Duensing and Bob Miller, is a binocular rivalry which causes stationary objects seen in one eye to disappear from view when an object in motion crosses in front of the other eye.
Each eye sees two different views of the world, sends those images to the visual cortex where they are combined, and creates a three-dimensional image. The Cheshire Cat effect occurs when one eye is fixated on a stationary object, while the other notices something moving. Since one eye is seeing a moving object, the brain will focus on it, causing parts of the stationary object to fade away from vision entirely.
- In another scientific context, catalytic RNAs have been deemed Cheshire cats. This metaphor is used to describe the fading of the ribonucleotide construct, which leaves behind a smile of only the mineral components of the RNA catalyst.
- Similarly, the Cheshire Cat has been used out of its traditional context to help define another scientific phenomenon, the "Cheshire Cat" escape strategy. When Coccolithophore – a species of successful ocean algae – is able to resist the haploid phase of its life cycle it escapes meiosis and its dominant diploid genes are passed on in a virus-free environment, freeing the host from the danger of infection during reproduction. The algae escape death (beheading) by means of disappearance (vanishing his head):
... [T]aken from Lewis Carroll, we liken this theory to the strategy used by the Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland of making its body invisible to make the sentence "off with his head" pronounced by the Queen of Hearts impossible to execute ... C.C. dynamics, which rely to some extent on separation of the sexual processes of meiosis and fusion in time and / or space, release the host from short-term pathogen pressure, thus widening the scope for the host to evolve in other directions.
- Other gestures to the Cheshire Cat's tropes of disappearance and mystique have been seen in scientific literature coming from the field of Physics. "The Cheshire Cat" is a phenomenon in quantum mechanics in which a particle and its property behave as if they are separated, or when a particle separates from one of its physical properties. To test this idea, researchers used an interferometer where neutron beams passed through silicon crystal. The crystal physically separated the neutrons and allowed them to go to two paths. Researchers reported "the system behaves as if the neutrons go through one beam path, while their magnetic moment travels along the other."
- The Cheshire cat's grin has inspired scientists in their naming of visual phenomena. A merger of galaxy groups in the constellation Ursa Major is nicknamed "Cheshire Cat galaxy group" by Astronomers due to its suggestive appearance.
- In linguistics, cheshirization, when a sound disappears but leaves a trace, just like the cat disappears but leaves his grin.
- This was the stated explanation in Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice.
- "Cheshire cat". The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Definition and More. merriam-webster.com. 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- Gardner, Martin (1999). The Annotated Alice: Alice's adventures in Wonderland & Through the looking glass. W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04847-0.
- Maunder, Samuel (1853). The Treasury of Knowledge and Library Reference (12th ed.). Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans. p. 396.
- Young, Peter. "Origins of the Cheshire Cat". Cheshire History. 55 (2015–2016): 184–193.
- White, Graeme J (2015). The Magna Carta of Cheshire. London. p. 39.
- Chambers (1972). Twentieth Century Dictionary. London.
- Collins (2003). English Dictionary. London.
- Annotated Alice; the statement "a grin without a cat" is a reference to mathematics dissociating itself completely from the natural world.
- Day, David (2010). "Oxford in Wonderland". Queen's Quarterly. 117 (3): 402–423.
- Day, David (24 August 2015). "The Cheshire Cat's Grin: Solving the greatest mystery of Wonderland, 150 years later". The Walrus.
- "Lewis Carroll's birthplace". National Trust. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
- "Brimstage". Cheshire Now. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
- "Brimstage Hall, Cheshire, England". Geni. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
- Clark, Ann (1979). Lewis Carroll: A biography. London, UK: J.M. Dent & Sons. ISBN 0-460-04302-1.
- Stewart, Ian (2010). Professor Stewart's Hoard of Mathematical Treasures. Profile Books. p. 67.
- Geyer, Georgie Anne. When Cats Reigned like Kings: On the trail of the sacred cats. Transaction Publishers. p. 219.
- "Cheshire Cat found by fans of Lewis Carroll". The Toronto Star. Toronto, ON. Reuters. 8 July 1992. p. C24.
- "St. Christopher's church". pottshrigleychurch.org.uk. History. Pott Schrigley, Cheshire, UK. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
- Brooker, Will (2004). Alice's Adventures: Lewis Carroll and Alice in Popular Culture. London: Continuum. p. 81. ISBN 0-8264-1433-8. Retrieved 7 July 2008.
- Roos, Michael (1984). "The Walrus and the Deacon: John Lennon's debt to Lewis Carroll". Journal of Popular Culture. 18 (1): 19–29. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1984.1801_19.x.
- St Clair, Vanessa (5 June 2001). "A girl like Alice". The Guardian. UK.
- Real, Willi (2003). "The Use of Literary Quotations and Allusions in: Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451". Retrieved 7 July 2008.
- "Alice in Wonderland" (Script). Glossary of Terms. Walt Disney Pictures (early draft ed.). JoBlo.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 30 March 2010. (early draft of the film script, first started February 2007)
- Palmer, Roger (25 October 2019). "New Fantasia, Jiminy Cricket, Cheshire Cat, & Seven Dwarfs animated projects rumored for Disney+". iO9. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
- "Alice in Wonderland (1951 film)". IMBD. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- "Adventures in Wonderland (1991 TV show)". IMDB. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- "Alice in Wonderland (TV Movie 1999)". Retrieved 5 October 2014. Cite journal requires
- "Alice in Wonderland (2010 film)". IMBD. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
- Mitovich, Matt Webb (5 September 2013). "Once upon a Time in Wonderland exclusive: Keith David to voice Cheshire Cat".
- "Alice's warped Wonderland". Sunsoft. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
- "Alice's Warped Wonderland ~Encore~". Sunsoft. Retrieved 26 August 2018.
- "Shazam!". Vol. 3 no. 9. DC Comics. Cite magazine requires
- Duensing, Sally; Miller, Bob (1979). "The Cheshire Cat effect". Perception. 8 (3): 269–273. doi:10.1068/p080269. PMID 534155.
- "Cheshire Cat: Perception Science Project". Exploratorium Science Snacks. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
- Yarus, Michael (1993). "How many catalytic RNAs? Ions and the Cheshire cat conjecture". The FASEB Journal. 7 (1): 31–39. doi:10.1096/fasebj.7.1.8422972. PMID 8422972.
- Frada, Miguel; et al. (2008). "The 'Cheshire Cat' escape strategy of the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi in response to viral infection". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (41): 15944–15949. doi:10.1073/pnas.0807707105. PMC 2572935. PMID 18824682.
- Denkmayr, T.; Geppert, H.; Sponar, S; Lemmel, H.; Matzkin, A.; Tollaksen, J; Hasegawa, Y. (29 July 2014). "Observation of a quantum Cheshire Cat in a matter-wave interferometer experiment". Nature Communications. 5: 4492. doi:10.1038/ncomms5492. PMC 4124860. PMID 25072171.
- Morgan, James. "'Quantum Cheshire Cat' becomes reality". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
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- Silvey, Anita (2002). The essential guide to children's books and their creators. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-19082-1.
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