The following review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac
_Mark Twain for Cat Lovers: True and Imaginary Adventures with Feline
Friends_. Mark Dawidziak. Lyons Press, 2016. Pp. 188. Hardcover $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-4930-1957-1 (hardcover). ISBN 978-1-4930-2709-5 (ebook).
_Mark Twain for Dog Lovers: True and Imaginary Adventures with Man's Best
Friend_. R. Kent Rasmussen. Lyons Press, 2016. Pp. 202. Hardcover $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-4930-1958-8 (hardcover). ISBN 978-1-4930-2710-1 (ebook).
Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <
Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Kevin Mac Donnell
Copyright (c) 2016 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.
Animals are prominent in Mark Twain's writings. A frog brought him his
first national fame--actually, two frogs--one that hopped and one that did
not. A dog tells one story (although Mark Twain's name appears as author),
and a horse and an elephant are each the focus of other stories. Blue jays
and crows behave exactly like humans. Cats, both dead and alive, make
memorable appearances, and one medicated cat performs somersaults. An
elephant vanishes, and a motley crew of creatures mount a scientific
expedition. In fact, animals densely populate his shorter sketches and
newspaper work, and they are found in nearly every one of his longer
writings and story collections: _The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras
County_ (1867), _The Innocents Abroad_ (1869), _Roughing It_ (1872),
_Sketches New and Old_ (1875), _The Adventures of Tom Sawyer_ (1876), _A
Tramp Abroad_ (1880), _The Stolen White Elephant_ (1882), _Life on the
Mississippi_ (1883), _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ (1885), _A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_ (1889), _Tom Sawyer Abroad_
(1894), _Pudd'nhead Wilson_ (1894), _Tom Sawyer Detective_ (1896),
_Following the Equator_ (1897), _A Dog's Tale_ (1903), _What Is Man?_
(1906), _A Horse's Tale_ (1907), _The Mysterious Stranger_ (1916, 1963,
1968), and _Mark Twain's Autobiography_ (1924, 2010, 2013, 2015).
Animals figure prominently in Mark Twain's personal life as well. He
frequently appears in photographs with both dogs and cats--more often with
cats--and he once sat with a fake cat curled in his lap. He was surrounded
by cats in his youth and his old age, but it was a dog that was in his room
in his last days. Some of his Langdon relatives were very nearly killed
before his eyes when their carriage was carried away by a runaway horse,
and his daughter Jean narrowly escaped death when the horse she was riding
was struck and killed by a street-car. He welcomed most animals that came
his way, but a snake that slithered into the library of his Hartford home
was promptly tossed out a window with fireplace tongs.
Twainians will fondly recall Robert M. Rodney and Minnie M. Brashear's _The
Birds and Beasts of Mark Twain_ (1966), Janet Smith's _Mark Twain on Man
and Beast_ (1972), Maxwell Geismer's _The Higher Animals, A Mark Twain
Bestiary_ (1976) and Shelley Fisher Fishkin's more recent _Mark Twain's
Book of Animals_ (2010). These artfully illustrated volumes document Mark
Twain's depictions of the animals already mentioned above, as well as
bears, chameleons, mules, turkeys, buffaloes, cows, assorted insects,
monkeys, kangaroos, camels, coyotes, and fish. And that's not all! Who
among us can forget, far off in the empty sky, the solitary oesophagus that
slept upon motionless wing?
But these other animals don't rank as high in Mark Twain's estimation as
cats and dogs. The human race may have been damned, but not cats and dogs.
Twain's daughter Susy famously said her mother loved morals, but her father
loved cats, and she was right. No matter where he lived he always had cats
in his life. While the same cannot be said for Twain's relationship with
dogs, he wrote an entire book about a dog--not a cat, and he wrote to his
friend William Dean Howells that he hoped to go to dog's heaven, not man's.
So it seems inevitable that well-known Mark Twain scholars Mark Dawidziak
and Kent Rasmussen would come along, and it's suddenly Twaining cats and
dogs: Abner, Agnes, Bismark, Bummer, Catullus, Cataline, Cattaraugus,
Catasauqua, Motley, Stray Kit, Fraulein, Lazy, Buffalo Bill, Soapy Sal,
Prosper le Gai, Cleveland, Fix, Peter, Sin, Satan, Famine, Pestilence, Sour
Mash, Tom Quartz, Appollinaris, Zoroaster, Blatherskite, Lazarus, Babylon,
Bones, Belchazar, Elihu Vedder, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Germania, Bambino,
Andrew Jackson, Ananda, Annanci, Socrates Goldenrod Slee, Jo Cook,
Sackcloth, Sackcloth, Ashes, Tammany, Sinbad, Danbury, Billiards, Aileen
Mavourneen, Mark Twain and Mark Twain. The listings of two Sackcloths and
two Twains are not typos. This cloudburst of cats and dogs is not a
complete list, but most of these dogs and cats appear in the two volumes
just published. If you want to test your Twainian credentials, identify
which of these are dogs and which are cats, and then read these books to
check your answers.
Dawidziak collects together forty stories and extracts from Twain's
writings about cats, and Rasmussen has gathered forty-six about dogs. The
pieces selected range from entire stories to short extracts from a variety
of sources that include well-known newspapers, obscure newspapers, Twain's
correspondence, Twain's own memoirs, and other memoirs by his longtime
housekeeper Kate Leary, his lecture agent James B. Pond, and his daughter
Clara. Each story is sourced, and all are introduced with informed and
light-hearted prefatory notes. Rather than original art work like the
Geismer and Fishkin volumes, these two little tomes are generously
illustrated with original photographs of Mark Twain posing and playing with
dogs and cats, and illustrations from early editions of Twain's writings,
as well as some from other contemporary sources. Both volumes are designed
to appeal to general readers and serious Twainians alike.
Readers will find these books hard to put down once they browse the
contents pages. The cat stories are grouped into six categories: "Cats Who
Eat Cocoanuts, Smoke Cigars, and Get Blown Up"; "No Home Complete Without a
Cat"; "Give Me a Cat"; "What Is [sic] Dead Cats Good For?"; "Lions and
Tigers and Twain"; and, "No Ordinary Cats." The dog stories are likewise
divided dogmatically into six sections: "Mark Twain in the Company of
Dogs"; "Uncommon Canines"; "Put-Upon Pooches"; "Party Animals"; "Dogs With
Foreign Accents"; and "Lessons We Can Learn from Dogs." The books are
equally enjoyable whether the pieces are read in order or at random, and
along the way every reader will learn something new.
Every Twainian will see the familiar expected episodes--the dog that
disrupts the church service, the cat that swallows painkiller, the fatal
encounter of fifteen dogs with a Good Little Boy, the cat in the ruff--but
no Twainian will be familiar with all of them. There will be some
surprises--an obituary for a famous San Francisco dog, an entomologist who
identifies the species of beetle that pinches the nose of the dog that
disrupts the church service (and names a beetle after Twain--Sonoma
twaini), some cats who fall asleep on command, and how Twain uses a cat to
argue against Shakespeare's authorship of the plays that bear his name.
Readers can enjoy Twain's canine description that inspired Chuck Jones to
create his famous Roadrunner cartoons, and mourn the violent death of a
handsome cat that Twain dubbed the "mascat" of the Aquarium, his club for
his surrogate grand-daughters, the angelfish. This list could be extended,
but only at the risk of teasers morphing into spoilers.
Some avid readers will dog-ear these books. Librarians will catalogue them.
Some will buy them as gifts for their cater-cousins. Some will be
catapulted to new heights by reading them right away, while others may hold
off for the dog-days of summer. But get to your nearest bookshop any way
you might--by dogcart or by catamaran--and obtain these books. It would be
a dog-gone catastrophe not to. I daresay, only somebody dog-tired or
catatonic, or perhaps just resting on a catafalque, could do without them.