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OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


“Lovecraft and Cats: ‘Balm from Gilead’ in a Plutonian Cosmos”, by Katherine Kerestman


             Inaugurating her disquisition on Lovecraft and Cats with a Johnsonian aphorism, a writer’s trick which might have provoked a grin (or a grimace) upon the sober mien of Howard Philips Lovecraft, this Scribbler avows that any person desiring an intimate relationship with a feline must comprise within her own nature a propensity to admire and to esteem those exceptional individuals among the general class of earth-tenants who are endowed with personal qualities of a superior type. Then – having acknowledged the natural preeminence of the Cat, among this stratum of superior beings, according to the objective (ie., Classical) ideals of beauty, intellect, self-reliance, self-respect, and prowess in the field – said person might credibly pursue a close acquaintance with a furry beastie with fair odds of success. It is a well-known fact that the cat is preoccupied with his own affairs; therefore, it must be uncertain whether he would respond to an admirer’s attentions with any portion of celerity (indeed, if at all); but, if, over time, a cat should choose to requite a supplicant’s esteem, said petitioner would discover that the regard of a cat is illimitable and untainted by a hidden agenda – and, thus, her efforts will have been well-rewarded. What self-respecting gentlewoman or gentleman would not prefer the love of an independent, admirable, and worthy being who loves one for her own sake to the fawning of a sycophantic, needy creature, which endeavors to correct his own deficiencies through association with a superior being? This is the very question which H. P. Lovecraft addresses in his inimitable defense of feline preeminence, “Cats and Dogs.”

            The complete body of fiction, poetry, and letters of Lovecraft, ailurophile of distinction, comprises a celebration of the myriad and magnificent traits of the Cat. The foremost of these catly traits are “Beauty, which is probably the only thing of any basic significance in all the cosmos, [and] ought to be our chief criterion; and here the cat excels so brilliantly that all comparisons collapse” (Joshi, p. 61); and the bond cats form with the chosen objects of their affection.

            A perusal of The H. P. Lovecraft Cat Book (Ed. S. T. Joshi, The Necronomicon Press, 2019) – a pleasing volume in which S. T. Joshi has amassed the sum of Lovecraft’s writing concerning cats, and which also includes a catly biography of our favorite ailurophile – makes it plain that Lovecraft’s eulogiums upon cats are not limited to an expression of his own abstract philosophies; for Lovecraft pressed pen to paper, most often, to recount anecdotes of the individual felidae who crossed his path and with whom he formed deep personal attachments throughout his sadly abbreviated life.

            For Howard Philips Lovecraft, loving a cat requires no effort at all:

“. . . whilst small kittens become objects to adore, idealise, and celebrate in the most rhapsodic of dactyls and anapests, iambics, and trochaics. I, in my own senescent mellowness, confess to an inordinate and wholly unphilosophic predilection for tiny coal-black kitties with large yellow eyes, and could no more pass one without petting him than Dr. Johnson could pass a sidewalk post without striking it.” (p. 66)

            Yet, Lovecraft’s love is founded upon a metaphysical respect for the cuddly creature who embodies the

“Beauty and sufficiency – twin qualities of the cosmos itself [which] are the gods of this aristocratic and pagan type . . . Beauty – coolness – aloofness – philosophic repose – self-sufficiency – untamed mastery . . . the peerless and softly gliding cat, which performs its mysterious orbit with the relentless and unobtrusive certainty of a planet in infinity.” (p. 57)

            Considering cats from a cosmic perspective, Lovecraft holds that the value of cats cannot be measured according either to their resemblance to humans or their usefulness to them – for cats are their own creatures, they know they are their own creatures, and they – just as we – can only be considered in terms of the universe at large. As do humans, cats exist in a shadowy and inscrutable infinity. Therefore, in order to fully esteem the Cat, a person must possess a cosmic, rather than a human-centered, understanding of the scheme of things:

“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.” (p. 54)

             “The sensitive poet-aristocrat-philosopher” (p. 57) prizes cats because they appeal to the “deepest founts of imagination and cosmic perception in the human mind.” (p. 54)

            The noble being – cat or human – for Lovecraft, is above the fray of the marketplace, has higher concerns than social approbation, “is never without the potentialities of contentment . . . [and] knows how to be alone and happy. Once he looks about and finds no one to amuse him, he settles down to the task of amusing himself.” (p. 67)

            Their self-possession is another reason that Lovecraft affords cats a greater degree of respect than other “domesticated” animals. The aesthete “repudiate[s]e the idea that cringing subservience and sidling companionship to man are supreme merits, and stand free to worship aristocratic independence, self-respect, and individual personality joined to extreme grace and beauty as typified by the cool, lithe, cynical, and unconquered lord of the housetops.” (p. 55)

            Cats have agency. They have personality. They are individuals, not fauna. Darling Little Sam Perkins is “an imp from Azathoth’s nethermost gulf of tenebrous chaos” (p 109), while Lovecraft’s special friend, Old Man, is the guardian of a mysterious gateway to “some nameless dimension.” (p. 98) Lovecraft expends more paper and ink describing the quirky personalities of his associates among the felidae than many of his fictional human characters.        

            He states that cats jealously protect their discrete personhood, brooking no affront to their dignity: “whip a cat and watch it glare and move backwards hissing in outraged dignity and self-respect! One more blow, and it strikes you in return; for it is a gentleman and your equal, and will accept no infringement on its personality and body of privileges.” (p. 68)

            Furthermore, the super-human abilities of the Cat warrant even the veneration of our kind. The most prominent of these powers is the cat’s ability to straddle two worlds – the material world in which we live and another dimension beyond our understanding:

“Legions of cats from alleys nocturnal,
Howling and lean in the glare of the moon,
Screaming the future with mouthings infernal,
Yelling the burden of Pluto’s red rune.” (p. 50)

            In a letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, H. P. Lovecraft states that he has often derived inspiration for his fiction from these whiskered earthlings.:

“I had a visitor the other night, who gave me an idea for a good story. He was a furry, four-footed young visitor, with a black coat, white gloves & boots, & white around the tip of his nose & the tip of his tail. He sat in a chair near me, purring most inspiringly, when I permitted my fancy to consider his ancient race & heritage. I am intensely fond of his species, as I have doubtless told you more than once; & as I looked upon him my thoughts ran thus: . . . The cat is the soul of antique Ægyptus, & bearer of tales from forgotten empires in Meroë & Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, & heir to the  secrets of hoary & sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, & he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, & remembers that which she hath forgotten. As I mused, a plot took form in my mind. A simple, yet a ghastly plot. And that plot will some day reach the amateur publick in the form of a tale to be entitled “The Cats of Ulthar.” (p. 126)

            Some people who entertain a special sympathy for the feline may learn to speak with cats and may even glean from cats some part of that knowledge which they possess that surpasseth human understanding, as can be seen in this passage from “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath:”

“Then through that star-specked darkness there did come a normal sound. It rolled from the higher hills, and from all the jagged peaks around it was caught up and echoed in a swelling pandaemoniac chorus. It was the midnight yell of the cat, and Carter knew at last that the old village folk were right when they made low guesses about the cryptical realms which are known only to cats, and to which the elders among cats repair by stealth nocturnally, springing from high housetops. Verily, it is to the moon's dark side that they go to leap and gambol on the hills and converse with ancient shadows, and here amidst that column of foetid things Carter heard their homely, friendly cry, and thought of the steep roofs and warm hearths and little lighted windows of home.


“Now much of the speech of cats was known to Randolph Carter, and in this far, terrible place he uttered the cry that was suitable. . . across all those leagues of wild  plateau and ragged crest there squatted one endless sea of cats in orderly array. Circle on circle they reached, and two or three leaders out of the ranks were licking his face and purring to him consolingly. . .  cats, and learned that his ancient friendship with the species was well known and often spoken of in the places where cats congregate.” (pp. 74-76)


            For cognoscenti like Lovecraft, philosophical efforts to derive “meaning” from life through religious or sociological imaginings are so much sentimental bosh in comparison to the veneration of Beauty, the highest objective good. In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft writes that

“All we may say is, that the more purely an aesthete a man is, the more likely he is to prefer cats; since the superior grace, beauty, manners & neatness of the cat cannot but conquer the fancy of any impartial observer emancipated from mundane & ethical illusions. In reality the purely aesthetick factors far outweigh the philosophick; so that although a gentleman respects a cat for its independence, aloofness, sufficiency, &coolness, he really likes the cat principally because of its peerless beauty & the superior gentleness . . . They’re confounded pretty, & that’s all we know & all we need to know!”  (pp. 129-130)

            In “Cats and Dogs,” Lovecraft states that cats are living poems, cosmic works of art:

“Beauty, which is probably the only thing of any basic significance in all the cosmos,  ought to be our chief criterion; and here the cat excels so brilliantly that all comparisons collapse . . . The sheer, perfect aestheticism of kitty’s lazy stretchings, industrious face-washings, playful rollings, and little involuntary shiftings in sleep is something as keen and vital as the best pastoral poetry or genre painting.” (pp. 61-62)

            Beauty – personified by cats – is the one thing we can hold onto to, in order to experience joy in an indifferent universe:

“the Cat is for the man who appreciates beauty as the one living force in a blind and purposeless universe, and who worships that beauty in all its forms without regard for the sentimental and ethical illusions of the moment ... for him who does things not for empty duty but for power, pleasure, splendour, romance, and glamour—for the harpist who sings alone in the night of old battles.” (p. 71)

             Lovecraft is the bard out of time who sings the feline battle hymn – in “The Cats of Ulthar,” wherein the cats surround the cottage of the serial cat-murderers, the cotter and his wife, and eat the flesh clean off their bones. In “The Rats in the Walls,” the cats sense the danger before the humans do and alert their friends. The cats of Ulthar, remembering that Randolph Carter befriended the small black kitten at the time of their epic battle with the zoogs, come to his aid, in “The Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath.”

            Having settled for once and for all the cat species’ right to take pride in its prerogatives, Lovecraft goes on to demonstrate that cats are also the ultimate type of the sovereign Individual. He talks to cats and about cats in the same language he uses for humans. Never an “it,” seldom even the stereotypical “she,” cats are “he” and generally described in human terms. Lovecraft “plays” with kittens, but has “conversations” with adult cats. Randolph Carter learns to speak the feline language.

In his various letters to his friends (most of them amateur writers), Lovecraft refers to cats as “persons,” “ladies,” “gentlemen,” and “aristocrats.” He asks after his friends’ cats in the same way as he inquires about human members of their families. He refers to himself as “an old tomcat.” He describes humans’ relationships with cats in familial jargon: “the family of one mother – kittie & two children,” (p.92) “Felis [Frank Belknap Long’s cat] is still Grandpa’s boy – and I took pains to let everyone know it,” (p. 97) “Grandpa’s chilluns!” (p. 92) “a feline member of the family.” (p. 94) In “The Rats in the Walls,” the narrator describes his own family of cats:

“My household consisted of seven servants and nine cats, of which latter species I am  particularly fond. My eldest cat, ‘Nigger-Man,’ was seven years old and had come with  me from my home in Bolton, Massachusetts.” (p. 30)

            Other cats are neighbors and visitors, such as Oscar, a “neighbor ... who occasionally drops in to call on the Kirk feline” (p. 95), as Lovecraft writes in a letter to Lillian D. Clark.

            Old Man was H. P. Lovecraft’s good cat friend for more than twenty years. In “The Old Man,” Lovecraft describes Old Man -- a cat whom he always saw in a particular doorway in Providence – as he first saw him at age sixteen. In 1926, when Lovecraft was thirty-six, he would still often find Old Man in the doorway when he walked down the street; Old Man had, by this time, aged pitifully. In 1927, Old Man experienced a second kitten-hood, a brief time of renewed vigor and liveliness. By 1928, though, Old Man had gone into “the eternal night.” (p. 100) H. P. was desolate. The yellow eyes of Old Man, he wrote, knew the Secrets of the Gates. When the little black cat, Sam Perkins, appeared on the scene, Lovecraft wondered if he was a descendent of Old Man.

            The roof of the building next door to Lovecraft’s last home was the clubhouse of Kappa Alpha Tau (KAT). The feline members were “chap,” “visitor,” “guest,” and “companion,” whom Lovecraft would borrow for visits to his home (he was too poor to keep a cat of his own in his single-room dwelling). He chronicled the lives and personalities of the members of the club. The Vice President, “Count Magnus Osterberg (belonging to a Scandinavian household in Waterman St.) is a huge & handsome tiger with a white face & gloves & boots” (p. 104) of warrior pedigree:

“All the hardy blood of generations of Norrland jarls, & all the cryptic lore learnt from the Lapp & Finnish warlocks, then come to the fore—& the fur that flies during the ensuing moments is not often the tiger-&-white miniver of Count Magnus Osterberg! Just as I have never seen Count Magnus provoke or incite a combat, so have I never seen him retreat.” (p. 105)

            KAT President Randall is seldom seen in cold weather, for he shares Lovecraft’s “climatic tastes.” (p. 114) A young cat gentleman is “undergoing initiation.” (p. 103)

            Some KAT members are of the soldier type. Employing the same epic lexicon other writers would typically use when recounting the campaigns of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, Lovecraft recounts Peter Ivanovitch’s cat battles. Jack’s valiant deeds against the snake are extolled in chivalric phrases, phrases which could be properly applied to the feats of arms of the Redcrosse Knight, vanquisher of the dragon in Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queen. A new black kitten with a pugnacious personality (whom Lovecraft christened Johnny Perkins) “hisses manfully” (and has a “proud mamma”) (p. 115); Lovecraft tells R. H. Barlow that he hopes Johnny will “take care of his health” (p. 115) and live longer than Little Sam Perkins.

            Lovecraft was broken-hearted when some of the members of KAT moved away with their human families. His special friend, Alfred Galpin, disappeared, too: “Perhaps he skipped & sidled toward one of our glorious hillside sunsets & passed into the fourth dimension, there to remain as an acolyte of the panther-god Hra in the City of Never, always as young as on the day he came.” (p. 106) And Little Sam Perkins was discovered lifeless in the grass. In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft expressed his grief: “And who shall say the gods found [Sam] less important than the longest-lived & worldliest philosopher?” (p. 113)

            In the beauty of the unknown H. P. Lovecraft sought a balm for the pangs which accompany an awareness of the transitory nature of our existence – the lot of both humans and cats. A mortal’s experience is momentary– a droplet of time in a shadowy Plutonian universe unlimited by time and space, and entirely beyond our limited faculty for comprehension; but, when a philosophic person opens her mind to Wonder, she undergoes an orgasmic psychic encounter with the universe. Unhappily, a consciousness of the sublime underscores the futility of individual existence: our lives are as flimsy and as instantaneous as iridescent bubbles which adhere to the surface of dishwater in a basin. A brief meeting of hearts and minds – an union of cats and humans – yields a moment of total bliss, a brief distraction from sorrow, which – in eternity – is as evanescent as bliss and bubbles.

            H. P Lovecraft penned a collection of verses for passed-on cats. “Sir Thomas Tryout,” is a mourning poem in the classic elegiac style: “The autumn hearth is strangely cold / Despite the leaping flame.” (p. 20) “Little Sam Perkins” laments that the wee kit’s paws will no longer tread through the grass. Lovecraft continues the theme of mourning in his description of the tragic loss of the small black kitten in Ulthar – the fault of either the cotter and his wife or the Dark Forces, the cat-citizens of Ulthar hypothesize.

             The Dark Forces reign in our universe; in their demesne we live our lives. The momentary meeting of souls in communion with Beauty is the only meaning to be gleaned in this boundless abyss we call home. For H. P. Lovecraft, and many other aesthetes, the cat is the choicest confidential friend.

            Lovecraft describes, in a tender letter to Lillian D. Clark, the challenges of writing with a cat sleeping on one’s arm:

“If at this point my handwriting suddenly appears less legible, you may ascribe it to the  self-invited presence of small tiger Hiram in his Grandpa’s lap—for he has just jumped up there, & is trying to guide my pen with a velvet paw whilst he occasionally chews at the end of it between stentorian purrs. He is the friendliest little atom of fur & grace that I’ve ever seen in my life—indeed, he never enters the room without trotting straight to Grandpa & jumping up in the Old Gentleman’s lap. When I am standing, he sometimes asks to be held, with a kind of amicable conversational mew. A great kitty –I certainly envy Orton the ability to harbour him. [...] Just now I heard the purring cease, & I find that the little rascal has fallen asleep. His head is on my right forearm, so I can move my wrist enough to write. Some tiger! ... Hiram has just shifted in his sleep to a posture which makes writing more difficult, but I trust my epistle may still be read... (Hiram has just changed his position & dropped off to sleep again. The new position makes writing somewhat easier.) ... Hiram has waked up now & seems inclined to playfulness. The moving end of this pen arouses his interest most inordinately! No use talking – it takes a cat & an Old Farmer’s Almanack to make a real home!”  (p. 132)

Not long after writing this letter, H. P. Lovecraft died. Perhaps, like Alfred Galpin, he “skipped & sidled toward one of our glorious hillside sunsets & passed into the fourth dimension, there to remain as an acolyte of the panther-god Hra in the City of Never, always as young as on the day he came.” (p. 106)


Work Cited

Joshi, S. T., Ed. The H. P. Lovecraft Cat Book. Necromicon Press, 2019.


Katherine Kerestman is the author of Lethal (PsychoToxin Press, 2023) and Creepy Cat's Macabre Travels: Prowling around Haunted Towers, Crumbling Castles, and Ghoulish Graveyards (WordCrafts Press, 2020), as well as the co-editor (with S. T. Joshi) of The Weird Cat, an anthology of weird cat stories by writers living and dead (WordCrafts Press, October 2023). Her Lovecraftian and gothic works have been featured in Black Wings VI, PenumbraJourn-ESpectral Realms, IllumenRetro-Fan and The Little Book of Cursed Dolls (Media Macabre, 2023), as well as other discerning publications.  Katherine is wild about Dark Shadows and Twin Peaks and has been seen cavorting in the graveyards of Salem on Halloween. You can keep up with her at 

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