The Boy Who Drew Cats

'The Boy Who Drew Cats' is one of my favourite Japanese fairytales. It was first translated into English by Lafcadio Hearn and is about a young boy who loved drawing cats so much that he drew them everywhere. He wasn't a strong boy and his parents were concerned about what he might do in life and so they took him to a monastery to see if they would take him in as an acolyte. The priest was very kind and the boy started to settle in to his new life. But when he drew cats all over the monastery's silk screens one day, the priest suggested it was best if the boy left and perhaps return to his home. As he was walking away, the priest offered some advice by saying 'avoid the big and keep to the small.'

The boy was too ashamed to go home and so he headed for the next town. As it began to get dark, he came across a larger monastery. What he didn't realise is that this one was in fact empty because it had been abandoned years ago. He wandered around inside until he found a large room where he saw some more screens. Unable to help himself, he began drawing and by the time he was finished, the screens were covered in cats. By now the boy was exhausted and as he decided to lie down to sleep, he remembered the advice of the priest, 'avoid the big and keep to the small.' This was an awfully big room and so he saw a small cupboard at the end, with just room enough for him to crawl in and curl up to sleep.
 

 
In the middle of the night the boy was woken by the sound of howling and screaming. He lay inside the cupboard terrified and the noise went on and on. As the light began to creep in the noise stopped and after some time he felt brave enough to peek outside. What he saw was a giant rat, dead and bleeding in the middle of the room. On the screens, the cats he had drawn all had blood dripping from their mouths and paws. These very same cats that he had drawn last night had come to life and saved him from the giant rat goblin that had overtaken the monastery. The villagers were so grateful that the boy became a hero.


Here is a link to the original translation of the Japanese folktale 'The Boy Who Drew Cats' by Lafcadio Hearn. The first illustration is from the cover of the Dover edition of 'The Boy Who Drew Cats.' All other artwork in this post, including the cover below, is from the original book by Lafcadio Hearn.

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