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the blue cat of castle town

20 february 2023

As a kitten, the blue cat of Castle Town, in Catherine Cate Coblentz's 1949 children's novel, is given a nebulous mission by the River that runs through Vermont: help the rather dopey people of this village find peace and harmony. Because that's what cats do.

The River tells the cat to succor a pewter-smith, encourage a weaver, promote the aspirations of a carpenter, and support a rugmaker. At the same time the cat is to have no truck with the town's parasitic plutocrat, Arunah Hyde. The cat tries anyway, but the plutocrat doesn't listen and nearly breaks up the cat's mission. But then nothing really comes of that central episode. The cat just goes on his helpful way.

We learn at the end that the fable is meant to account for the presence in museums of some early American craft pieces. Fair enough. In that respect it is cute, if fey.

It is harder to place The Blue Cat of Castle Town politically. It celebrates productive labor in a way that can tip either left or right: toward commune-y arts-and-crafts movements or toward stubborn, self-sufficient yeomanry. In either case, the plutocrat Arunah Hyde is an available villain: either the personification of Capital, or the dastardly rootless cosmopolitan leeching away the honest work of the Anglo settler-colonialist.

Or maybe Arunah is just a Snidely-Whiplash kind of melodrama villain. In which case I have to stop "reading too much into it" and treat Coblentz's book as a silly story of a cat. But I'm not sure it's that simple.

Coblentz, Catherine Cate. The Blue Cat of Castle Town. Illustrated by Janice Holland. 1949. New York: David McKay, 1967.