Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

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Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
First edition cover
AuthorT. S. Eliot
GenreLight poetry
Publication date
5 October 1939[1]
Media typePrint

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939) is a collection of whimsical light poems by T. S. Eliot about feline psychology and sociology, published by Faber and Faber. It serves as the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1981 musical Cats.

Eliot wrote the poems in the 1930s and included them, under his assumed name "Old Possum", in letters to his godchildren. Eliot tried to persuade the poet Ralph Hodgson to illustrate the poems but failed.[2] They were collected and published in 1939, with cover illustrations by the author, and quickly re-published in 1940, illustrated in full by Nicolas Bentley. They have also been published in versions illustrated by Edward Gorey (1982), Axel Scheffler (2009) and Rebecca Ashdown (2014).[3]


The contents of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, along with the names of the featured cats where appropriate, are:


In 1954, English composer Alan Rawsthorne set six of the poems in a work for speaker and orchestra entitled Practical Cats, which was recorded soon afterwards, with the actor Robert Donat as the speaker. At about the same time another English composer, Humphrey Searle, composed another narrated piece based on the poems, using flute, piccolo, cello and guitar. This work, Two Practical Cats, consists of settings of the poems about Macavity and Growltiger.

The best-known musical adaptation of the poems is Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats, which was premiered in the West End of London in 1981 and on Broadway in 1982. It became the longest-running Broadway show in history until it was overtaken by another musical by Lloyd Webber, The Phantom of the Opera. As well as the characters found in the book, Cats introduces several additional characters from Eliot's unpublished drafts, most notably Grizabella. The musical was adapted into a direct-to-video film in 1998.[4] A feature film adaptation of Cats was released on 20 December 2019.[5] As of December, 2019, the feature film's production cost was $100 million but only grossed $38.3 million globally, yielding an approximate $70 million loss.[6]

Cultural references[edit]

In the film Logan's Run, Logan and Jessica meet an old man in the ruins of the United States Senate Chamber during their search for Sanctuary. The Old Man has many cats and refers to the poem "The Naming of Cats", explaining that each cat has three names: one common, one fancy and one that only the cat knows. Later the Old Man refers to one cat in particular, "Gus", short for "Asparagus", and goes on to recite parts of "Macavity: the Mystery Cat".

The British rock band Mungo Jerry derived their name from the book's poem "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer".[7]

The Tombs, a bar and restaurant in Washington, D.C., is named after the fictional establishment mentioned in the poem "Bustopher Jones: The Cat About Town".[8]

Comparable work[edit]

On 5 June 2009, The Times revealed that in 1937 Eliot had composed a 34-line poem entitled "Cows" for the children of Frank Morley, a friend who, like Eliot, was a director of the publishing company Faber and Faber.[9] Morley's daughter, Susanna Smithson, uncovered the poem as part of the BBC Two programme Arena: T.S. Eliot, broadcast that night as part of the BBC Poetry Season.[10]


  1. ^ Hart, Henry (2012). "T. S. Eliot's Autobiographical Cats". The Sewanee Review. 120 (3): 379–381. ISSN 0037-3052.
  2. ^ Harding, John, Dreaming of Babylon. The Life and Times of Ralph Hodgson. (Greenwich Exchange 2008) https://greenex.co.uk/
  3. ^ "Old Possum's book of practical cats". WorldCat. OCLC 978264444.
  4. ^ "The Film". catsthemusical.com (official website). Archived from the original on 9 April 2019. Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  5. ^ 'Cats' Movie Adaptation Sets December 2019 Release Date
  6. ^ "Universal Pictures faces at least $70-million loss from 'Cats' debacle". Los Angeles Times. 30 December 2019. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  7. ^ Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 133. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  8. ^ "Our History". The Tombs. Retrieved 27 January 2023.
  9. ^ Unpublished Poem by T.S. Eliot Reveals his Dislike for Cows at timesonline.co.uk
  10. ^ [http://wherepoetrycrosses.blogspot.com/2015/06/ts-eliot-7-cows.html Arena

General references[edit]

External links[edit]