Title: The Cat Who Went to Heaven
Author: Elizabeth Coatsworth
Reading Level: 10 & up
Star Rating: ★★
Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!
The Cat Who Went to Heaven is a Buddhist folk story and takes place in an unnamed century.
The young artist has never been in direr straights. He wishes his housekeeper could return from the market with yummy rice cakes and dumplings! But he knows that this is impossible – he is no master of art that he should dine this well. He will be content with his fish and rice.
But when the housekeeper returns, she does not even have these meager supplies. She has only a cat – devilish beast – a cat who will require more of the food that the artist cannot afford. At first he resists, for he is a good Buddhist, and Buddha did not bless the cats. But his kinder side gives in and he agrees to adopt the cat. They name him Good Fortune, for they believe that his tri-colored fur will bring them good luck.
And sure enough, it does! Soon the head priest from the village temple comes to vist the artist. He commissions the artist to make a painting of the death of Buddha for the temple. If the artist is successful, his career will be made. He will never more be hungry. He pours himself into the painting. But the little cat will not let him be. She is always there, watching to see what he paints. It seems that she wishes to be included in the long procession of animals that bade farewell to the Buddha on his last day. Will the artist risk his reputation and succumb to her desires? And would it make any difference?
The Cat Who Went to Heaven is Buddhist folklore, through and through. From cover to cover, literally on every page are references to Buddha, and gods of luck, etc. The entire point of the story was that the artist is to paint a picture of the dying Buddha with themes from Buddha’s life weaved into the painting. The artist draws his inspiration from leaning back and mentally reliving different parts of the Buddha’s life, thus entering into the true spirit of Buddha, and providing the reader with a biography of him within the story. In the end, the artist braves the displeasure of Buddha by painting a cat into the picture. (Cats are apparently the only animals which are unsubmissive to the Buddha.) Instead of suffering for his rashness, the painting is miraculously changed overnight to show Buddha extending a hand of blessing to the cat. Now cats can go to heaven, too!
Both the artist and the cat bow before the image of Buddha that is kept on a shelf to be worshipped.
Several stories are told reciting as fact the reincarnations of Buddha as different animals – a lion, elephant, horse, dog, tiger, ape, buffalo, etc.
The cat can obviously understand all that is said by humans as well as abstract concepts like gods, cursings, and heaven.
“The artist imagined how his little cat felt, so gentle, so sweet, but cursed forever. All the other animals might receive the Buddha’s blessing and go to heaven, but the little cat heard the doors of Nirvana closed before her.” [pg. 67]
Tales are told of goblins and devils. This passage accurately displays the highest level of scariness in the story. This is when the housekeeper has first brought the cat before the artist.
“A cat? A cat? He cried. “Have you gone mad? Here we are starving and you must bring home a goblin, a goblin to share the little we have and perhaps to suck our blood at night! Yes! It will be fine to wake up in the dark and feel teeth at our throats and look into eyes as big as lanterns! But perhaps you are right! Perhaps we are so miserable it would be a good thing to have us die at once, and be carried over the ridgepoles in the jaws of a devil!” [pg. 7]
Conclusion. As a story to provide exemplary role models and religious teaching to your children, I would NOT recommend this book. As a folk tale or legend to go along with history studies, it does have a sweet style. However, as I mentioned before, every page is covered with Buddhism. The decision is yours!