The Human Who Was Amazed by "The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man"

By Chris B. RSS Wed, May 31, 2023

In 1973, author Lloyd Alexander (1924-2007) wrote The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man, a comical fantasy novel about a housecat who is magically transformed by his wizard-owner into a human. The story is everything you'd expect from Lloyd Alexander: it's funny, sweet, a little cheeky, and features a cat. Lloyd Alexander was DEFINITELY a cat person. He wrote about cats... a lot. He even wrote letters to the cats of his editor, Ann Durell. Like this one in 1963. Or this one in 1964. Or these in 1966, 1966 again, and 1967Lloyd. Loved. Cats.

And now, dear readers here is where I risk losing half of the blog-reading audience: I don't. Sorry, not sorry. I don't dislike them per se, but I'm definitely more of a #TeamDog person. (If you want to talk about cats in Special Collections, go visit our Print and Picture Collection. They're very #TeamCat over there.) I tell you all this because while I don't mind reading a book about cats, they're not usually high on my list. That was until packages started arriving from Japan.

Lloyd Alexander was a big supporter of the Free Library of Philadelphia: BIG! When he passed away in 2007, he ultimately left the copyright of his works to the Free Library. It's a gift we treasure and work diligently to protect. You can see some of that gift online in our Digital Collections, and you can make an appointment to see more of it in person. Check out the Lloyd Alexander Finding Aid to learn more! As a result of Lloyd's generous gift, the Children's Literature Research Collection occasionally gets packages from Lloyd's literary agency. The packages are usually preceded by an email — but not always — and each time they're full of unexpected surprises. A recent favorite was a copy of KsiÄ™ga Trzech, the Polish translation of The Book of Three — if only for the interesting cat/rabbit/monkey depiction of Gurgi on the cover.

Recently, boxes from Japan started arriving, and in those boxes came the most unexpected objects — all prominently featuring cats. In 2016, The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man was turned into a children’s musical by the Shiki Theatre Company of Tokyo, Japan. Initially, the Children's Literature Research Collection received a souvenir program booklet and we were thrilled! But then... the merch started arriving. THE MERCH! Calendars! Keychains! Notebooks! And... handkerchiefs? Hey, we'll take it, and we're pretty sure Lloyd would love it. In fairness, I love it too. I love that children around the world have the opportunity to discover and appreciate Lloyd's sense of humor. I love that people are still inspired by the worlds and characters he created. And I'm glad that I get the opportunity to expand his archival holdings — especially when the handkerchiefs are clean.

The greatest thing though, is that this is a gift that just seems to keep giving. In preparing to update exhibition cases on the second floor of Parkway Central, I decided to highlight this unusual collection. That's when I found the surprise to beat all the previous surprises (Sorry Polish Gurgi!). Not only was this stage production a musical... THEY MADE A SOUNDTRACK! I don't know what the singers are saying, but the music is upbeat, and you can do a surprising amount of paperwork while jamming out to it. 

So now, I'm definitely #TeamCat — or at the very least #TeamTheCatWhoWishedToBeAMan(JapaneseMusicalEdition). That's pretty close, right? 

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