While out shopping yesterday (more about that in a later post), in one of the antique shops, I saw an ex-library book (you can usually tell from the binding) called "Thomasina."
And suddenly, I remembered something I had not thought of in years.
"I wonder if it's the book that movie was based on" I wondered. I pulled off the shelf - the full title: "Thomasina: the cat that thought she was God"
Yes, it was.
I then stood there, debating: I saw the Disney movie version of this as a small child. In fact, I saw it at a very impressionable age (it was run on the old Wonderful World of Disney Sunday night program). I was made rather distraught by the movie, because in it, a cat apparently dies (I say "apparently" because we learn - after Thomasina's death and burial that she was, at least in the book, just in a coma). I remember seeing it not too long after my parents' first old cat died (I would have been 5 or 6). This was my first direct experience with death and I think that is always traumatic for a child. (I vaguely remember getting up and walking out of the room during the scene where Thomasina went to 'cat heaven' because I couldn't take any more of it). I remember my mother telling me that it was OK, that Thomasina wound up all right in the end, but still...the whole scene of watching the cat "die" was not something that was good for me to see right then.
So I stood there, in the antique shop, looking at the book (it was inexpensive, like $3), and debating: Do I buy this and read this story that I only half-remembered. On the one hand, I thought, "You won't be able to get through it; you'll start crying because you'll remember it from when you were a kid and maybe it will dredge up bad dreams." But I was also curious about the story (like many of those movies, I didn't know it existed as a book first), and got to thinking that maybe it would exorcise some kind of half-remembered bad memory. So I bought the book. I read it (well, I skimmed parts of it, but still) last night.
It's funny, how little a person remembers from early movies. I remembered Thomasina's "death," I remembered it was set in Scotland, and I remembered it being "old timey" (well, the movie was apparently re-set to the 1910s, the book is set in the late 50s, contemporaneous with when it was written). Other than that, I do not remember ANY of the "daft Lori" parts (about the healer-woman who lives up in the hills) or that the girl's father was the veterinarian who "killed" Thomasina, any of that. (Apparently, from the synopsis of the movie, some other plot details - like how Thomasina was injured- were changed slightly).
The book is....interesting. I can't tell if it's a story for children or a slightly allegorical fantasy for adults. Some of the themes in it (some of the themes touching on religion and how different people view God, for example) are probably things that would go over a child's head. And the part where Thomasina either has forgotten who she is, or her body is inhabited by the spirit of Bast (it's hard to tell from the book, though I tend to lean to the "Thomasina has forgotten her past and somehow is drawing on the genetic memories of cat-hood" explanation) is kind of uncanny.
I also like Rev. Peddie, the Scots clergyman, who, as the writer noted, was contrary to the stereotype of the dour Scots religious man - he was a happy man who felt his place in life was to bring people to an understanding of God's love and who was able to find joy in all of creation - a very life-affirming sort of person. (Several of the reviewers of the book noted that the "God stuff was kind of heavy-handed," but I did not find it to be so - it's a book that takes a somewhat mystical turn, and it has a clergyman in it, and it does have a redemption scene....I will admit I found some of the Bast stuff a bit weird, maybe that's what they were referring to, I don't know)
I will say, even though it's a spoiler, it's one of those stories where things are put right in the end. Sentimental, yes, but apparently Gallico felt sentiment in writing was just fine, and perhaps even nobler than some other things: "Sentiment remains so far out in front, as it always has and always will
among ordinary humans that the calamity-howlers and porn merchants have
to increase the decibels of their lamentations, the hideousness of
their violence and the mountainous piles of their filth to keep in the
race at all." (quoted from his biography page on Wikipedia)
One of the odd things, though: I was right about one thing. I got to the point of Thomasina's death and I started crying. Crying hard. I'm sure it wasn't because the words I was reading right then at that moment, I'm sure it wasn't because I've been through, now, the deaths of four cats I was close to and far too many humans I was close to to count....I'm sure it was some kind of weird leftover trapped in my memory from me as a six-year-old, trying to understand what "death" was and why it had to happen. (And I'm not convinced that a Disney movie was the best way for the subject to come up in my mind).