Bibliographic Information (best version for telling): “The Colony of Cats” The World’s Best Fairy Tales. Edited by Belle Becker Sideman. Pleasantville, New York: Reader’s Digest Association, 1967.
Ethnic Origin: Italian
Running Time: Ten to fifteen minutes ~
Power Centers: Sophia’s and the cat’s love and caring, disgust with Peppina
Characters: Sophia, her mother, Papa Ghatto, Shara –a lame Siamese cat, Muffetta – a female kitten, Tuff – her brother – a male kitten, the rest of the Cats of San Martino, Peppina, and the Prince.
Scenes: Sophia is in the house with her mother and working, she rebels and leaves, Sophia goes to the House of the Cats,. Next we see her after months of living with the cats and she is feeling guilty about her mother, she tells Papa Ghatto of her feelings. Before she leaves he takes her to the cellar and shows her two jars. Sophia goes home. Peppina goes to the cats, she is mean to them, she makes ready to leave, Papa Ghatto “rewards” her. She returns home. Sophia and the prince. The trick and solution. And Sophia rides off with the prince.
Synopsis: This is a tale from Tuscany and it deals with kindness to animals and the virtuous daughter as compared to the worthless, lazy daughter. The good daughter, Sophia, works hard and does all the chores. Her mother makes her do this and does not feed her enough because the mother prefers the eldest daughter. Eventually, when she is about 16 years of age, Sophia tires of this and rebels, telling her mother that she is going to Le Casa del Ghatto, the house of the cats. Her mother beats her with a broom and says, “ Go! I want no more to do with you. Off with you.” So Sophia goes to the house of the cats where the cook has just been thrown out. Sophia cleans and cooks and the cats like her, even the kittens, she has not yet learned the language of the cats and does not always know what to do but she tries to do what they need, she knows she has succeeded when they purr at her. The leader of the cats, Papa Ghatto approves of her and so she lives with the cats. She and the cats form a loving close bond and she is happy there. She takes special care of a three-legged Siamese, Shara, and the littlest of the lot, the two kittens Muffetta and Tuff. Months pass and she feels guilty toward her mother. She tells Papa Ghatto she must return to her house and make sure her sister is taking good enough care of her mother. Papa Ghatto approves of her loyalty and says yes she must do this. Before she leaves he rewards her. She returns home to find the house a mess and her mother in bad spirits, but both her mother and her sister in good health. Upon seeing her the two begin to question her about where she has been. They notice her reward and immediately begin plotting to get it from her. This does not work so they do the next best thing, which is plan for Peppina to go to the cats as well. So she does. However she is not a good worker like her sister and she is mean to the cats. She throws out Shara’s bedding, knocks a tom-cat out the kitchen window and kicks the kittens out of her way. After a few days she tires of her amusements and goes to Papa Ghatto saying she is ready to leave and it is time to reward her. He says that yes it is. As she returns home after her reward she follows their directions. When she reaches her home her mother is aghast at her state and accuses Sophia of tricking and lying to them. By this time though a prince of the country has seen Sophia and arranged with her to marry. Her mother and sister found out about this and attempt to fool the prince into marrying Peppina. The cats foil this plan and let the prince know of the mistake. He takes Peppina back and gets Sophia and rides away with her, much to the cats’ approval. Sophia and the prince live happily ever after, while Peppina and the mother are stuck in their little home with no one to depend on but themselves.
Special Phrase: “The time when Cats spoke”, “I will go and live with the cats”, “Le Casa del Ghatto”, “If You hear the crow to turn towards it; If on the contrary the donkey brays you must look the other way.” (and reverse for the lazy, mean sister)
“Flavor”: Similar to Cinderella, the magic in this tale rewards the good, hardworking daughter with a Prince. Once again there is a magical, almost otherworldly, feel to the tale.
Audience: The audience for this tale is adult and possibly young adult. The reason for this is the punishment of the sister. Erikson says that the adulthood stage is also when the “caring for others” idea becomes important and this tale is certainly about that sentiment. The young adulthood stage of Erikson’s writing is also supported in this story because this is the age where people are forming close bonds with others. In the story this is shown by Sophia and the cats love for each other.
Bibliographic Information on other versions:
Lang, Andrew. “The Colony of Cats.” The Crimson Fairy Book. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967.
Sanderson, Ruth. Papa Gatto: An Italian Fairy Tale. London: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.
Steiber, Ellen. “The Cats of San Martino.” Black Heart, Ivory Bones. New York: Avon Books, Inc., 2000.
The Lang version and the tale chose are essentially the same. They differ in illustrations and maybe a word of too. They are basically the old, traditional tale from Italy. Both are suitable for older children or adults. They are not suitable for the younger set because of the punishment of the lazy, cruel sister, and possibly the ravaging of the cook’s face in the first of the story. These tales give adults a reminder that good deeds and habits are well rewarded and tell everyone that animals are to be loved and respected. These two very similar versions are also good for parents to direct their older children to in order to set them on the path toward treating animals kindly. The tale might also be suitable in this version if the two mentioned scenes are watered down just a little in order to make them more palatable to children.
The Sanderson variant of the tale is a new literary twist on the tale. This tale puts Papa Gatto as a prince’s advisor and wearing clothes. This tale is very cute, and sweet. Most definitely for children of the younger set. This is the best of the tales for introducing them to the value of treating animals fairly and with kindness. This tale also puts a slight sense of grief in the first of the tale, which would be good for a child who has possibly lost their mother through divorce or death, because they could sympathize with the kittens and see at the same time that all will eventually be ok. I did take the name of my main character from the mean sister in this tale because it was more appealing than the older version’s name.
The last variant is also a literary work, this time by Ellen Steiber. In this story nothing much stays the same as the original. The main characters are the cats and the woman they take in to help. The antagonist in this version is her faithless lover. This tale also includes a witch, the villagers, a priest, a shepherd and other various characters. This tale is only suitable for adults as it has sexual content, violent language, and death. The tale, as bad as the former sentence might make it seem, is very good and only contains the negative elements in small amount.