The Boy Who Drew Cats Summary
by Lafcadio Hearn

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The Boy Who Drew Cats Summary

"The Boy Who Drew Cats" is a Japanese fairy tale published in 1898. The story begins in a small village in Japan where a poor farmer and his wife live with their large family. It is difficult for them to feed all of their children, who must help with the work around the farm. Their youngest child, however, is unfit for manual labor because he is rather weak, though he is very smart. His parents think that he would make a better priest than a farmer, so they take him to the old priest in the village temple and ask the priest to take the boy as his acolyte. The priest is so impressed with the boy's intelligence that he agrees to educate the boy as a priest.

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The boy is a good student, but he cannot stop himself from drawing cats, even when he is supposed to be studying. Finally, one day, the priest tells him that he should be an artist because he won't make a good priest, but he offers the boy some advice, saying, "Avoid large places at night; keep to small!" The boy leaves the temple, not really understanding this advice. He is afraid to go home and disappoint his parents, so he travels to the next village because he remembers that there is a large temple there where he might continue his education. He has not heard that this temple is closed because a "goblin" has frightened all the priests away and has devoured several warriors who have tried to slay it.

When the boy arrives, he notes that everything is covered in dust, and no one is there. He hopes that this means that the priests would like to have him help clean. He sees some big white screens and decides to draw cats on them while he waits. Afterward, he feels sleepy; however, he realizes that he is in a big place, remembering the priest's advice, so he finds a small cabinet in which he can sleep. In the middle of the night, he hears terrible noises of fighting and screaming, and he stays in his cabinet until the light of the morning shines through the cracks. When he emerges, he sees a huge "goblin rat," bigger than a cow, dead on the floor. He then notices that the mouths of all the cats he drew are red with blood. He now understands the priest's advice and soon becomes a famous artist.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The protagonist, the youngest son of poor, hardworking farmers, lives in a country village of old Japan. Because he is small, weak, and bright, his parents send him to the village priest to be trained for the priesthood. The boy learns well and pleases his master in almost all ways, but he persists in one act of disobedience—drawing cats whenever he can. Although warned to stop, he continues, as if possessed by a spirit, to draw cats in every color, pose, and mood.

The boy’s disobedience causes the old priest to send him away with the advice to stop trying to become a priest but instead become an artist. The priest cautions the boy to avoid large places at night and keep to the small. Puzzled by the strange warning, the boy reluctantly leaves his temple home and walks to the next village, where there is a large temple at which he hopes to continue his religious training.

He arrives at the temple at night, only to find it deserted and covered with thick layers of dust and cobwebs. He does not know the temple has been abandoned because a bloodthirsty goblin now lives there. Earlier, soldiers entered the temple at night to kill the goblin but did not survive the attempt. The unsuspecting boy sits quietly and waits for temple priests to appear. He notices large, white screens, wonderful surfaces for drawing cats, and soon has drawing ink and brushes ready. He unhesitatingly draws cats, not stopping until he is too tired to continue. Sleepily he remembers the old priest’s warning as he lies down, so he crawls into a small cabinet and pulls the door closed before he sleeps.

Hours later, the boy wakes to sounds of horrible screaming and fighting. He cowers silently while the fight rages, and only ventures out after daylight streams into the room. He finds a floor wet with blood and, lying dead, a monster goblin-rat the size of a cow. Scanning the temple, he notices the wet, blood-red mouths of the cats he has drawn on the screens. Suddenly he understands the priest’s advice, and realizes that his cats have destroyed the goblin in the vicious fight he has overheard. The boy later becomes a famous artist, whose pictures of cats can still be seen in Japan.