The Boy Who Drew Cats

by Lafcadio Hearn

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"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.

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.

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