“Daisy and Demi were full of these whims, and lived in a world of their own, peopled with lovely or grotesque creatures, to whom they gave the queerest names, and with whom they played the queerest games. One of these nursery inventions was an invisible sprite called “The Naughty Kitty-mouse,” whom the children had believed in, feared, and served for a long time. They seldom spoke of it to any one else, kept their rites as private as possible; and, as they never tried to describe it even to themselves, this being had a vague mysterious charm very agreeable to Demi, who delighted in elves and goblins. A most whimsical and tyrannical imp was the Naughty Kitty-mouse, and Daisy found a fearful pleasure in its service, blindly obeying its most absurd demands, which were usually proclaimed from the lips of Demi, whose powers of invention were great. Rob and Teddy sometimes joined in these ceremonies, and considered them excellent fun, although they did not understand half that went on.”
This has to be the most bizarre game I have ever heard of! Children do love rituals and secret societies (and so do many adults). As a kid I stole the idea of a secret password for my clubhouse (actually a log cabin) from a favorite book, Henry and the Clubhouse by Beverly Cleary It began, “Fadada fadada fadada, beeboom baboom bah!” So I get it about rituals.
But my goodness, this was one sadistic game!
In Chapter 8, “Pranks and Plays,” Demi solemnly proposes to the other children that Kitty-mouse is demanding a “sackerryfice” of something near and dear to each child. Each one would bring their favorite toy to the meeting, held secretly on the Plumfield grounds, to throw into a bonfire as a sacrifice.
A tough idea to swallow
I winced at the thought of Daisy sacrificing her precious paper dolls, hand painted by her Aunt Amy. This was no mere toy; it was a gift that was a labor of love. Yet she couldn’t even imagine denying Kitty-mouse anything he desired.
And yikes: Demi was going to sacrifice his boat, his best scrapbook and all his soldiers?
I have to admit, I really couldn’t understand what drove the children to do these things.
A peculiar power
Kitty-mouse (such an odd name as if to signify the master and the victim) allows Demi to lord over the other children with power he would not normally have. Having heard stories about the Greeks with their altars and sacrifices, he was intrigued and wanted to emulate them. Watching Daisy clutch her paper dollies especially the favorite blue one, before succumbing to the orders of Kitty-mouse, was a bit disturbing.
Blood and thunder
Louisa seemed to take a special delight in describing the demise of little Teddy’s favorite toys:
“The superb success of this last offering excited Teddy to such a degree, that he first threw his lamb into the conflagration, and before it had time even to roast, he planted poor Annabella on the funeral pyre. Of course she did not like it, and expressed her anguish and resentment in a way that terrified her infant destroyer. Being covered with kid, she did not blaze, but did what was worse, she squirmed. First one leg curled up, then the other, in a very awful and lifelike manner; next she flung her arms over her head as if in great agony; her head itself turned on her shoulders, her glass eyes fell out, and with one final writhe of her whole body, she sank down a blackened mass on the ruins of the town. This unexpected demonstration startled every one and frightened Teddy half out of his little wits. He looked, then screamed and fled toward the house, roaring “Marmar” at the top of his voice.”
It seems that her “blood and thunder” storytelling talents were on full display here. I remember reading somewhere that Louisa’s ghost stories were in great demand by her sisters and other children, especially baby sister baby sister Abby May, who although frightened out of her wits, knew they would make make her golden hair curl all the more.
Jo never forgets her childhood
When Jo found out about the sacrifices to Kitty-mouse, she found the whole affair quite amusing. It’s no wonder the children loved her so as she still possessed a child’s heart within her.
She then relayed a story from her childhood of putting pebbles in her nose after hearing a story about other children who had done it (this is an actual story from Louisa’s childhood). It was quite painful and required a visit from the doctor to extract the pebbles. Jo certainly understood where a child’s imagination combined with daring do could lead. It just makes her all the more endearing.
What did you think of Kitty-mouse and the children’s “sackerryfices?” What rituals and games did you play as a child and could they rival this one?
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2 Replies to “Little Men: “The Naughty Kitty-mouse:” Goodness Gracious!”
I can believe that the children would emulate the ancient religions and make sacrifices. It is striking that they are impressed by and fearful of kitty-mouse as a representative of the old gods and natural forces. This is in contrast to the daily religion in the children’s lives which was one of gentle reassurance. Alcott was sometimes criticized in her day for her characters not being religiously observant enough. For example, the girls in Little Women do not go to church on Christmas (although they do in one of the movies). Maybe LMA’s subconscious is protesting here.
Ooo, what an astute observation! Louisa was known for being sarcastic and she minced no words about organized religion. So perhaps Kitty-mouse was allegorical in some sense. Louisa did indeed have a wicked sense of humor!