Look What The Novel Dragged In

Last week I read a post on Facebook about a cat, a family pet, pictured curled up and cutely asleep. This helpful creature had gone out, hunted down a rabbit, and as though aware of the current value of home delivery, had left it on the doormat as an offering to her family. This reveals a history of a human/feline link stretching back to the beginnings of farming 10,000 years ago, when people started keeping cats to protect their food and grain stores. And of course any small-time hunting returned to the house was a welcome addition to the cooking pot. Female cats in particular would do this to feed their kittens, and also to teach them how to hunt. People would value these home delivery habits, which were so engrained that thousands of years afterwards, cats continue to bring back mice, birds and rabbits for their owners.

In this time of lock down, cats, and pets generally, are sought after, not for rabbit deliveries, but for companionship. Novels are equally popular, also for companionship. Here’s a thought – perhaps both cats and novels drag in an ancient offering for the benefit of their owners. Let me explain:

Until relatively recently, people in general did not read. They had to listen to their reading matter, whether that meant some kind of theatre, story-telling or singing. Ancient Greece had its epic poems. Today readers treat the Iliad or the Odyssey as if they were novels written in verse. Back in the eighth century BC, at their time of writing, you would sit with a select group of friends and listen to someone reciting them.

It took a while for society to make the step to the solitary experience of novel reading. The new form did not start to catch on in Europe until the early seventeenth century when Cervantes published Don Quixote. After that, even as novels became increasingly popular, echos of the past remained. A major requirement of a novelist is that they find a “voice”. It must seem as though someone real is talking to you through the writing. It’s as though an actual human voice, once reciting the Iliad and the Odyssey, still remains in all the books read today by solitary readers the world over. A novel brings in an atavistic, ancient offering for its owner. Instead of dragging in a dead rabbit, a novel drags in a live voice.

Thank you to Princess Lola Cat.

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