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Cheshire Cat
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland character
Tennel Cheshire proof.png
The Cheshire cat as illustrator John Tenniel envisioned it in the 1865 publication
Created by Lewis Carroll
Voiced by Sterling Holloway
Tony Pope (Disneyland attractions)
Jim Cummings (current)
Keith David (Once Upon A Time in Wonderland)
Stephen Fry
Information
Species Tabby British Shorthair Cat
Gender Male (the Queen of Hearts cries "off with his head" when the cat upsets the king)
Quote "Most everyone's mad here"
"You may have noticed that I'm not all there myself"

The Cheshire Cat is a fictional cat popularised by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and known for its distinctive mischievous grin. While most often celebrated in Alice-related contexts, the Cheshire Cat predates the 1865 novel and has transcended the context of literature and become enmeshed in popular culture, appearing in various forms of media, from political cartoons to television, as well as cross-disciplinary studies, from business to science. One of its distinguishing features is that from time to time its body disappears, the last thing visible being its iconic grin.

Origins

Cheshire Cat Tenniel
Original illustration from Alice in Wonderland

There are numerous theories about the origins of the phrase "Grinning like a Cheshire Cat" in English history.

  • A possible origin of the phrase is one favoured by the people of Cheshire, a county in England which boasts numerous dairy farms; hence the cats grin because of the abundance of milk and cream.
  • According to Brewer's Dictionary, "The phrase has never been satisfactorily accounted for, but it has been said that cheese was formerly sold in Cheshire moulded like a cat that looked as though it was grinning". The cheese was cut from the tail end, so that the last part eaten was the head of the smiling cat.

Lewis Carroll's character

The Cheshire Cat is now largely identified with the character of the same name in Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice first encounters the Cheshire Cat at the Duchess's house in her kitchen, and later on the branches of a tree, where it appears and disappears at will, and engages Alice in amusing but sometimes perplexing conversation. The cat sometimes raises philosophical points that annoy or baffle Alice; but appears to cheer her when it appears suddenly at the Queen of Hearts' croquet field; and when sentenced to death, baffles everyone by having made its head appear without its body, sparking a debate between the executioner and the King and Queen of Hearts about whether a disembodied head can indeed be beheaded. At one point, the cat disappears gradually until nothing is left but its grin, prompting Alice to remark that 'she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat'.

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