A Discovery of Home in Ursula K. Le Guin’s "Catwings"
Ursula K. Le Guin was a Grand Master of science fiction and fantasy, a literary legend that expanded her creativity even to children’s literature. In this category, she created the Catwings series, made-up of four chapter books. The first in the series (1988) introduces the winged family of kittens and their journey of leaving the bad city where they were born and venturing into nature, where they discover humans “with kind hands” and the meaning of home. This analysis will focus on the prevalent themes and motifs in Catwings and how they support Le Guin’s unique notion of home.
The Tabby siblings in Catwings represent real-life children: they have yet to assert their individuality and independence outside of the parental house. However, what is unique about the four cats is that they possess literal wings, something fantastic and dream-like that sets them apart from the other animals around them. They are the only morphed beings throughout the book, but are still accepted for their fantastic nature and even admired: “ ‘Maybe they have wings because I dreamed, before they were born, that I could fly away from this neighborhood,’ said Mrs. Jane Tabby.” (11). The kittens’ wings make it possible for the four siblings to venture away from the scary neighborhood of city-life and into the rural haven of the wilderness. Thus, the wings become a catalyst and means for growing up while the kittens literally ‘spread their wings’ to independence. The departure from what the kittens first knew as home is not without tears, but the text reassures that “they knew that that is the way it must be, in cat families.” (16). This illustrates that Le Guin perceives leaving the parental house as a natural and vital aspect of finding the self and, subsequently, the true home.
Security to venture into the unknown and discover the self is necessary for anyone’s journey. In Catwings, the kittens find it in the complete freedom of movement. As Mike Cadden remarks, “Le Guin’s characters understand themselves in relation (not in opposition) to each other as well as to the sites among which they travel”, and that “[they] find home when they resist silence and stasis as they move purposefully” (338). In their continuous movement, the kittens support an uninterrupted dialogue in which they mature as they learn to help themselves, communicate with other animals, and experience interspecies connections. Not all is well, as is the case with the owl that tried to hunt the kittens, but the cats learn from these experiences and find security among their shared companionship. Another sign of security also stems from making new relationships: the children Susan and Frank discover the winged cats but decide to protect them rather than take them away from the wilderness and cage them, vowing to also “never ever tell anybody else” because, as Hank adds, “you know how people are” (46). This agrees with the Taoist notion of accepting nature as is, something that must be protected and not exploited; the kid caretakers are the only suitable humans to preserve the innocence and natural state of the winged cats since they, too, experience a similar journey.
As it appears in Ursula K. Le Guin’s children’s story Catwings, home is an unfixed and non-physical space found by journeying into the unknown and keeping the momentum going. It is something that reveals itself through shared experiences and companionship that is ever-evolving, a purposeful and constant motion of the changing landscapes between those who travel and those who wait for the travelers to come back.
Cadden, Mike. “Purposeful Movement among People and Places: The Sense of Home in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Fiction for Children and Adults.” Extrapolation, vol. 41, no. 4, 2000, pp. 338-50.
Le Guin, Ursula K. Catwings. Illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Orchard Books, 1988.