Fictional companions and goth concerns.
I live with a black feline creature named Catboy. He “belongs” to my roommate, Jocelyn, but Catboy and I spend a lot of time together. Badly behaved but quite handsome, his moral alignment remains unclear: Chaotic Neutral? Chaotic Evil? Based on the noises he makes while staring at shadows, we are fairly certain he communicates with spirits. Once, after casting a pre-ritual circle, he plopped himself down precisely on the circle’s demarcation, then stared brazenly at Jocelyn, daring us to move him (we didn’t). He is a supernatural entity who assists in the practice of magic(k): he is a familiar.
Catboy follows in a long tradition of pet-passing familiars, and for the Pets issue, I’m devoting my column to familiars in pop culture. While many species of familiars have graced pages and screens over the years, I’m keeping this list to cats. It’s important for Catboy to have strong role models.
- Salem (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, 1996 – 2000 TV show): In the 1990’s sitcom version of Sabrina, the teen witch’s sassy familiar, Salem, was played by four black cats and an animatronic puppet. During season one, guest star Coolio helps Sabrina locate a catnapped Salem. If even 1996 Coolio is invested in your whereabouts, you must be pretty cool.
- Salem (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, 2018 – present TV show): In Netflix’s new, darker Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Salem is a demon in a black cat’s body – less sassy and more sinister than his ’90s counterpart. The Chilling Salem reminds me more of Catboy – a demon, sure, but also a powerful protective force for his human companions.
- Thackery Binx (Hocus Pocus, 1993 film): Okay, Thackery Binx is not technically a “familiar” – he doesn’t serve any witches – but this list wouldn’t be complete without him. In the 17th century, Thackery was transformed into an immortal black cat by a trio of wicked witch sisters. In 1993, he guides a new crop of kids into defeating said witches, after which his soul is freed.
- Kit (Charmed, 1998 – 2006 TV show): San Francisco’s non-evil trio of witch sisters, the Halliwells, live with a protective cat named Kit whose powers include the ability to see spirits, super-agility and zoolingualism. Her service to witchkind is ultimately rewarded when she attains a human form.
- Pyewacket (Bell, Book and Candle, 1958 film): In 1647, English witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins published “The Discovery of Witches,” a pamphlet in which he described the arrest and torture of a woman who, after three nights’ sleep deprivation, “confessed” the names of her familiars – including an imp named Pyewacket. The admittedly fantastic name has since cropped up numerous times in pop culture, notably in Bell, Book and Candle as the name of witch Kim Novak’s Siamese cat.
- Pyewacket (A Vampyre Story, 2008 videogame): Another Siamese cat, this Pyewacket is the familiar of missing sorceress Baroness Vasilia von Kieffer. Poor Pyewacket reveals that she used to have some of her own powers, but lost them: “I guess I wasn’t as powerful as the Baroness was hoping, so my job was outsourced to a homunculus.” After finding Pyewacket’s preferred food, the player must use a demonic can opener to feed him.
- Cosmic Creepers (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971 film): Eglantine Price, a no-nonsense World War II-era witch played by Angela Lansbury, lives with a cat named Cosmic Creepers. Eglantine says that although she doesn’t give animals “silly names,” Cosmic Creepers is the one he came with.
- Aunt Ophelia, Cassandra, Chaos, Fiddlesticks, Grand Inquisitor, Jasmine, Jasper, Miss Eliza Tudor, Murgatroyd, Scorn, Trouble (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede, 1985 – 1993 book series): In my favorite childhood book series, a witch named Morwen eschews the traditions of witchcraft by having multiple, non-black cat familiars.
- Luna (Sailor Moon, 1995 – 2000 TV show): Luna is one of the more iconic familiars of my childhood. A purple cat with a crescent moon on her forehead, she helps Sailor Moon learn how to be a moon princess and discover her powers. Level-headed, authoritative and totally adorable, Luna sets the standard for magical girl familiars.
- Azrael (The Smurfs, 1981 – 1989 TV show): The villainous wizard Gargamel’s cat is often seen smirking underfoot, eyebrows angled maliciously. I once proposed “Azrael” as a name for Catboy, but “Catboy” is the only name that stuck. It’s for the best.