Jellicle cats were first mentioned in Eliot's 1933 poem "Five-Finger Exercises" and later developed in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. They were given further characterization in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1981 stage musical Cats, which was based on Eliot's book. The large cast of diverse cats is an important part of the worldbuilding of Cats. Many of these characters originated from Eliot's book, while others are named after characters from other works by Eliot or were invented for the musical.
"Jellicle cats" are briefly mentioned in T. S. Eliot's 1933 poem "Five-Finger Exercises", although they are not described until Eliot's poem "The Song of the Jellicles", where Jellicle cats were depicted as commonly nocturnal black and white, scruffy cats. Specifically, Eliot mentions that they like to gather at an event called the "Jellicle Ball". The name "Jellicle" comes from an unpublished poem by Eliot entitled "Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats", where "Pollicle dogs" is a corruption of "poor little dogs" and "Jellicle cats" of "dear little cats".
In contrast with their original poem, the Jellicles in Cats possess many kinds of coat-patterns, diverse personalities and individual talents. Many of the ensemble characters were created by the original 1981 London cast through extensive improvisation sessions held during the rehearsal process. Musical theatre scholar Vagelis Siropoulos noted that the level of detail given to each character was crucial in fleshing out the fantasy world of Cats, with even the minor cats having established personalities, relationships and hierarchies within the tribe. In the musical, sub-plots involving individual Jellicle cats include the strife of Grizabella, a former "glamour cat", and the kidnapping of the Jellicle patriarch, Old Deuteronomy.
A total of 54 cat names are given in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, most of which Eliot derived from British culture, including references to Anglican traditions, historic and literary figures, as well as geographical locations. When not taken from a corresponding eponymous poem, many of the character names from the musical are taken from Eliot's poem "The Naming of Cats".
In popular culture
Although originally published as part of a collection of poems, "The Song of the Jellicles" was published by Faber and Faber in 2017 as a standalone picture book titled Jellicle Cats. Madame Tussauds New York features wax figures of a few of the Jellicle cats from the musical, including one of Grizabella that sings "Memory".
- Rekha S. Rajan (23 May 2012). Integrating the Performing Arts in Grades K–5. SAGE Publications. pp. 158–. ISBN 978-1-4522-7976-3.
- Sternfeld 2006, pp. 130–132
- Now Lloyd Webber puts Eliot's dogs to music – Telegraph Milner, Catherine. Now Lloyd Webber puts Eliot's dogs to music. The Sunday Telegraph (London, UK). 20 January 2002: 6.
- Siropoulos 2008, pp. 184–185
- Robbins 2013, pp. 21–22
- Robbins 2013, p. 31
- "Jellicle Cats". Faber and Faber. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
- "Broadway fans will love this new immersive Madame Tussauds exhibit featuring 'Cats,' 'Phantom,' 'Big' and more". USA Today. 5 June 2019. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
- Eliot, T. S.; Eliot, Valerie; Lloyd Webber, Andrew; Nunn, Trevor; Lynne, Gillian; Napier, John (1983). Cats: The Book of the Musical. Harvest Books. ISBN 978-0156155823.
- Robbins, Dorothy Dodge (2013). "Imperial Names for 'Practical Cats': Establishing a Distinctly British Pride in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats". Names. 61 (1): 21–32. doi:10.1179/0027773812Z.00000000035. ISSN 0027-7738.
- Siropoulos, Vagelis (2008). The Ideology and Aesthetics of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Musicals: From Broadway Musical to the British Megamusical (PDF) (PhD thesis). Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
- Sternfeld, Jessica (2006). The Megamusical. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34793-0.
- Stewart, John (2014). "128. Cats". Broadway Musicals, 1943–2004, (2 volume set). McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786495658.