The Cheshire Cat is a fictional cat appearing in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice first encounters it at the Duchess's house in her kitchen, and then later outside on the branches of a tree, where it appears and disappears at will, engaging Alice in amusing but sometimes vexing conversation. The cat sometimes raises philosophical points that annoy or baffle Alice. It does, however, appear to cheer her up when it turns up suddenly at the Queen of Hearts' croquet field, and when sentenced to death baffles everyone by making its body disappear, but its head remain visible, sparking a massive argument between the executioner and the King and Queen of Hearts about whether something that does not have a body 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. This has become a point of notability for the cat: most people remember it most strongly performing its vanishing act.
Cheshire is not an actual breed of cat: the English county of Cheshire is famous for its cheesemaking, salt, and silk, as well as being a major railway junction, but no mention is made of any unique breeding. However, it has been speculated that the Cheshire cat was intended to be a British Shorthair, as that is the cat breed that Carroll saw on the label of Cheshire Cheese.
Prior to the release of the Walt Disney animated production Alice in Wonderland, scholars observed few specific allusions to this character. Martin Gardner, author of the The Annotated Alice, wondered if T. S. Eliot had the Cheshire Cat in mind when writing Morning at the Window but notes no other significant allusions in the pre-war period.
Images of and references to the Cheshire Cat cropped up more frequently in the 1960s and 1970s, along with more frequent references to Carroll's works in general. The Cheshire Cat appeared on LSD blotters as well as in song lyrics and popular fiction. For example, in the Star Trek episode Who mourns for Adonais?, Kirk and Chekov argue over the origin of the "vanishing cat" and Chekov amusingly alleges that it came from Minsk.
An exhibit called The Cheshire Cat at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, created by Bob Miller in 1978, features a mirrored eyepiece that allows visitors to look at a picture of the Cheshire Cat's face with one eye while the other eye sees a reflection of a white screen to the side. When the visitor waves a hand in across the white screen, the cat image starts to disappear. If the visitor focuses on the cat's smile while doing this, the smile will remain while the cat disappears. The general phenomenon of a moving stimulus presented to one eye causing a static image to disappear from the other eye is called the Cheshire Cat effect, named after this exhibit. The effect is part of a broader visual phenomenon called binocular rivalry.
In a Garfield comic, Garfield sneaks into Jons room at night and gives a wide grin (which is all that can be seen in the pitch black, making it appear that the rest of his body is missing). After turning on the lights, Jon comments to him, "you've been reading Alice in Wonderland again, haven't you?"
In it the Cheshire Cat is voiced by Sterling Holloway, a voice actor whom Walt Disney was already familiar with due to Holloway's voicing of Mr. Stork in Dumbo (1941) and Flower in Bambi (1942). Holloway went on to achieve his greatest fame voicing Winnie-the-Pooh in the short film Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree in 1966 (one of the last animated shorts produced by Disney himself before his death), as well as 2 more shorts and a 1977 film. Holloway was originally going to sing "I'm Odd" as the Cheshire Cat, but instead sang "Twas brillig" in the final film due to Walt Disney's concerns and opinions of the deleted Jabberwocky scene but wanting to keep a part of the original poem. In the 2004 DVD release of Alice in Wonderland, Jim Cummings (the current voice of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger) sang "I'm odd". Holloway never got to record the song himself due to his death in November of 1992.
In the video game American McGee's Alice (2000), the Cheshire Cat is portrayed with an emaciated, almost skeletal appearance, with undergrown incisors and wearing an earring. His voice was provided by Roger L. Jackson, who also voiced the Mad Hatter and The Jabberwock in the game.