Puss in Boots Title

19th Century Puss in Boots illustration by Gustave Dore

 

There are few characters that have captured hearts as well as Puss in Boots. The 2004 reintroduction of Puss in Boots by Dreamwork’s Shrek 2 showed just how beloved the character is even today. They gave him a few new twists, but surprisingly, the new Puss doesn’t seem that far off from the character in the books.

The Classic Telling of Puss in Boots

The classic version of the story of Puss in Boots was penned by famed French writer and story teller, Charles Perrault in the late 1600’s. The Master Cat; Or, Puss in Boots appeared in a collection of tales called Histoires ou contes du temps passé (Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times).

Puss in Boots - Illustrations from 1885

Image Credit: bibliotheque-leschampslibres-rennes

The story begins as a poor, dying miller leaves his only worldly possessions to his 3 sons. The youngest son (who does not have a name) quite begrudgingly receives his father’s cat. As the miller’s son contemplates eating the cat, the Cat speaks up and promises the son that all he needs is a bag and a pair of boots and he will show the son what a good inheritance he is. Curious, the son gets the cats all he has asked for.

Soon the Cat begins his plan to bring wealth an honor to his new owner. He kills a rabbit and brings it to the King as a gift from his master (whom the Cat has given the impressive title of the Marquis of Carabas). The king is thrilled with the gift. For a few months the Cat brings gifts to the King from “the Marquis of Carabas.”

The next phase of the Cat’s plan begins when the King plans a carriage ride past the river with his daughter in tow. The Cat has his master take his clothes off and bathe in the river. As the King comes by, the Cat proclaims that the Marquis of Carabas is drowning in the river. This prompts the King to save him, invite him into the carraige, and give him some of the royal clothes.

As the carriage ride goes along, the Cat runs ahead. He tells all of the different groups of people he comes across that they must tell the King that the land that they are on is owned by the Marquis of Carabas or they will be “chopped as small as mince-meat.” The people do as the cat tells them to do and the King is amazed by all that the Marquis of Carabas owns.

Finally, the Cat comes to a castle owned by a magical ogre. He flatters the ogre by telling him about all of the magical powers that he has heard the ogre possesses. He asks the ogre if he can demonstrate the fact that he can turn into any creature by turning into a lion. The flattered ogre turns himself into a lion. Then he asks if he can also turn himself into something small, like a mouse. The Ogre turns himself into a mouse to prove his might and the Cat eats him. By the time the King arrives, the castle belongs to the Marquis of Carabas. A marriage is arranged between the princess and the Marquis of Carabas and the Cat became a Lord.

Variations of Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots - Le Chat Botté, par Gustave Doré 1697

Image Credit: Bianca Bueno (work in public domain)

Perrault was not the first person to write the story of Puss in Boots. There have been a number of different versions told around the world. The first written version came from Italian storyteller, Giovanni Straparola in his collection of tales called Facetious Nights in the 1550’s. The basic story line remains the same, but this time the cat is really a fairy in disguise and the castle is not owned by a magical ogre. The owner of the castle meets an unfortunate death (having nothing to do with the Cat) not long before the King arrives.

Another notable version of Puss in Boots is titled Cagliuso written by Giambattista Basile in the collection Il Pentamerone. This is a much harsher telling of the tale and with a much different ending. The Son (named Pippo in this version) is so thankful for all of what the Cat has done for him that he promises to give her (the Cat is female in this version) a golden casket when she dies. Not certain that Pippo is really as grateful as he seems, the Cat pretends to be dead. It isn’t long before Pippo is cursing the cat and telling the Princess to throw the body out the window. Of course, the Cat snaps back to life and gives Pippo a piece of her mind before leaving him to deal with his own problems.

A Loveable, But Unusual Tale

Puss in Boots is a very interesting fairy tale. Most fairy tales display morality by pitting a very good, noble character against a very evil one. This isn’t true in Puss in Boots. There isn’t enough detail given about the background of the Miller’s Son to determine whether he was a good person or not. Throughout the story he doesn’t do anything that is particularly noble or redeeming. The Cat doesn’t show himself to be particularly noble either. He does help the Miller’s Son as he promised, but he does so using trickery and deceit. Likewise, we have no reason to believe that any of the other characters are evil (except maybe that one is called an ogre). Still, people have found the story endearing over the ages and Puss in Boots continues to be a classic.

What do you think makes Puss in Boots so lovable as a character?