Animal helpers have always been popular in fairy tales. Cinderella had some helpful birds (or mice, depending on the version). Many heroes encounter animals in peril and are rewarded for helping them. But perhaps the most famous animal helper is Puss in Boots.
There are numerous versions of the Puss in Boots fairy tale. The first version was written by Giovanni Straparola sometime in the early 1500s. In 1634, Giambattista Basile published his version. Charles Perrault contributed to the evolution of the tale (also called The Master Cat) in at the end of the 17th century. Perrault’s is the version that I and many other are familiar with.
What It’s About
A miller has died and left an inheritance for his three sons. The oldest gets the mill, the middle son gets the donkeys, and the youngest son gets a cat. Now, the youngest son is understandably upset. His brothers can use their inheritances to make a living but he considers the cat useless.
Naturally, the cat proves him wrong. It asks for a pair of boots and a bag and in return, the cat will see to it that the young man is taken care of. The man is doubtful but decides to give the cat a chance (as well as the things it asked for). The cat puts on the boots, takes the bag, and heads into the forest, where it finds and kills a rabbit. The cat takes the rabbit and presents it to the king, saying it’s a gift from his master, a Lord that the cat has made up.
Over the next few months, the cat brings more gifts to the king from the fictional Lord. One day, the cat finds out that the king and his daughter will be taking a drive through the country. The cat convinces the young son to take a bath in the river and steals his clothes. As the king and princess pass by, the cat approaches them and tells them his master has been mugged.
The king and princess are eager to help the faux noble and immediately offer him assistance and new clothes. The young man is so handsome in his fine clothes that the princess falls in love with him.
Meanwhile, the cat runs ahead and threatens the local villagers to say that the land belongs to the fake Lord. Apparently, the cat is terrifying because they happily lie to the king to avoid whatever it is the cat might do. The cat runs further ahead to the local castle, which happens to be owned by a rich ogre (I don’t understand the politics of this fictional land). The ogre can shape-shift and the cat tricks it into turning into a mouse. The cat then kills the ogre just as the king, princess, and young man arrive. The cat claims the castle belongs the Lord and the young man doesn’t argue.
The princess has fallen “violently in love” with the young man and the king insists that the man marry his daughter. Not one to argue with royalty (or cats), the man weds the princess that day. Yeah, the same day he met her. The cat then becomes a lord (seriously, what is with these politics?) and lives the rest of his life in luxury.
The Perrault version of the story includes two morals: hard work is more valuable than inherited wealth and good looks and clothes are essential in winning the heart of a princess (I’m paraphrasing).
Fun Fact #1
In Straparola’s version, the story begins with a mother passing and leaving her three sons an inheritance: a kneading trough, a pastry board, and a cat. The cat is a fairy in disguise and the young man has a name, Constantino Fortunato. After Constantino marries the princess and becomes king, the cat disappears and is never heard from again.
Fun Fact #2
In Basile’s telling of the story, the mother is changed to a father. Constantino is renamed Cagliuso and the cat is referred to as “Her Royal Catness”, which is the best thing ever. In this version, Cagliuso is a less-than-stellar role model. He promises the cat that he will look after her, even after her death (promising to stuff her and keep her in a golden cage, which I guess is flattering?). The cat doesn’t believe him and fakes her death. Cagliuso tells his wife to throw the supposedly-dead cat out the window, which makes the cat angry.
If You’re Interested….
I haven’t read it yet, but K.M. Shea’s Puss in Boots has been on my reading list for a while and I’m excited to finally get to it! The story follows a young girl who has inherited a cat that promises her a life of great adventure in exchange for a pair of boots. I’ll let you know how it is when I’m done with it!
Do you have any favorite versions of Puss in Boots? Or are there any fairy tales you’d like to see me cover here? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time, word nerds!