20 February 2011

Puss-in-Boots: The Trickster Cat


The fairy tale Puss-in-Boots has its origins in European oral traditions of the trickster cat as hero. One of the best known versions was written by French writer Charles Perrault (1628–1703). In The Master Cat, a miller dies leaving three sons, the youngest receives as his inheritance a granary cat. Out of desperation the young man thinks of eating the cat and making a muff of his fur. The magical talking cat makes a bargain that in exchange for a bag and pair of boots he would make his master's fortune. Through ingenuity and trickery, Puss transforms the miller's son into The Marquis of Carabas. The bogus Marquis marries a Princess and lives in a castle rewarding Puss with the life of a Lord.


An earlier version of the tale is found in Le piacevoli notti by Italian writer Giovanni Francesco Straparola (1480-1557). The story Costantino Fortunato casts Costantino as the third son of a Bohemian woman who leaves him a cat when she dies. This feline is really a fairy who aids his peasant master to become the King of Bohemia. The rag to riches story is repeated in Italian poet Giambattista Basile's (1575-1632) Pippo. Pippo is the younger of two sons of an impoverished old man. The cat he is left with when his father dies is known as Pusseyship. She transforms her begging master into Lord Pippo and through her wit and manners he acquires wealth and marries a princess. Pippo promises to honor Pusseyship with a golden coffin when she dies. The cat feigns death and her false master says to throw her body out the window. Pusseyship jumps up berating Pippo leaving him behind to fend for himself, exclaiming, "Heaven keep me from the rich grown poor, And from the beggar who of wealth gains store."


Felix Lorioux (1872-1964) was a French illustrator who began his career as a fashion illustrator, but because of his love of fables and fairy tales became a children's book illustrator. His Art Noveau influences with elements of modern and Japanese style can be seen in the colorful depictions of animals such as Le Chat Botté. German born silhouette animator and film director, Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981) was inspired by Chinese shadow puppetry. She shows Puss in a black and gold illustration with an evil magician; the clever cat tricks his foe into changing himself into a mouse that he eats. The third illustration by French artist Adrienne Ségur (1901-1981) is one of the many magical cats she created in both The Fairy Tale Book and My Big Book of Cats.

5 comments:

  1. "Hi Kendra! Well, you know I was thrilled to read this. Fabulous research here. I did not know about Pusseyship and Pippo. Don't you just love the name, Pusseyship! Love the illustrations as well. I always loved this character. So fun, and so illuminating and fascinating with the history you brought together. Warmly, Philip"

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  2. Leonard D Greco Jr23 February, 2011 08:13

    will check out soon, a favorite topic...

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  3. Perrrrfect Kendra! Made me smile big!

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  4. Catherine Thompson23 February, 2011 19:19

    I love the variey of your topics and your writing is, as always, beautiful.

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  5. I have Puss and Boots and the reality of it is fantastic. Lets stay with these fantastics with a deep dark river running through. Giants, castles, and jailers. It's the best once again.

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