Puss in Boots doesn’t have 50 reviews on Amazon.com yet, but once you add the .uk and .au reviews, and Good Reads, it’s about right. So, congratulations, Champions, on unlocking the next set of extra content: Begrudging Silence! Get the PDF Here!
As I mentioned in the previous post, the themes of Puss In Boots are highly unusual. Perrault–the author of the specific version I based my story on–claims that the main moral is “Hard work and ingenuity are preferable to inherited wealth,” and that the secondary moral is that womankind is vulnerable to external appearances. He essentially states that fine clothes and a pretty face is enough to make them fall in love.
Both of these moral miss the mark–the first one quite spectacularly as the idiot third son is neither ingenious nor does he work hard. As for the observation on womankind, it could be reflected right back because the third son was happy to marry the princess as she was the most beautiful in the land.
What makes the story even stranger is that the main character–the third son–is absolutely not deserving of all the good fortune the cat brings him. That’s not to say he is an evil character–he’s certainly better than the king from Rumpelstiltskin–but he has no positive personality traits, or anything that would make him worthy of owning a magic cat. Wild Swans, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, all of these tales have heroines who sacrifice and have positive character traits. We want them to succeed, and we want to believe that they will be rewarded for their behavior. The the third son blows through all of those hopes with his sniveling temperament and his inability to work.
The thing that has most folklorists and academic up in arms, however, is the cat’s actions. Maria Tatar–an American academic–says that there is very little to admire in the cat as he flatters, deceives, threatens, and steals in order to promote his master. His amazing charisma that bags him the King’s respect is more along the likes of older oral tricksters. (Think Loki of the Avengers.) What I find fascinating is that criticisms of the cat’s actions is a long standing pattern. While Tatar is a more modern scholar, George Cruikshank–he was the friend and illustrator of Charles Dickens, and he died in 1878–said he was shocked parents would allow their children to read the story as it–through the cat’s actions–praised and taught lying.
However, not all literature lovers see the cat as a less-than moral character. Jack Zipes, another American scholar, claimed that the story was meant to illustrate the desires of the French upper class, and that the cat is “the epitome of the educated bougeois secretary who serves his master with complete devotion and diligence.” He claims that all of the cat’s deeds can be seen in a better light because he is performing them out of loyalty.
Another interesting analysis site–Raven’s Shire–suggests that the cat wasn’t mere a cat, but a fairy creature. In the traditional stories, fairies have tricky moral compasses, so it is likely the cat wasn’t acting out of a vindictive and evil nature, but rather his loyalty to the third son for giving him shoes. Raven’s Shire isn’t really a literature academic, but it takes an interesting, more historical look at fairy tales that I find fascinating–I actually referenced her site when I was trying to understand the theme behind Rumpelstiltskin.
So what did all of this mean for me? I liked Perrault’s moral about hard work and ingenuity being preferable to inherited wealth, but his remarks about womankind irritated me. So I set out to create a story that would follow the first moral and counter the second.
It’s impossible to miss Gabrielle’s attitude towards outer beauty. As she is incredibly pretty, she knows first hand that not only is there very little worth in it, but it says nothing about a person. If you remember, she disliked Steffen upon sight just because he was handsome. (HAH! Take that Perrault!) Moreover, Steffen wasn’t all that impressed with her, even though she was breathtaking. It isn’t until the pair fight bandits together that they become friends, and even after that they meet up in adventure after adventure, further revealing their character. THAT is what it takes to make a woman fall in love!
I got the moral of hard work and ingenuity being superior across through several layers of the story. First of all, while Puss is smart and clever, Gabrielle works with him as a team and does a lot of the physical footwork. Moreover, she had the cunning to out smart the ogre–something Puss didn’t think of–which grants her the title of Marquise. If Gabrielle had stayed behind and accepted the life her parents presented her with–aka inherited–she would have been a farmer’s wife. While there’s nothing wrong with being a farmer’s wife, I think we can all agree that a character as vivacious as Gabrielle would be happier with an adventurous life. Gabrielle had to work hard for her new title, and in a way she had to work just as hard to snag Steffen’s affection.
Puss is another character that backs up the main moral. It’s obvious he’s ingenious, but before he met Gabrielle he was barely more than a pampered pet, and he was quite unhappy about it. It isn’t until he and Gabrielle work together that he becomes satisfied with life, and chooses to serve her as a result.
So, what do you think? Was the original cat an old-fashioned version of Loki, or does he deserve praise–like my Puss? What do you think about Perrault’s morals? Please comment below–I would love to see a good discussion on this! Until next time, thanks for reading, Champions, and enjoy the extra!