Puss In Boots: Themes

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.

pussinboots

I don’t know, those so called “boots” look more like shoes. And why didn’t he need two pairs?

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!

11 comments on “Puss In Boots: Themes

  1. In the French court during the 17th/18th century it became fashionable to use ridicule as a way of advancing through the court hierarchy. The faster,sharper & wittier the tongue..the higher the courtier could rise.Of course, say the wrong thing to the wrong person & you could land up in the Bastille. (there’s a great French film called Ridicule that deals with this cruelest of pastimes)
    Puss in Boots feels like Perrault’s attempt to ridicule the standard fairytale,by making his characters lack any of the noble virtues, but then has them succeed in rising up the ladder without having any admirable traits or virtues to recommend them to the reader.

    • Ahhh, that is a very good point. It was written in 1697, so that would put it smack in the center of that sort of culture. (I’m doing the math right, I think? 17th century really means 1600s and all that? Gosh I hate time.)

  2. As a child I never really took in the meanings of the story. To me it was just a funny tale. Although, I didn’t like that in other fairytales the girl was always GOOD. She always seemed to have a pleasant disposition and was always doing good deeds. So to me the cat was great, he wasn’t “good” he got what he wanted by hoodwinking the silly third son, who was an idiot.
    I like the idea that the cat could be a fairy. His actions do seem to fit what a fairy would do.
    But, I like your version better, thanks for rewriting the tale, 🙂

    • I do find the cat to be an interesting character–I have a soft spot for trickster characters. My biggest beef is with that useless third son. Why should HE get to prosper off all of the cat’s hard work? When I was reading the original I wanted to shake him. I suppose you have a point, though, Puss ends up pretty high in life, and the story certainly implies that he is happy.

      Maybe the real moral is sometimes you have to drag useless people with you when you’re moving up in life?

  3. I have not finished the book yet but it was a bit different to the story’s about puss in boots that I’ve read. the ones that I’ve read have all had that puss turns into a human when he picks a master and he can grant them three wishes but when the third wish is granted they die but all the books I’ve read are manga

    • I’ve read about a dozen variations of puss as a kids picture book, but I have never seen it as an adult novel, much less manga, so it sounds interesting!

  4. I loved this extra! I can’t wait to see more of them in other books (hopefully). I went back and read Wild Swans again, and it made me even more sad over Steffen’s enchantment than I had been before.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed that! It was a little difficult to balance their relationship between the two books, but they’re the kind of couple where their adventures wouldn’t end at the start of their marriage. 🙂

  5. Just out of curiosity… Will you be drawing up a map of Arcainia, Loire, Erlauf, etc. to put with the paperback versions of your books? I love maps of fantasy worlds! It makes things so much more awesome to visualize.

    • I am working on having a map made, unfortunately it won’t be able to be printed with the books. Amazon has special requirements for putting images in printed novels. 😦

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