Literature: Puss in Boots

Help! Help! The Marquis of Carabas is drowning!

"The Master Cat, or The Cat in Boots" ("Le Maistre Chat, ou Le Chat Botté"), more commonly known as "Puss in Boots", is a French Fairy Tale by Charles Perrault about a cat who uses trickery to bring his master from the lowest rung of society to the highest. The title character has become such an iconic figure that he was the former Trope Namer for the trope Chessmaster Sidekick.

The tale opens with the third and youngest son of a miller receiving his inheritance — which consists of a single cat. The feline is no ordinary cat, however, and offers to make the kid rich if the kid buys him some boots. Puss then pays several visits to the local king, claiming to be a member of the household of the Marquis of Carabas, each time bringing a gift which he caught himself.

One day, knowing the king and his daughter are traveling by coach along the riverside, the cat persuades his master to remove his clothes and enter the river. The cat disposes of his master's clothing beneath a rock. As the royal coach nears, the cat begins calling for help in great distress, and, when the king stops to investigate, the cat tells him that his master, the Marquis, has been bathing in the river and robbed of his clothing. The king has the young man brought from the river, dressed in a splendid suit of clothes, and seated in the coach with his daughter, who falls in love with him at once.

The cat hurries ahead of the coach, ordering the country folk along the road to tell the king that the land belongs to the "Marquis of Carabas", saying that if they do not he will cut them into mincemeat. (A somewhat more plausible and palatable variant occurs in some versions: he claims that vicious gangs of bandits are plundering the countryside, and that his master has a powerful army these bandits would never dare to provoke, so the peasants should claim to anyone who asks that everything belongs to his master so that the bandits won't attack.) The cat then happens upon a castle inhabited by an ogre with shape-shifting abilities. Puss flatters and taunts the ogre into proving his powers by transforming into a mouse, whereupon Puss promptly kills and eats him. The king arrives at the castle (which Puss claims belongs to his master) and, impressed with the bogus Marquis and his estate, gives the lad his daughter in marriage. Thereafter, the cat enjoys life as a great lord who runs after mice only for his own amusement.

The tale is followed immediately by two morals: "one stresses the importance of possessing industrie and savoir faire while the other extols the virtues of dress, countenance, and youth to win the heart of a princess."

Tropes in "Puss in Boots":

  • Anti-Hero: Or outright Villain Protagonist, depending on viewpoint. Puss literally lies, threatens and murders his way to the top - although to be fair, he did take the kid with him.
    • Modern adaptations tend to be kinder to Puss, establishing the Ogre as a monster who had it coming rather than just a show-off, having Puss promise to free the folk along the road from the tyranny of the Ogre if they play along, and making him treat the kid with a little more respect.
  • Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Inverted.
  • Cats Are Mean: Just ask that ogre.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: The king and his daughter just happen to travel by in their coach.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Invoked.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Puss to the kid.
  • Love at First Sight: How the princess falls for the miller's son.
  • No Name Given/Fan Nickname: The cat isn't actually named in the story - fans just assume from the title that his name is Puss.
  • Non-Human Sidekick
  • Rags to Royalty
  • Rule of Three: The kid was the youngest of three. Also, in most versions, Puss visits the king three times, and threatens three field workers or groups of them.
  • Satellite Love Interest: The princess, who doesn't have a purpose as a character outside of falling in love with and marrying the eponymous character's owner.
  • Talking Animal: The titular character.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Some versions of the story have the cat's master turn out to be this. For example, in an Italian variation, Pippo and the Clever Cat, Pippo promises his cat that for everything she's done for him, she'll live like a queen and receive an elaborate funeral when she passes away. Deciding to test this, the cat plays dead. Pippo's wife is in tears mourning the cat, but Pippo simply says to grab her by the leg and toss her out the window. The cat gets up, curses her master's name, and leaves.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Nowadays the king would probably do a background check on the so-called Marquis of Carabas' nobility.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting
  • Youngest Child Wins