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Literature / Puss in Boots

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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 (loosely based on an earlier Italian story) about a loyal cat who uses trickery to bring his master from the lowest rung of society to the highest (full text here). 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 runs to a castle inhabited by an ogre (sometimes a wizard) with shape-shifting abilities. Puss flatters and taunts the ogre into proving his powers by transforming into a mouse... which Puss promptly dispatches and devours. 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."

Toei Animation produced a feature-length adaptation of the fairytale titled The Wonderful World of Puss 'n Boots in 1969, of which their version of the character, named Pero, became their mascot, which he remains to this day.

The character of Puss received a resurgence in notoriety after appearing in 2004's fairytale pastiche Shrek 2, played by Antonio Banderas. The Puss of Shrek bears little resemblance to the original character beyond being a sharp-dressed ogre-slaying Guile Hero, but proved popular enough to receive multiple spinoffs: Puss in Boots in 2011, The Adventures of Puss in Boots from 2015 to 2018, and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish in 2022.

Tropes in "Puss in Boots":

  • Anti-Hero: Puss just squeaks by this trope due to I Gave My Word; everything he does in the story is to keep his end of the promise. Furthermore, 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.
  • Cats Are Mean: Even in versions where the cat doesn't threaten the locals to get his way, he always kills and eats the legitimate owner of the castle in order to secure it for the "Marquis of Carabas."
  • Chessmaster Sidekick: The miller's son owes just about everything to his cat.
  • Child Eater: An illustration by Gustave Dore depicts the ogre as this, with babies being served in a plate next to him.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Thanks to his cat, the miller's son manages to pass himself off as a Marquis.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: Invoked by Puss to swindle some new clothes for his master.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Puss is far more clever and competent than his young master.
  • Love at First Sight: The princess falls for the miller's youngest son immediately; that must have been a truly "splendid" suit.
  • My New Gift Is Lame: The third son gets nothing for his inheritance but the family cat. Fortunately, it's a fairy tale, so the Youngest Child Wins.
  • No Name Given: The cat isn't actually named in the story — fans just assume from the title that his name is Puss.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Cat for a human.
  • Rags to Royalty: From a miller's youngest son to the king's heir.
  • 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 is not an ordinary cat because he can talk.
  • Taxman Takes the Winnings: Mentioned as likely in the second sentence of Charles Perrault version. The brothers had to divide the inheritance without lawyers' help:
    A certain miller had three sons, and when he died the sole worldly goods which he bequeathed to them were his mill, his ass, and his cat. This little legacy was very quickly divided up, and you may be quite sure that neither notary nor attorney were called in to help, for they would speedily have grabbed it all for themselves.
  • Tricking the Shapeshifter: Puss persuades the ogre to transform himself into a mouse. The ogre didn't think that through.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Some versions of the story have the cat's master turn out to be ungrateful indeed. 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. In the Russian version, the cat sets fire to the master's home first.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: For some reason, the humans in the story never wonder why a cat is speaking to them.
  • Villain Protagonist: Puss lies, bullies and murders his way to the top — although to be fair, he did take the kid with him. And in most versions of the story, the ogre is a true monster who won't be mourned.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The ogre can take other forms. He lets himself be baited into turning into a small rodent, which is his downfall.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The reason Puss needs a pair of boots to begin with is never explained and they're barely mentioned after he gets them. Adaptations tend to tie in the boots with the moral of proper dress and give Puss an entire fancy outfit to go with the boots, attributing at least some of his ability to bluff his master into high society to the fact that he himself is already dressed like a member of high society.
  • Youngest Child Wins: The miller's youngest son inherits a cat, who makes him a king.