Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Fairy Tale Review: 'Puss in Boots'

In the spirit of all things cats, partly inspired by Ursula Le Guin's very nice post Chosen by a Cat, I'm going to feature today that seminal classic, Puss in Boots (also known as Master Cat).

Right, I'm an animal lover through and through, and this is probably attributable in part to all the fairy tales I read growing up that portrayed animals as helpers to our poor heroes and heroines. Very few animal helpers made the impression that the cat in Puss in Boots did though; simply because the cat in this tale was everything that was mischievous and trickstery (yes, I made the word up:D) and charming, and somehow symbolised exactly that brand of lazy, mysterious elegance that cats big and small possess.

All right, I'll stop waxing lyrical about felines and get to the story. Puss in Boots tells the tale of three brothers who are left three very different inheritances by their miller father; the eldest son gets the mill, the second his father's donkey, and the third *lucky chap in my mind* - gets a cat!

The cat soon proves the best inheritance a poor miller's son could ever get. Right after he's passed down to our hero, the small feline requests a pair of boots and pouch and - armed with such - proceeds to trap game which he hands over as gifts to a very appreciative King, always stating that the gifts were from his master, the 'Marquis of Carabas'. One day, when the cat hears that the King would be driving by a riverbank with his beautiful daughter, he 'arranges' for his master to be bathing naked nearby, and proceeds to call for help when the King's carriage draws near, asserting that a certain Marquis of Carabas was drowning in the river after being robbed.

Suffice to say, the King stops to help the Marquis, the princess falls in love with him during their carriage ride, and Puss's machinations later on result in his master not only owning a castle (taken from a shape-shifting ogre whom Puss tricks into becoming a mouse and who is subsequently eaten) but also in marrying the princess.

There is a charming, playful tenor to the story. Puss's efforts to ensure his master succeeds in life are remarkably endearing and can't help but make one root for him to succeed. I did squirm a bit at the manner in which he trapped game (other animals) as part of his plan to curry the King's favour, but at the same time, this was perfectly in character for a cat - not to mention inventive; he actually plays dead to catch a rabbit...

In case you're wondering if cats do such things in real life, I can say unreservedly that they do. Such intricate (and hilarious) manouvering is nothing to a cat - heck, I once knew a cat who imitated the chirping of birds to get them near to him... Didn't work though... Poor little feller was so disappointed... *ahem* To return to what I was saying...

Yes, I suppose what impressed me most about this tale was that the characteristics of Puss were honestly portrayed - he is mischievous AND cunning, resourceful AND ruthless, loyal AND manipulative...

But ultimately, Puss is unapologetically himself, and that kind of truth in a tale can do no less than inspire devotion in this reader:) I just had to cheer inside when the cat finally "became a great lord and never again had to run after mice, except when he wanted to amuse himself". Go, Puss!:)

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