Puss in Boots
Charles Perrault
1697

The Master Cat, the Booted Cat – these the traditional French terms for the character we all know as Puss in Boots. In the last years of the seventeenth century, Charles Perrault produced the now-world-famous tale of the trickster cat who wins wealth, fame and the hand of the princess for his all-too-common and all-too-broke master.

One in a collection of stories that also may have introduced the figure of Mother Goose to the English-speaking world, “Puss in Boots” has its origins in Italian stories of the mid-1500s and pops up in a wide range of other stories and productions, including Tchaikovsky’s ballet version of Sleeping Beauty.

Puss is a tricky one – as deceitful as he is playful, as much a rogue as a role-model, master of theft and lies and manipulation, he’s much-loved by the kids who hear the tale but has been often-condemned as a terrible influence upon young minds and young morality. Others, though, praise the story as a fairy-tale of the emerging middle class, a story in which it is not birth but work that gets the goods of wealth, power, prestige. Hmmm. Perhaps. But not the master’s work. Puss does it all for him, the efforts of the servant and the liberal use of theft and deceit being the means to transfer wealth from one undeserving layabout to another. Yeah, maybe it is a fairy-tale of the rise of capitalism after all.

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