Friday, September 10, 2010

Puss In Boots

This is a story about seeing worth in unexpected places. It is NOT a story about lying and cheating and getting away with it. It’s also one of my favorites, and it remains largely unchanged throughout history. The cat is usually depicted as sly and crafty. I prefer to think of mine as a hustler, a would-be con artist with a heart of gold. Not unlike Top Cat in my opinion. A few Italian stories predate the famous version by Charles Perrault, but his is the version we know today and that I have adapted. I have even reworked the master’s own last lines to end the story with.

nce upon a time there was a miller who had two sons and one daughter. When the miller died, each of his children inherited something. The eldest son inherited the mill, which he worked and made a lot of money with. The younger son inherited a horse, which he used to work and make a lot of money. The youngest child, his daughter, Jennifer, got her father’s old boots, and a cat.

Needless to say, Jennifer was pretty upset by this. Her father, though a fine man in many respects, was very narrow-minded about girls in general. He was one of these types that think girls can’t do all the things boys can do. In truth, he had never wanted a daughter in the first place, so he had always sort of overlooked Jennifer, never more so than in his will.

Jennifer figured she could make a stew with the cat and make mittens from its fur, but after that she would starve and/or freeze to death. This, however, did not sound like a good plan to the cat, but then you’d be surprised how seldom cats are consulted about this kind of thing.

“No, no, no, mistress,” said the cat, who had never been particularly liked by the miller and, as such, had never been given a name other than the rather ordinary ‘Puss.’ “Don’t kill me, please. I can make you a very wealthy woman. I’ll make you a bigger success than both of your brothers put together. Stick with me and you’ll go places, sweetheart.” Jennifer was slightly disconcerted at being called sweetheart by her cat, but had nothing to lose so she agreed to give the cat a chance to save his life. “All I need,” said Puss, “is a large sack and your father’s boots.” And when Jennifer asked him why he’d need the boots, Puss simply said, “One cannot appear before the king with no shoes on, can one?”

Well, Puss turned out to be one clever cat. He took the sack out into the forest and waited until he met a large wild turkey.

“Good morning, Turkey Baby!” said Puss.

“Good morning, Cat,” said the Turkey Baby, I mean, Turkey.

“Say, do you know where I could find a smaller, thinner turkey than yourself?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, I mean no offense, my good man, but I’ll bet you are so fat that you couldn’t even fit inside this sack.”

“Oh yeah?” said the Turkey. And just to spite Puss, walked right into the sack without a fight. Puss caught ten birds this way, none of whom seemed too upset by it. But, then again, turkeys are not renowned for their intellect…they are however great at gin rummy, a fact which very few people know…sorry, I’m off on a tangent here, aren’t I?

Returning, rather clumsily, to the story, Puss then took his sack-o-turkey to the palace. “I have a gift for the king,” he told the guards. “From my mistress, the…er…Marquis of Carabass!” This title—which Puss had made up on the spot—impressed the guards, so Puss was admitted and he got to see the king. “These wild turkeys,” he told his majesty, “are a gift from my mistress, the Marquis of Carabass!” (That’s pronounced “Care-uh-bass” and rhymes with “Salem, Mass” In case you were wondering. Also, you don’t pronounce the “s” in “Marquis” so that would sound like “Mar-KEE” Sorry, tangent).

“Mistress?” said the king, surprised. “Doesn’t ‘Marquis’ usually refer to a man?”


“Oh, okay, then,” said the easily convinced king. “Well, I’ve never heard of this Marquis of yours, but her name is most impressive. And she must be a wonderful woman to give such a fine gift. Tell your mistress that I thank her for her generosity and look forward to meeting her in person one day. Oh and here,” he added, handing a bag of gold coins to Puss. “For your trouble, young…cat.”

On his way out of the palace, Puss spoke to one of the guards. “I am told that other kings,” he said, “will take carriage-rides through their lands. Does our beloved monarch do this?”

“Oh, yes,” said the guard. “Every Saturday. He leaves the palace at nine in the morning and gets into one of his three traveling coaches, designed for just such outings. He takes the main road, passes through the woods, around the lake and circles back to the palace. After which he usually enjoys a boiled egg with a bit of salt and—”         

“Yes! Thank you, very informative,” said Puss and he went on his way, wondering why a guard had so much information at his disposal.

On his way out of the palace, he happened to pass the king’s son, Prince George. Of course, the cat had never seen the prince in person, but you know how some people look like exactly what they are? Well, George had one of those faces that just said to the world “I am a prince.” Just then, a thought popped into Puss’s agile mind and he turned to address the prince.

“My liege!” he said, bowing low. “Have I the honor of addressing the king’s only son, good Prince George?”

“Er, yeah, I guess,” said George. “You can stop bowing now if you want.”

“Your majesty is most gracious. I will not delay you further, for I must return to my mistress, the Marquis of Carabass.”

“The Marquis of Carabass? Sounds important.”

“Oh, very important, my good princey,” said Puss. “She is a wealthy landowner of the highest esteem. She has acres of rich, fertile land, a magnificent castle, two hundred head of cattle and a really big fountain!” (Rich people always have fountains, it’s like a rule) “And,” said the cat, now that he knew he had the prince’s interest, “she is a famed beauty to boot.”

“A famed booty to beaut?”

“No, no. The other way around. She’s a—never mind, she’s pretty, okay?”


“Oh yes. Quite the loveliest girl you will ever have the good fortune of laying your royal eyes upon. And young, making her accomplishments all the more impressive if you ask me.”

“Yes, that is impressive. Well, I’ll let you return, fair…cat. Give your mistress my regards and tell her that she is welcome in the palace any time.” Puss thanked his majesty and ran on home with his newly adapted plan bubbling over in his brain. As for George, he was mildly impressed with the Marquis of Carabass’s résumé, but the truth is, being a prince, he saw dozens of wealthy, beautiful young women every week. Each one wanting to marry him and become a princess. Beauty didn’t really impress him the way you might think it would. All he wanted was to meet a nice girl who he could have a conversation with. Cuz, let’s face it, your average beautiful damsel doesn’t have much going for her above the neck, if you follow me…you don’t? Oh, well never mind. Let’s get back to the story:

Jennifer was delighted by the bag of gold Puss managed to procure, but was amazed when her cat told her that there was more to come. So, at his insistence, the following Saturday, Puss and Jennifer made their way to a lake near the forest road. Once there, he told Jennifer to take off her clothes, get in the lake and start bathing. After Puss had repeated himself a sufficient number of times to satisfy his mistress, Jennifer did this (while Puss was looking the other way, of course) and was alarmed when she saw Puss throw her clothes into the woods. Puss assured her it was all a part of his plan. “Just stay right there,” said Puss, though Jennifer assured him she had no intention of getting out of the water any time soon. “Everything will be all right if you just go along with everything I say, baby.”

“Stop calling me ‘baby’,” said Jennifer.

“Right, sorry. Now, I must leave you for a moment, but when I return, it will be to make you prosperous beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Wait!” cried Jennifer before Puss left. “I have to ask…why are you doing all this for me? You’ve already won your life. Why are you still helping me?”

“You don’t know?” Jennifer shook her head. “Well, it’s not easy to explain. I know your father never wanted a girl. I know he treated you poorly because you were his first daughter and not his third son. The truth is he never wanted me either. None of them did. Your father and brothers never treated me with any kindness. They never even bothered to give me a real name. Not like you, the way you would rub my belly and scratch my ear. You were always the nicest and the smartest in the family. And when your father died and left you the only thing he cared less about than you…”

Jennifer wiped a tear from her eye, which proved a pointless effort because her hand was wet. “My friend,” she said to her cat. “I promise that if you can do all the things you say you can, I will give you the grandest name any cat has ever had. Now hurry. I’m getting cold…and pruny.”

So, with a brand new spring in his step, Puss ran to the road and waited. He didn’t have long to wait because the king’s carriage approached soon. Inside, the King and Prince George were surprised to see Puss standing in the road in front of them, jumping up and down, waving his paws and shouting “Help! Help, oh help please!” They stopped the carriage at once and asked what the matter was. “It is my mistress, the Marquis of Carabass!” said Puss. “She was bathing in the lake—as is her wont—when someone stole her clothes. It’s my fault, sire. I looked away for a moment! Oh, woe is me!”

Of course, the king was only too happy to help the overdramatic cat. He had not forgotten the gift of the Very Surprised Turkeys the Marquis had made. Of course, the king had no ladies’ clothing in his carriage, but, since he always kept a packed trunk in the carriage in case of emergencies (Yeah, it’s weird, but that’s royalty for you), he offered to let Puss take the trunk to his mistress and allow her to find something suitable. Puss thanked him for his generosity and (with great difficulty) dragged the trunk back to Jennifer. Between them they were able to fashion the king’s clothing into an outfit which made Jennifer look every bit the Marquis of Carabass…which is when Puss told her about the lies he had told to get them this far.

“WHAT?!?!?!” said Jennifer at the top of her voice. “You told him I was a…what the heck is a ‘Markey’ anyway?”

“I don’t know, I just made it up. But it sounds good, no?”

“No! It doesn’t. Puss, when you said you were going to make me rich and successful, you never said you were doing it by lying!”

“Well, where did you think I got the gold from? Rumplestilskin?”

“That’s not the point. You’ve dragged me into your lies and I won’t have any part of it. I’m going home.”

“You can’t! The king is here, right now! As is his son, Prince George! They’re expecting you.”

“No, they’re expecting the Marquis of Wherever! I’m just a miller’s daughter! I don’t have money, power or huge…tracts of land. All I have in this whole world is you!”

“And you’re all I have, Jennifer!” said the cat. “You gave me a sack and a pair of old boots and in less than a day, I gave you a bag of gold and a standing invitation with the royal family. I’m just asking you to trust me a little bit longer.”

“I don’t want to pretend to be something I’m not,” said Jennifer.

“I’m not asking you to. In fact, I insist that you be yourself. I promise, they may have been taken in by the Marquis of Carabass, but by the time we’re done, it will be Jennifer who has won their trust.” Jennifer looked in Puss’s eyes and found the reassurance she needed.

“I must be out of my mind!” she said, walking toward the road trying to look…Marquisy.

“It is very good to finally meet you,” said the king. “Would you like to join us in our ride? I can give you a lift to your castle if you like.”

Jennifer was not used to this kind of deceit, so Puss stepped in before she could answer. “Of course, she would be delighted to. If you don’t mind, mistress, I shall proceed to your castle now and ready everything for your arrival.” So, Jennifer allowed Prince George to help her into the carriage. Meanwhile, Puss was giving the coachman very bad directions which would (eventually) lead him to the Marquis of Carabass’s castle. So doing, Puss waved a fond goodbye to the passengers on the coach…and then set to work doing something very dangerous and slightly insane.

You see, the wealthiest and most powerful landowner in the area was actually a Giant Ogre. He had farmlands stretching all over the countryside, a castle on a hill, not to mention the ability to change into any kind of animal. A skill which he regularly abused by turning into a mouse or a bird and spying on his workers to make sure they were working hard enough. Anyone found not to be working to the Ogre’s satisfaction would be summoned to his castle and promptly eaten…with fries, usually, which were invented much longer ago than you probably thought.

So it was pretty dangerous (and, again, insane) for Puss to walk up to servants working in the Ogre’s field and say, “Attention! Those in the employ of the ogre! I have this announcement:” here Puss unrolled a blank piece of paper and pretended to read: “The ogre who owns this land will now be referring to himself as the ‘Marquis of Carabass.’ You will refer to him as such or he will grind your bones to make his bread.”

That’s just something ogres say, it’s another rule.

Puss repeated this announcement at every field along the route he had given the coachman, and he had to do it quickly as he had only a slight lead on the carriage, wherein a most stimulating discussion was taking place. Jennifer had been afraid that as soon as she tried to make conversation with the two royals, her cover would be blown. But, being a well-read, intellectually curious young woman, she found she was able to hold her own, and even impressed both King and Prince with her insight and intellect. As the carriage ride continued, Jennifer realized that she wasn’t playing a part, like she had thought. She was just being herself, and that’s what was making such a good impression on the king and his incredibly handsome son who hadn’t been able to take his eyes or ears off Jennifer from the moment she got in the carriage.

So, when the king stopped his carriage by a few farmhands and asked them whose land they were working, and they said “The Marquis of Carabass’” for fear of being eaten, that was just icing on the cake.

At the end of the road was the Ogre’s castle on a hill. Puss was here now, putting the last phase of his plan into action. He entered the Ogre’s castle and said to him, “Hey! Ogre-Baby! How’s it goin’, man? I am an admirer from a distant land. I have heard that, in addition to being a great landowner, you have magic powers. Is this true?”

“Certainly,” said the Ogre, always eager to brag to someone he planned to eat. “I can change myself into any animal. Look:” and with that he turned himself into a lion, a bear and a bull elephant within a few seconds.

Puss was frightened, but tried not to show it. It’s difficult to keep the upper hand in negotiations if you’re in mortal terror, you know. “I guess that’s impressive,” he said at last in his most Ooh, What Do I Care Voice.

“Guess?” said the incredulous Ogre.

“I mean, turning yourself into something big’s not all that impressive. Could you turn into something as small as, say…a mouse?”

“Could I? Just watch!” And the ogre turned into a tiny little field mouse. No sooner had he done this than Puss leaped on him, grabbed him and gobbled him up. Thus the Ogre was gone and the last thing he thought before he was devoured was, “Well, I really should’ve seen this coming, huh?”

The King’s carriage arrived shortly thereafter and if you thought the king was impressed before it was nothing to how he felt now. He saw the Marquis of Carabass living in this giant castle, with throngs of loyal servants (who were confused, but generally happy to be rid of the ogre) and more land than the king himself. So he was more than pleased to grant his son’s request, and allow him to marry Jennifer.

And this might have been where our story ended, but there were promises to be kept. Puss and Jennifer came clean to the king and prince about the whole thing. Puss took full responsibility, insisting that he only acted in Jennifer’s best interests and she was a reluctant accomplice to the whole thing. Of course, the king was shocked at first, but after a moment of consideration he laughed and put his arms around Jennifer. “You are a bright, lovely, charming girl with a very impressive cat who has managed to rid my kingdom of a fearsome ogre. I say bygones. Son?”

Of course George needed no convincing, for he had been in love with Jennifer from the start, and never the Marquis of Carabass. Which is why, as she realized she didn’t need it anymore, she gave that name to Puss and from that day forth, he was known as the Marquis of Carabass! A far grander name than any cat has ever had. And he lived for the rest of his days with his mistress, Princess Jennifer and her husband, Prince George in their own castle, and he lived for many long, happy years, where he was cared for, well fed and never had to chase mice again…

Except every now and then, just for fun!


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Gregory Hines, Ben Vereen and Alfre Woodard star
  • Shrek 2 (2004) For the record, I think that this movie, like its predecessor, sucks beyond the telling of it. But, there aren’t that many Puss in Boots movies I could mention, and I happened to think this character was pretty funny.
  • Nagagutsu o Haita Neko (1969) Animated Japanese version which might have died in obscurity, had one of its key animators not been Hayao Miyazaki, who has since directed such films as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away


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