The Tale of Puss in Boots

by Rodney Dale

 

The story we know as Puss in Boots first appeared in Giovan Francesco Straparola’s Piacevoli Notti (Pleasant Nights) in the mid-sixteenth century. In 1697 Charles Perrault published Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec des moralités (Histories and Tales of Long Ago with Morals) based on traditional folk tales in which the story appears as Le Mâitre Chat ou Le Chat Botté, which was translated into English by Robert Samber as Puss in Boots in about 1729, and has been retold countless times since.

The story makes a fine pantomime, as it has such an intricate plot, yet it may be some sign of the times that my analysis of British pantomimes in the last few years has shown that Puss in Boots has played but a handful of times, compared with Dick Whittington and his Cat, which is always in the top five, along with Aladdin and Cinderella. This is odd, for Puss in Boots (like Kathleen Hale’s Orlando) makes things happen, while Dick Whittington’s cat (like Graham Oakley’s Sampson) is content to react to circumstances.

Some Victorian critics were concerned at what they saw as the ‘immoral’ plot of Puss in Boots; the illustrator George Cruikshank, for example, found the tale ‘quite unfit for the young’, and rewrote it so that the ‘poor boy’ was really a prince ousted by the ogre, and the cat a metamorphosed gamekeeper – a piece of palaeopolitical correctness described by Charles Dickens as ‘a fraud on the fairies.’ Be that as it may, here is my rendering of the old story, originally written for National Poetry Day 2001.

 

I

There was trouble up’t’Mill; the old Miller was ill –

In fact, he was nearing death’s door

So his three sons he summoned; he hoped that they’d come and

Appreciate what was in store.

II

‘To my eldest I will | give the whole of the mill

With sails and fantail and cap,

The stones and the gear to grind many a year;

For you’re an ingenious chap

III

Who can keep the mill grinding, a task I am finding

Too hard as in years I advance,

But I know that you can as a practical man

Give the ageing machinery a chance.’

IV

To his nextborn he said, as he lay on his bed:

‘My plan is to give you my donkey

Along with the reins and the collar and hames

And the cart that is curiously wonky.’

V

‘There remains but the Cat, and I’d like to give that

To young Jack – of my offspring, the third.

He’s a Cat you will find of unusual kind

So the legacy’s far from absurd.’

VI

And having thus done what he’d hardly begun

The miller, contented, expired,

They arranged a fine wake with a buffet and cake

Laid out in a marquee they hired.

VII

That’s all very well, but the story I tell

Is really of Jack and his Cat;

So I’ll now leave the mill – which is functioning still –

And concentrate fully on that.

VIII

Now, being quite poor, Jack tried to secure

Some work to feed him and his friend;

He was wonderfully good when set to chop wood

But felt it was rather dead end.

IX

Although he was weary, he kept himself cheery

By singing appropriate airs,

And Puss danced a jig, beating time with a twig

In a style akin to Astaire’s.

X

Then one day our Jack was at rest on his back

When Puss suddenly started to speak:

‘Master, Master,’ he said to the lad on the bed,

‘I’ll be seeking our fortunes next week’.

XI

‘But first, boots. I need two, || a gamebag (old or new)

I need also a hat with a feather

Please don’t ask me why, you will see by and by

When I’ve melded my tactics together.’

XII

So Jack made a start: he set off for the mart

Where he purchased boots, gamebag and hat,

With a separate plume from a milliner’s room,

And he took the lot home for his Cat.

XIII

The boots fitted well, and the hat was just swell,

And the gamebag, adjusted, as good.

So out set the feline, his course being a beeline

To a glade in the ten-acre wood.

XIV

Puss’s plan was to make a spring trap that would take

A selection of succulent game.

He succeeded – no slouch – and he filled up his pouch

And soon to the Palace he came.

XV

His plan was to bring such a gift to the King

Who lived with his daughter alone;

(Apart from a few hundred courtiers who

To the royal band-wagon had flown).

XVI

The King was so needy because of a greedy

And covetous Ogre unsavoury.

He was biding his time, confident that the crime

Would be set right by some champion’s bravery –

XVII

Though who that might be, he was waiting to see,

While the Ogre stole land, crops, and rent.

And the King was distraught at the shame he had brought

On the realm to whose helm he was bent.

XVIII

Now, the King’s privy purse was exhausted, and worse

There was no way of gathering more –

Thus HM was thinking, his spirits low sinking

When Puss came and knocked on the door.

XIX

When Puss in Boots spoke, the guards thought it a joke

And admitted him gladly to see

The King on his throne, who was speedily shown

The selection of game for his tea.

XX

‘My master, the Marquis || of Carabas asks if

You’ll kindly accept this rich gift.’

And the jovial King was so pleased by the thing

That the courtiers, all uppity, sniffed.

XXI

Puss: ‘The Carabas title || is one that the wight’ll

Enjoy when I tell him about it.

It’s better than Jack in my plan of attack,

And there’ll be no progression without it.’

XXII

The Princess was delighted; no troth yet she’d plighted

And sensed that the Marquis might ‘do’.

For they needed a man the succession to plan

And for years had been wondering who.

XXIII

So day after day, Puss would wander that way

With a partridge, or pheasant or rabbit.

And the King grew quite used to the way he enthused

On the Marquis of Carabas habit.

XXIV

And every day || the Princess would say:

‘Here Puss, take this pie for your master.’

Which made Jack realise, while enjoying the pies,

That his legacy was no disaster.

XXV

What time, up at the palace, with no hint of malice

The King and the Princess were wondering

How long it would be || ere the Marquis could be

Persuaded to ride up on thundering

XXVI

White charger to pay || his respects for the day;

Ere they met the young man with the Cat

Who provided their game, on no two days the same,

But Puss had ideas about that.

XXVII

When the King and Princess || set out on a progress,

Puss persuaded his master to strip

And dive into a pond in the back of beyond

On the route of His Majesty’s trip.

XXVIII

As the carriage passed by, Puss started to cry

Out: ‘Help! Help! For my master can’t swim –

Some thieves took his clothes: jerkin, doublet and hose,

And into the water threw him.’

XXIX

‘Stop the coach!’ cried HM; ‘Save the Marquis, and then

Fit him out with some clothes from our case.’

They produced a fine thobe – an Arabian robe –

While the Princess averted her face.

XXX

As Jack emerged soon, she could scarcely not swoon

While Puss secretly smiled: ‘It’s a cinch!’

And the King was impressed with the way Jack was dressed:

‘He’s a regular prince, every inch!’

XXXI

‘I’m really so glad to meet you, my lad –

We feel that we know you through Puss.

Meet my daughter Alice. Come, stay at our Palace –

No ... really ... a pleasure ... no fuss.’

XXXII

‘Come, step in our carriage [now glimpses of marriage

Illumined the Princess’s eyes]

We’ll continue our drive, for we’ve yet to arrive

And the sun’s sinking low in the skies.’

XXXIII

So the Marquis of Cara || bas climbed in the char-a-

Banc, Puss running swiftly ahead;

With his bold feline presence alerting the peasants

At work in the fields. He said:

XXXIV

‘The King’s on his way, and I want you to say

When he asks who owns land all around:

"Why, Your Majesty, sure, all this here land and more

Is the Marquis of Carabas’ ground".’

XXXV

But the peasants weren’t sure, for they thought that before

The terrible Ogre was Lord,

But Puss had them say, ere the King passed that way

’Twas the Marquis’s tillage and sward.

XXXVI

So along came the King and – Hey Presto! The thing

Blossomed out just as Pussy had sown.

That night, King tossed and turned || as his candle low burned

Lest the Marquis should leave them alone.

XXXVII

He was all of a twitch to meet someone so rich

Who could prove now to be their salvation,

While the Marquis, in turn, || let his candle burn

With the worry of keeping his station.

XXXVIII

But Puss isn’t shirking his duties – he’s working

To acquire a Palace tomorrow.

To the Ogre he’s going; another plot sowing

To wrest infinite joy from deep sorrow.

XXXIX

Puss knocked on the door, and the Ogre did roar:

‘Who’s that making a din at my gate?

Can’t you guess I’m at rest? You’re a horrible pest,

And it’s midnight, incredibly late!’

XL

But Puss persevered, for no one he revered

When he had a crusade in his eye,

And he wanted to clear the Ogre from there

Ere the King and Princess should pass by.

XLI

He continued his din, and at last was let in

By the Ogre, who thought that he oughtn’t

(For th’avoidance of doubt) to risk missing out

On something that might be important.

XLII

So now Puss is in let the flattery begin:

‘I have heard,’ said the Cat, ‘you are clever

At changing your shape into panther or ape –

Or, indeed, any creature whatever.’

XLIII

‘’Tis true,’ Ogre said, as he stood on his head,

And Puss kept his best weather eye on

Him. ‘Can you,’ asked Puss, ‘with minimal fuss

Become a majestical lion?’

XLIV

‘In a trice,’ Ogre cried, and by Puss’s side

Stood a lion with great bushy mane.

And Puss thus enlightened purports to be frightened ...

And there stands the Ogre again.

XLV

‘My. my, that was slick,’ Puss admired the trick,

‘But I bet that you can’t do a mouse.’

‘No trouble at all,’ said the Ogre in thrall

To hubris, not t’preferable nous.

XLVI

So Puss in Boots sprang and the mouse took a prang

And found himself quickly devoured.

The Palace, released, was still set for the feast

That the Ogre himself had empowered.

XLVII

From his self-imposed test Puss then took a rest,

Prepared to rise early and bright;

While the Princess and King gave Jack a gold ring

And thus spent a more comfortable night.

XLVIII

The next day they drove and the Palace soon hove

Into view, with its welcoming Cat

Who showed them with pride the appointments inside

After which to the banquet they sat.

XLIX

Fine wines flowed like water, although the King’s daughter

With wisdom retained a clear head.

And the King turned a peach of an eloquent speech

Ere the company went up to bed.

L

He was highly impressed that the Marquis possessed

Such a palace, and such fertile land.

And the Marquis, with pride, took the praise in his stride,

Deprecatingly waving his hand.

LI

The next morning was fine, and they supped some more wine

Before Jack cleared his throat to enquire

Whether Alice and he might ... perhaps ... betrothed be ... ?

‘... If the union hath your blessing, Sire.’

LII

The King was delighted, the Princess excited,

Permission was given to wed.

So happy e’er after, ’midst music and laughter

Their marriage exchanges were said.

LIII

And thus ever since honest Jack’s been a Prince

All thanks to his masterly Cat

One day, he’ll be King! What a wonderful thing!

What a legacy! How about that?

LIV

Now some may believe that for Puss to achieve

Such an end, lacked all shreds of morality.

But to them, I would say, as we go on our way

’Tis a fairy-tale, exercise charity!’

 

 

Back To Top Of Page

Return To The Blurb