"Master Cat; or, The Booted Cat" (early French: Le Maître Chat, ou Le Chat Botté), commonly known as "Puss in Boots", is a French literary fairy tale about a cat who uses trickery and deceit to gain power, wealth, and the hand of a princess in marriage for his penniless and low-born master.
The tale was written at the close of the seventeenth century by Charles Perrault (1628–1703), a retired civil servant and member of the Académie française.
The tale appeared in a handwritten and illustrated manuscript two years before its 1697 publication by Barbin in a collection of eight fairy tales by Perrault called Histoires ou contes du temps passé. The book was an instant success and remains popular.
Perrault's Histoires has had considerable impact on world culture. The original french title was "Histoires ou contes du temps passé or Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye (Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals or "Mother Goose Tales"... "The frontispiece to the earliest English editions depicts an old woman telling tales to a group of children beneath a placard inscribed "MOTHER GOOSE'S TALES" and is credited with launching the Mother Goose legend in the English-speaking world.
"Puss in Boots" has provided inspiration for composers, choreographers, and other artists over the centuries. The cat appears in the third act pas de caractère of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping Beauty, for example, and makes appearances in other media.
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.
The eldest son took the mill, and the second son took the ass. Consequently all that remained for the youngest son was the cat, and he was not a little disappointed at receiving such a miserable portion.
'My brothers,' said he, 'will be able to get a decent living by joining forces, but for my part, as soon as I have eaten my cat and made a muff out of his skin, I am bound to die of hunger.'
These remarks were overheard by Puss, who pretended not to have been listening, and said very soberly and seriously:
'There is not the least need for you to worry, Master. All you have to do is to give me a pouch, and get a pair of boots made for me so that I can walk in the woods. You will find then that your share is not so bad after all.'
Now this cat had often shown himself capable of performing cunning tricks. When catching rats and mice, for example, he would hide himself amongst the meal and hang downwards by the feet as though he were dead. His master, therefore, though he did not build too much on what the cat had said, felt some hope of being assisted in his miserable plight.
On receiving the boots which he had asked for, Puss gaily pulled them on. Then he hung the pouch round his neck, and holding the cords which tied it in front of him with his paws, he sallied forth to a warren where rabbits abounded. Placing some bran and lettuce in the pouch, he stretched himself out and lay as if dead. His plan was to wait until some young rabbit, unlearned in worldly wisdom, should come and rummage in the pouch for the eatables which he had placed there.
Hardly had he laid himself down when things fell out as he wished. A stupid young rabbit went into the pouch, and Master Puss, pulling the cords tight, killed him on the instant.
Well satisfied with his capture, Puss departed to the king's palace. There he demanded an audience, and was ushered upstairs. He entered the royal apartment, and bowed profoundly to the king.
'I bring you, Sire,' said he, 'a rabbit from the warren of the marquis of Carabas (such was the title he invented for his master), which I am bidden to present to you on his behalf.'
'Tell your master,' replied the king, 'that I thank him, and am pleased by his attention.'
Another time the cat hid himself in a wheatfield, keeping the mouth of his bag wide open. Two partridges ventured in, and by pulling the cords tight he captured both of them. Off he went and presented them to the king, just as he had done with the rabbit from the warren. His Majesty was not less gratified by the brace of partridges, and handed the cat a present for himself.
For two or three months Puss went on in this way, every now and again taking to the king, as a present from his master, some game which he had caught. There came a day when he learned that the king intended to take his daughter, who was the most beautiful princess in the world, for an excursion along the river bank.
'If you will do as I tell you,' said Puss to his master, 'your fortune is made. You have only to go and bathe in the river at the spot which I shall point out to you. Leave the rest to me.'
The marquis of Carabas had no idea what plan was afoot, but did as the cat had directed.
While he was bathing the king drew near, and Puss at once began to cry out at the top of his voice:
'Help! help! the marquis of Carabas is drowning!'
At these shouts the king put his head out of the carriage window. He recognised the cat who had so often brought him game, and bade his escort go speedily to the help of the marquis of Carabas.
While they were pulling the poor marquis out of the river, Puss approached the carriage and explained to the king that while his master was bathing robbers had come and taken away his clothes, though he had cried 'Stop, thief!' at the top of his voice. As a matter of fact, the rascal had hidden them under a big stone. The king at once commanded the keepers of his wardrobe to go and select a suit of his finest clothes for the marquis of Carabas.
The king received the marquis with many compliments, and as the fine clothes which the latter had just put on set off his good looks (for he was handsome and comely in appearance), the king's daughter found him very much to her liking. Indeed, the marquis of Carabas had not bestowed more than two or three respectful but sentimental glances upon her when she fell madly in love with him. The king invited him to enter the coach and join the party.
Delighted to see his plan so successfully launched, the cat went on ahead, and presently came upon some peasants who were mowing a field.
'Listen, my good fellows,' said he; 'if you do not tell the king that the field which you are mowing belongs to the marquis of Carabas, you will all be chopped up into little pieces like mince-meat.'
In due course the king asked the mowers to whom the field on which they were at work belonged.
'It is the property of the marquis of Carabas,' they all cried with one voice, for the threat from Puss had frightened them.
'You have inherited a fine estate,' the king remarked to Carabas.
'As you see for yourself, Sire,' replied the marquis; 'this is a meadow which never fails to yield an abundant crop each year.'
Still travelling ahead, the cat came upon some harvesters.
'Listen, my good fellows,' said he; 'if you do not declare that every one of these fields belongs to the marquis of Carabas, you will all be chopped up into little bits like mince-meat.'
The king came by a moment later, and wished to know who was the owner of the fields in sight.
'It is the marquis of Carabas,' cried the harvesters.
At this the king was more pleased than ever with the marquis.
Preceding the coach on its journey, the cat made the same threat to all whom he met, and the king grew astonished at the great wealth of the marquis of Carabas.
Finally Master Puss reached a splendid castle, which belonged to an ogre. He was the richest ogre that had ever been known, for all the lands through which the king had passed were part of the castle domain.
The cat had taken care to find out who this ogre was, and what powers he possessed. He now asked for an interview, declaring that he was unwilling to pass so close to the castle without having the honour of paying his respects to the owner.
The ogre received him as civilly as an ogre can, and bade him sit down.
'I have been told,' said Puss, 'that you have the power to change yourself into any kind of animal--for example, that you can transform yourself into a lion or an elephant.'
'That is perfectly true,' said the ogre, curtly; 'and just to prove it you shall see me turn into a lion.'
Puss was so frightened on seeing a lion before him that he sprang on to the roof--not without difficulty and danger, for his boots were not meant for walking on the tiles.
Perceiving presently that the ogre had abandoned his transformation, Puss descended, and owned to having been thoroughly frightened.
'I have also been told,' he added, 'but I can scarcely believe it, that you have the further power to take the shape of the smallest animals--for example, that you can change yourself into a rat or a mouse. I confess that to me it seems quite impossible.'
'Impossible?' cried the ogre; 'you shall see!' And in the same moment he changed himself into a mouse, which began to run about the floor. No sooner did Puss see it than he pounced on it and ate it.
Presently the king came along, and noticing the ogre's beautiful mansion desired to visit it. The cat heard the rumble of the coach as it crossed the castle drawbridge, and running out to the courtyard cried to the king:
'Welcome, your Majesty, to the castle of the marquis of Carabas!'
'What's that?' cried the king. 'Is this castle also yours, marquis? Nothing could be finer than this courtyard and the buildings which I see all about. With your permission we will go inside and look round.'
The marquis gave his hand to the young princess, and followed the king as he led the way up the staircase. Entering a great hall they found there a magnificent collation. This had been prepared by the ogre for some friends who were to pay him a visit that very day. The latter had not dared to enter when they learned that the king was there.
The king was now quite as charmed with the excellent qualities of the marquis of Carabas as his daughter. The latter was completely captivated by him. Noting the great wealth of which the marquis was evidently possessed, and having quaffed several cups of wine, he turned to his host, saying:
'It rests with you, marquis, whether you will be my son-in-law.'
The marquis, bowing very low, accepted the honour which the king bestowed upon him. The very same day he married the princess.
Puss became a personage of great importance, and gave up hunting mice, except for amusement.