Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Puss In Boots

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Free Translation From the French of Charles Perrault

I was surprised to find so much information about Marcia Brown and her translation of Puss in Boots. In 1953, the book received a Caldecott Honor .

It's an ex-library copy. I have been meaning to read it this week and it has been sitting on the radiator beside my bed for ages.

If you're unfamiliar with the story, it is about a cat--bequeathed to a reluctant owner --who feels compelled to prove his worth in order to save his own skin. He, consequently, undertakes a number of tasks to this end.

The moral(s) of the story:

There is great advantage in receiving a large inheritance, but diligence and ingenuity are worth more than wealth acquired from others.

If a miller's son can win the heart of a princess in so short a time, causing her to gaze at him with lovelorn eyes, it must be due to his clothes, his appearance, and his youth. These things do play a role in matters of the heart.
(University of Pitts.)

Frankly, I have always found one of the messages disturbing: in the pursuit of one's own interests, the ends will justify the means.

The cat schemes, deceives, manipulates, intimidates--and worse--in order to render himself invaluable. He increases the worth of his owner and thereby ensures his own security.

Just one day after losing my beloved Avery, I might have waited to read it: this morning found me lying in bed, sobbing over the owner's cruel indifference and the cat's desperation.

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19th-cent. chapbook (University of Pittsburgh)

It is one of the stories collected by M. Perrault in Contes de ma mère l'Oye (Mother Goose Tales), c.1697*. There is an even earlier version (1630s) by Giambattista Basile in Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille ("The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones").

In her interpretation, Marcia Brown's style permits the reader's imagination to soar as she provides enough detail to guide without being overbearing in her construction of the cat's world. We see glimpses of landscape and blushes of expression. It is not surprising, then, that she is "noted for her spare texts, strong images and the vitality of her experimentation with a variety of media ranging from her trademark woodcuts to pen and ink and gouache." (The Horn Book).

Author: Charles Perrault
Illustrated: Marcia Brown
Format: Library Binding
Published: Charles Scribner's Sons, N.Y. (1952)
Trim Size: 27 cm x 22 cm

*The origin of the name, Mother Goose, has been a matter of dispute.


  1. Strange morals to be the focus of a folk tale, particularly the second (with which I would argue!).

  2. I guess we wouldn't necessarily find them in tales spun today.

    Times have changed, haven't they? Some of the morals in other tales do have a timelessness about them.