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“Master Cat, or Puss in Boots” early French: Le Maistre Chat, ou Le Chat Botté, literally “The Booted Cat”, 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 tale’s immorality has provoked some concern about its influence on young minds, but apparently Perrault composed “Le Maistre Chat” and the other tales of Histoires to reinforce standards of civilized conduct in the upper-class French society of the seventeenth century rather than to provide amusement and instruction for the young. Indeed, Puss has been described by one commentator as “the epitome of the educated bourgeois secretary who serves his master with complete devotion and diligence.”
Perrault’s Histoires has had considerable impact on world culture. 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 as recently as the Pixar animated “Shrek” franchise.