As I'd posted about musketeer-style hats in my previous post, my mind turned to the other accessories, particularly the boots, and having found this illustration I decided to write a post about Puss in Boots (the fairytale, not any of the meanings given in the Urban Dictionary). I know Puss in Boots is not a romance, but as Sandra pointed out, 'romance fiction employs various elements of fairy tales' and shoes turn up quite a lot in romance and chick lit. Shoes and boots can be very sexy, as LustBiter Gwen Masters explains:
My closet revels in boot ecstasy. [...] I love leather that slips all the way up my leg, teases around my knee, and stops at an almost indiscreet place, high up on my thigh. I love the way those clicks announce my presence, like a whisper of invitation to any man who might be within earshot. I love wearing them with a longish skirt and watching others wonder – just how far up her leg do those naughty boots go? [...]Puss in Boots makes a brief appearance in the lyrics of Honor Blackman1 and Patrick Macnee's 'Kinky Boots' and after that and Gwen's description, it's difficult not to think of the sexual connotations of the word 'pussy'. Bruno Bettelheim's explanation of the symbolic meanings of female footwear in fairytales does nothing to dispel these verbal associations:
Most of all, I love the way those boots make me feel: Slip them on, and I’m seductive hell on heels.
To the conscious mind, an object such as a slipper is just that - while symbolically in the unconscious it may [...] represent the vagina, or ideas connected with it. [...]Getting back to Puss, the objection may be made that Puss is a male cat. That's certainly true in many versions of the tale, including Charles Perrault's, but not all. As Heidi Anne Heiner notes,
In "Cinderella" the pretty, tiny foot exercises an unconscious sexual appeal, but in conjunction with a beautiful, precious (for example, golden) slipper into which the foot fits snugly. This element of the "Cinderella" story also exists all by itself as a complete fairy tale [...]. This tale tells of an eagle that absconds with a sandal of the beautiful courtesan Rhodope, which it drops on the pharaoh. The pharaoh is so taken with the sandal that all of Egypt is searched for the original owner so that she may become his wife. (1991: 268-269)
Puss In Boots is the most famous of the animal helper tales. It is classified as tale type 545B by Aarne-Thompson. Tales of 545A have a female as the central character while 545B has a male. The female character appears most frequently in oral versions of the tale, while Charles Perrault has made the male character the more common in the literary versions (Thompson 1946). Many modern scholars do not use the gender differences in their classification of the tales and rely primarily on the 545B designation for similar tales with either gender.In modern popular culture cats often seem to be female, or associated with the feminine. Catwoman is female, and as Irina Slutskaya's 2005 skating Catwoman performance indicates, is a character who's well aware of her sexual allure. In Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds all the musketeers are dogs, but the villainess, Milady, is a cat and one, moreover, who is 'beautiful, even to other species'. The term 'sex kitten' has made it into Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary and we also have terms such as 'catfight', 'kitten heels' and 'catsuit'.
How many romance heroines are Puss in Boots characters? Maybe she appears more often in chick lit? Puss in Boots is intelligent, knows how to accessorise, and has a good job. She's aware of her own sexuality and can take care of her own needs (she buys her own boots or otherwise receives them as a consequence of her job, not because of some male's gift) and sometimes she gets her man. In the Norwegian version of the fairytale, Lord Peter, which is, sadly, bootless, our cat wins her hero and there's even a very obvious point of ritual death2 when Cat demands that
'"you must cut off my head [...]" [...] 'He cut off the Cat's head, but there and then she became the loveliest Princess you ever set eyes on, and Lord Peter fell in love with her at once.----
1 Honor Blackman, who played the part of Pussy Galore in the James Bond film Goldfinger, had a boot and catsuit wearing role in The Avengers.
2 Pamela Regis identified the point of ritual death as one of the 'eight essential elements of the romance novel' (2003: 30):
The point of ritual death marks the moment in the narrative when the union between the heroine and hero, the hoped-for resolution, seems absolutely impossible [...]. The happy ending is most in jeopardy at this point. In coining the phrase "point of ritual death," Frye has noted how often, "comic stories ... seem to approach a potentially tragic crisis near the end" (Anatomy 179).----
The heroine is often the target of ritual death (Regis 2003: 35).
- Bettelheim, Bruno, 1991. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (London: Penguin).
- Regis, Pamela, 2003. A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press).