Thursday, July 12, 2007

Puss in Boots

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? [...]

Most of all, I love the way those boots make me feel: Slip them on, and I’m seductive hell on heels.
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:
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. [...]
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)
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,
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).
Illustration of Puss-in-Boots by Gustave Doré, from Wikipedia.


  1. Yes, boots! OMG, I thoroughly *heart* boots. There truly is something empowering in the wearing of boots. I feel so very different -- about myself -- when I'm in boots. There is definitely something going on psychologically with boot-wearing, for both the wearers and the watchers.

    I'm going to go saddle-soap my collection of boots, now, and ponder this more deeply.

  2. From a practical point of view boots protect the foot and with a bit of a heel they make the wearer look taller, but I suspect it's not just the aesthetics or practicalities which have created the association between boots and power.

    Apart from Puss's pair, there are lots of seven league boots in fairytales and I suppose they do have a certain status because they're worn by riders and/or the rich (e.g. Regency-era heroes in their hessian boots, which were originally military wear).

  3. You mentioned 'Kinky Boots' in your post -- here's a blast from the past that's also about boots and personal empowerment:

    You keep saying you've got something for me.
    something you call love, but confess.
    You've been a messin' where you shouldn't have been a messin'
    and now someone else is gettin' all your best.

    These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
    one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

    You keep lying, when you oughta be truthin'
    and you keep losin' when you oughta not bet.
    You keep samin' when you oughta be a changin'.
    Now what's right is right, but you ain't been right yet.

    These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
    one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

    You keep playin' where you shouldn't be a playin
    and you keep thinkin' that you'll never get burnt.
    I just found me a brand new box of matches yeah
    and what he knows you ain't HAD time to learn.

    These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do
    one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

    Are you ready boots? Start walkin'!

  4. Oh yes! And I found an original video of that song on YouTube and there's also another version, with different choreography and in black and white.

  5. I've been thinking about Puss in Boots lately, since reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. It's a very allusive book, and one of the central characters goes by the name "the Marquis de Carabas" (which is the peasant boy's assumed name in Puss in Boots).

    Gaiman even clothes the marquis in boots and a big coat, like the famous illustration in the 1927 anthology. However, for the most part Gaiman's marquis is clearly in the role of the cat, not the boy. Gaiman's marquis works tirelessly for the Lady Door, but with a large dose of self-interest. He's also ruthless (just as the Puss is capable of killing an ogre to win).

    I enjoyed reading your references on the story variants. It's an interesting fairytale. Benign on the surface, but a number of elements could have a very different twist, depending on the character and gender of the cat. Similarly in the Gaiman book, the marquis drives the story to a large degree. He's an extremely shifty character, but he's central to the hopes of everyone in the story.

  6. Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

    Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

    Biby Cletus