Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Charles Perrault and Puss in Boots

Today I'm sharing more about Puss in Boots since the book, Puss in Boots and Other Cat Tales From Around the World, got its name from him. I am so tempted to jump ahead to the other tales in the collection because they were more fun with me--I already knew quite a bit about Puss and his cohorts before I started the book. Many of the other tales were very new to my knowledge base.

But we may not be here discussing ATU 545B tales at all if not for the genius of Charles Perrault and his version of the cat. So from my introduction:

Charles Perrault’s influence on the ATU 545B tale type cannot be overstated. His “Le Maître chat ou le Chat botté,” commonly known as “Puss in Boots” in English—the “Master Cat” is usually omitted[1]—is the most recognized version of the tale in the modern world. While we can only conjecture about which oral and literary versions of ATU 545B stories inspired Perrault and to what degree, there is no doubt he left his literary stamp on the tale when he published it for the first time in Histoires ou contes du temps passé in 1697. Perrault, influenced by the French salons and the fairy tale writers of the late seventeenth century, added descriptive flourishes and humor to the story as well as two almost nonsensical morals, the first about inheritances and the second about clothing. He, too, apparently struggled with the questionable morality of the tale.

Perrault is most likely responsible for the cat’s famous footwear. Just as he invented the glass slipper for Cinderella,[2] he adds the cat’s request for boots to his tale. Any later ATU 545B tale that includes boots can be credited to Perrault’s literary influence. The many images of cats in boots in popular culture hearken back to the French tale. Perrault also may have invented the ogre from whom the estates are essentially stolen by Puss in Boots for his master, improving the morality of the tale somewhat since a monster is a better victim than a rich nobleman. An ogre appears memorably in his “Sleeping Beauty,” too. But overall Perrault’s wondrous details create an entertaining story of a cat that is the cleverest character in any room he enters.

While it has not maintained the widespread recognition of some of his other tales—especially “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Little Red Riding Hood”—Perrault’s story continues to influence modern pop culture in subtle and overt ways, including the Puss in Boots character voiced by Antonio Banderas in the Shrek film franchise that included his own titular film in 2011. The character’s story arcs in the films in no way resemble Perrault’s or any ATU 545B tale other than maintaining the clever trickster traits of the character.

Another important influence to note is Gustave Doré, one of the more famous illustrators of Perrault’s tale. Doré’s swashbuckling rendition of “Puss in Boots” in which the cat resembles a French Musketeer inspired many later illustrators and is the obvious and accredited inspiration for the version seen in the Shrek franchise. Doré’s vision of Perrault’s Puss in Boots is the modern iconic rendition of the character.

Since this tale is critical in the study of ATU 545B, two translations are offered in these pages. The first is from Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book, a version that is based on the 1729 translation by Robert Samber. Samber was the first to translate Perrault into English. His versions of Perrault’s tales have been reprinted and adapted countless times, usually without crediting Samber as the source. Some outdated sources credit G.M. as the first translator but this has been disproved by Iona and Peter Opie based on a misprinted publication date of 1719 instead of the correct 1799. To read an unadulterated version of Samber’s translation of “Puss in Boots,” see the Opies’ The Classic Fairy Tales (1974). Most of the uncredited English translations of Perrault are derived from either Samber or G.M.’s work. Their translations were reprinted in countless chapbooks and other books for decades after their original printing.

To date, there has not been a definitive translation of Perrault preferred by scholars, but several translations are available, including but not limited to J.R. Planché (1858), Charles Welsh (1901), A. E. Johnson (1921), Stanley Applebaum (2002), and Christopher Betts (2009). I decided to include Planché’s translation since I have an affection for his style. Planché was a writer more than a translator and his literary finesse shines through in his prose, capturing the spirit of Perrault’s original French. More recently, Christine A. Jones has published a new translation in Mother Goose Refigured: A Critical Translation of Charles Perraults Fairy Tales (2016). If you are interested in the art, science and influence of fairy tale translation, an important resource is Gillian Lathey’s The Role of Translators in Children's Literature: Invisible Storytellers (2010).

[1] There is a fascinating debate over the correct translation of “Maitre” among scholars. For example, the title is translated as “The Capable Cat; or, Puss in Boots” in The Complete Fairy Tales in Verse and Prose translated by Stanley Appelbaum (2002). See Appelbaum’s introduction for a brief discussion of meanings for “Maitre.”

[2] Perrault did not invent Cinderella’s magical footwear wholesale, just their incredible composition of glass materials. And, no, the glass is not a poor translation of “vair” or “fur.” See Cinderella Tales From Around the World (2012) by Heidi Anne Heiner for further discussion of the glass slipper.

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