Today's post is dedicated to always popular classic fairy tale Puss in Boots. But this story has a twist, what is probably obvious from the subtitle: reasonable fairy tale (Conte Raisonnable). Why is this work, signed by Edgar Behne, published by Hinrichsen, Paris in 1885, so special? What differentiates it from the 'original' by Charles Perrault from 1697?
Let's make a step back and try to recap Perrault's masterpiece. It is a story about a poor boy (youngest son of the deceased miller) who has nothing but a cat. Fortunately, this cat is not a regular animal. He can talk, make plans and understands how to climb the social ladder. He just needs a pair of boots to start a spectacular journey from rags to riches, which is so popular in the genre of fairy tales.
Well, we all know how the story ends. The boy marries the princess, eventually becomes a king and Puss his minister. The question is how they achieved that. On the way up they cheat, lie, threaten, trick and steal. The message is simple - everything is possible if you are willing to do what has to be done. As tricksters and imposter, they soon occupy the highest social positions and start ruling the country.
Not exactly a message we want to give our children, right?
A detailed discussion of this moral dilemma is available on:
Edgar Behne obviously believed something should be done about this questionable moral. So he wrote his own version of the Master Cat as The Puss in Boots is often titled.
This one also starts with a death of the miller. But brothers are willing to share the heirloom. At least two of them. The eldest expects other brothers will work at the mill with him, they will all live together, they won't be rich but at least they should not look for work, because everybody needs their services from time to time and their business is actually a pretty sure bet to survive.
Well, the youngest named Cyprien disagree. He doesn't really like working. He prefers playing with his cats, learning him different tricks and fool around. He convinced other brothers to pay him out (they had to borrow money for that) and starts living a good life hanging around with other lazy youngsters. On one occasion, after several drinks, they started a conversation about the smartest pet and one of them claimed his dog knows the best tricks. Cyprien tried to show the mastery of his cat but he was not successful.
The cat was just not in the mood to show any trick. Two of the boys suggested the cat should be dressed in clothes and wear boots to be taken more seriously and Cyprien paid for the overpriced gown, spending all the money. Then he and the cat realize they need money. Unwilling to work they scare some people and take their harvest selling it with a nice profit.
They trick a nobleman, a viscount, with a false identity (Marquis de Carabas) like in the Perrault's version. But this time the viscount didn't particularly like the strange duo. It was his daughter Odette who fell in love with otherwise rude and uncivilized miller's son.
Cyprien and the cat demonstrate their trickery at hunting trying to charm others yet things didn't pan out as great as expected.
After a while, they were accused of the witchcraft and thrown to jail. They spent several months there waiting for the trial. Finally, they were offered to pass a test for the witches or fighting a duel to prove their innocence.
Cyprien didn't believe he could stand the burns and heal them in only three days. He didn't believe he could defeat a healthy knight with his fighting skills either. Especially after spending months in a small unhealthy space with a limited supply of food. He and his cat took advantage of the opportunity and run away.
They were later seen in some of the neighboring countries, telling unbelievable stories. But they never gained respectful positions in society.
This is how Edgar Behne wrote The New Puss in Boots in 1885. The story is much more educational than Perrault's yet never became popular. The educational value and clear warning are obviously not enough. Who likes a fairy tale without a sympathetic main character. Without any sympathetic character? And without a happy ending? In my opinion, the intention of the author was right but the execution was very poor.
When we mention the execution we can also mention the illustrations taken from the 'original' version, uncredited in this book but clearly signed by legendary Carl Offterdinger. The illustrations are used as they were made for Perrault's Master Cat but placed in a different order. They don't possess the power shown in the classic Puss in Boots. It would be much better to invest in new pictures done for this project only.
But here we are - with one more version of Puss in Boots, one of the hundreds and definitely not one of the best ones. This story can still be used as an example of a failed attempt to improve otherwise questionable message from The Puss in Boots. Enjoy the original or try to make your own improved fairy tale!