Italy’s Beloved Character: Puss in Boots

How did this cat get to be so very famous in children’s literature?

Copyright @adventurefamilytravelguides | Illustration by Anna Fedorovich

A beautiful marionette puppet hung in the window beside us as we paused in the streets of Venice.

It was a cat figure with a red velvet hat and a long feather sticking up. The cat was dressed as Il Gatto Con Gli Stivali, the infamous Puss in Boots. We went in to learn more. Peyton, our little five year old, asked the owner for the story of this cat puppet that we had seen in so many stores across the city.

He smiled.

Without a word yet brimming with mirth, he took the marionette down from the peg and moved it fluidly into action as he introduced the story. It was written by Giovanni Francessco Straparola who penned it in his storybook back in 1550.

There was a poor man who had nothing to hand down to his youngest son as an inheritance but his cat, Puss in Boots. But Puss in Boots’ new master was very poor and was on the brink of starving. He decided he had no other choice but to eat his cat! But Puss in Boots would have none of that, and hatched a clever plan to land his owner and himself into the finest place he could imagine.

My girls stood riveted, wide-eyed with wonder. The storyteller went on with his story, moving the marionette effortlessly.

The cat said that if the son would give him his own boots and a small bag, he would be a helpful pet and would earn his keep. He hunted for rabbits and other animals, such as partridges. These he delivered to the king, presenting them as a gift from his owner, the poor man’s son, whom he spoke of with great reverence and called him “Lord Marquis of Carabas,” with exceeding drama.

Over and over again, Puss in Boots pleased the king with his gifts. Then one day, it was time for the final phase of his clever plan. Puss in Boots asked his master to wash in the river, and while he did so, the cat hid his shabby, raggedy clothes.

The king’s carriage came down the road at that moment with the beautiful princess in it. The cat jumped in front of the carriage and said his masters’ clothes had been stolen, and he begged the king for some clothes for his master to wear. The king recognized the cat as the one who had brought him so many luxurious foods, and he felt he owed the kind cat a favor, so he gave him the fine clothes.

Once the poor man was clothed in the king’s clothes, the princess saw him as wealthy and sophisticated, and she fell in love with him, calling him Lord Marquis of Carabas. They married, living happily ever after.

Smiling, the shop owner put Puss in Boots into one of my girl’s hands so she could try it out. He told her that each of the marionettes in the store windows of Venice had their own stories and encouraged the girls to ask about each and every one of them as they explored the city.

by Janelle Schroy, Author Italy–Travel Guide for Families with Young Children

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