It shouldn't surprise anyone that the stock of "Puss In Boots" went up when "Shrek 2" came out in theaters. Suddenly that little cat with the fancy footwear was garnering a lot more interest than he ever had before. I've always wondered why this fairy tale was ignored by the Disney animation studios in their heyday. Now if you're looking for the quintessential version of the tale, there are really only two illustrators to pick between. You can either choose the multi-talented Fred Marcellino version (responsible for some of my favorite picture books like, "I, Crocodile" and "The Story of Little Babaji") or you can go the Paul Galdone route. I personally have always found Galdone to be a bit of a bore, except in the cat department. For some reason, Galdone was always particularly good at drawing amusing felines. I'm not entirely certain why Amazon.com has decided to link these two titles with one set of reviews, but just to clear everything up I'd like to state that for all its charms I'm eschewing the Paul Galdone version of "Puss" and instead reviewing the Marcellino version in its stead. May God have mercy on my soul.
There once was a miller who had three sons. At the start of the story the miller has kicked the bucket and the sons have divided his paltry legacy amongst themselves. The youngest son is left with only a cat... but WHAT a cat it is! The puss tells the man to give him a good pair of boots and once he has done so the feline will make his master's fortune. The youngest son is fortunately a game sort (or perhaps he was merely charmed by the idea of a talking cat). Whatever the case, he gives Puss what he wants and the story chronicles the animal's clever ploys. He poaches wild game for the king. He dresses his master all in finery and makes him out to be a Marquis. In the last part of the book, Puss tricks an ogre who is half a sandwich shy of a picnic into becoming a yummy little mouse. After subsequent inevitable gobblings on the part of the cat, his master marries the king's daughter and "Puss became a great lord and gave up chasing mice, except just once in a while for the fun of it".
The book is a direct translation of Charles Perrault's original tale from the French by translator Malcolm Arthur. Mr. Arthur is to be commended for it too, by the way. Not only is the book infinitely readable, but its harsher moments are lessened through his wording. In some versions of this tale, the youngest son's contemplations of eating his pretty puss might've come off as barbaric. Here, they seem more wistful than malicious. Likewise the parts where the cat threatens the peasants with agreeing to a lie with the threat that if they don't "you'll be cut up into sausage meat" strains credulity (or do they trust a cat in boots more than one not in boots?). Still, there's something about the pacing of the tale that works in its favor. This may also certainly be due to Fred Marcellino's illustrations, which are truly lovely. The cat, for his part, is both charming and catlike. The pictures appear to have been drawn in colored pencil or possibly pastels. Whatever the case, they've a soft and hazy feel that compliment the tale to a tee.
So if you're on the look-out of the definitive version of "Puss In Boots", there is no need to look further. If the praise I've lavished on it does no good, consider the 1991 Caldecott Honor it garnered itself once upon a time. A classic tale that constantly shocks me when I consider how few children actually know it. Fun stuff.