Like so many others, this popular fairytale began as fable before being published by none other than Charles Perrault; then gained popularity through the work of the Brothers Grimm. Whilst elements of the story have changed, its essence remains the same – a cat, a human, a pair of boots, an ogre, a King and a Princess, and a scheming plot.
But what is the lesson in this fairytale? The lessons here aren’t so positive lessons in Puss in Boots; if you lie, cheat and steal, you can get what it is you desire or are scheming to obtain. There’s two other lessons the fairytale can teach us though – gratefulness and mindfulness.
A tomcat is the central character in this fairytale. He is a gift to the youngest of three sons of a miller upon his death. The eldest son is given the mill, the middle son the ass who worked in the mill and the youngest the cat who kept the mill free of mice.
Wondering how he can make a living with a cat, he contemplates killing the cat for his pelt. However, the magical talking cat asks the boy for a pair of boots and promises with that he will be a worthy and helpful pet. What the boy doesn’t know is just how manipulative the cat is – his desire is to see the boy raised to the status of a prince (at all costs).
The story continues with the cat catching rabbits, fish and birds, and leaving them on the doorstep of the King. He does of course lie to the King and tell him they are a gift from a Lord – a title he has dishonestly bestowed upon his master. There’s also an ogre involved (and no…not the Shrek kind).
The ogre lives in a castle the cat wishes the King to believe is his master’s. The ogre can transform into many different animals and the cat tricks the ogre into transforming into a mouse – and promptly devours him. The King is fooled; the Princess falls in love and marries the fake Lord (who then becomes a real Lord) and they live happily ever after. That really is the CliffNotes version!
The first hidden life lesson in Puss in Boots is gratefulness. The boy was left an inheritance from his father but was ungrateful, especially when comparing it with his brothers’ gifts. In life we often receive gifts, material and immaterial, that we can’t immediately see the relevance or importance of.
The boy was given a gift that would be a companion, give affection and could provide for him (through catching rabbits, birds and fish). It would have taken just a few moments of reflection to work that out. The eldest brother would have to work hard in the mill and didn’t have an ass to work it or a cat to keep it free of mice. The middle brother had an ass, but no mill to work it in. Ironically, without the cat, both the other brothers had a useless gift as the mill would likely end up infested by mice.
Our second hidden lesson is about mindfulness. A rather hot concept in 2020. In the fairytale, it’s obvious the cat’s desire is to give his master a better life – at all costs. He is deceitful to the King and the boy; however at no stage was the boy present enough in the moment to realise what the cat was doing.
When the boy was washing by a river and the cat stole his clothes, the boy was oblivious to what was happening around him. At no point in the story does the boy reflect on events or stop to question the cat. Why did the cat want boots in the first place?
With so much happening around us in today’s world, we need to take moments to pause, be present and completely aware of what is occurring around us. If the boy had paused, been present and observant, he may have been aware of the cat’s manipulation and deception. Maybe the story wouldn’t have ended with a happy ever after, but not every story in life does. We should remember that.