Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Analysis of Puss in Boots - The House Fairy

Synopsis: The story of "Puss in Boots" is the tale of a house fairy and or a shamans helper spirit manipulating events to kill a being from the land of the dead in order to make his lord wealthy.

Full Explanation
Of all the tales of fairies collected by the brothers Grimm, none shows such a close relationship between a human and a fairy-like creature as “Puss in Boots” does. It is clear from the story that Puss is no ordinary cat, although Briggs does assert that cats were a form of fairy in their own right having a fairy court and their own set of magical powers. Still, it's rare for a cat to be so closely involved with human affairs. According to Jacob Grimm, Puss shares many of the features that a household fairy would have (Teutonic Mythology). He asks for boots, a symbol of his status as a fairy creature. Grimm asserts that it is often such boots that separate ordinary beings from fairies. What’s interesting in this as it relates to the story, however, is that these are not special boots. They were not given to Puss by some fairy princess or ancient god. Instead, they were given to him by a poor boy. So if it is as Grimm asserts that these boots are, in fact, boots that provide Puss with his status and with power, we must conclude that humans can in fact give gifts to fairies which in turn become powerful because of the act of offering.

In return for the gift of the boots, and because of the love he held for the father of the poor boy in this story, Puss develops a complex plot to make “his master” wealthy. Puss plans and works towards putting his master in good favor with the king over the course of months. This is not just an effort to make his master wealthy, for he could have tricked and killed the ogre at any point in order to provide his master with treasure. Puss is working to have his master marry the princess knowing the two would like each other. Puss then is more than simply a bystander; he is a true weaver of fate. We must wonder why? Why does he offer to help a boy who at the beginning of this story has threatened to eat him and wear his fur? Is Puss truly owned despite his apparently being some form of fairy who is able to speak? Does this ownership in turn mean that he can’t escape, or does his loyalty go deeper than this?

Generally, household fairies come in two forms; those who are related to those they help, and those who are forced from their home in the wilderness because of a poor relationship with the other fairies or who choose to live among humans for some other reason. The latter tend to leave homes quickly at the slightest insult so it seems unlikely that Puss could be one of these because Puss stayed even after the boy threatened to eat him - unless he took some oath to the boy’s parents. So it seems more likely that Puss’s concern comes from the fact that he is an ancestral spirit, a family deity.

Turning our attention now to the ogre, we must first recall Jacob Grimm’s assertion that ogres were remnants of Medieval and Roman beliefs in Orcus, a deity or at times also the dark and cruel aspect of the ruler of the
afterlife who was lowered to the status of a shape-changing monster. It’s interesting to note that this ancient deity could live in a palace among humans and with human servants as though he were nothing more than another noble. Even more interesting to realize is that this same deity could fall prey to the deceit of a house fairy. Such ogres and hags were, of course, common in folklore as ancient deities peppered the land, terrifying and or ruling the remnants of the people who had once worshiped them. Such beings, while clearly magically and physically superior to humans, were more susceptible to arrogance much like we might imagine a faded sports star or some other person who has long since passed their prime would be. The fact that so many fairies who are supposed to be ancient and powerful fall prey to stupid tricks in fairy tales may not be a result of people believing that these creatures were stupid. Rather, it may simply be that people believed that they are unable to admit that they had truly faded. In this sense, then, these ancient deities had grown senile in their old age by the time fairy tales were told to the Brothers Grimm.