Academic journal article Folklore

AT 545B "Puss in Boots" and "The Fox-Matchmaker": From the Central Asian to the European Tradition

Academic journal article Folklore

AT 545B "Puss in Boots" and "The Fox-Matchmaker": From the Central Asian to the European Tradition

Article excerpt


The basic theme of taletype 545B unfolds in two narrative traditions which differ with regard to the hero, who can be a cat in the West or a fox in the East, and also with regard to the structure of the narrative itself.

This paper discusses the 545B narrative tradition originating from the people of an extensive "middle" area (Armenia, the Caucasus, Asia Minor and Southeastern Europe), taking into account Central Asian versions of the tale as well as West European ones.

This investigation is based on recently collected material as well as the unpublished versions from the Archives of the Academy of Athens and of the Greek Folklore Society. It seems to confirm the view of Polivka who, as early as in 1900, studied the variations of the oral tradition of AT 545B and concluded that it had originated in the East.

This paper also examines the role of shamanistic practices and beliefs of the Asian people in the construction of the narrative.


Tale Type 545B (Aarne and Thompson 1961, 193-4) is well-known and almost universal. On first reading, it appears that there are two basic variants and that each is determined by the animal--a cat or a fox--which is the hero of the story. Versions with the cat are predominantly found in Western Europe, where it is best-known from Perrault's "Le Chat Botte" in Histoires ou contes du temps passe, first published in 1697 (Escarpit 1980), and the version of the tale "Der Gestiefelte Kater" by the Brothers Grimm which was directly influenced by it and included in the first edition of the Kinder- und Hausmarchen (1812-15). The other variant with the fox as hero is of much greater interest for research because it is considerably more widespread. It can be found from Mongolia to the outer reaches of Southeastern Europe where there is an impressively large body of recorded evidence.

The formation of two different traditions in the West and the East also created a large variety of mixed and parallel types, since, even in Western Europe where the "Puss in Boots" tradition is prevalent, "The Fox Match-Maker" variant is not entirely unknown; conversely, "Puss in Boots" may be encountered in Southeastern Europe and became known there either through the oral tradition or by means-of nineteenth- and twentieth-century printed translations.(1)

Recently a series of comparative studies has evaluated previously unknown stories from Mongolian and Altai-Turkish peoples. However, speculation about the course and development of the tale cannot ignore the significant number of versions originating from the peoples of an extensive "middle region," which contains within its boundaries Armenia, the Caucasian countries, and Asia Minor up to the Balkans and Italy.

From the oral tradition of the East to the literary adaptations of the West, the tale seems to have undergone a series of changes over a very wide geographical area.

The Central Asian Tradition

In a series of tales from Central Asia, the animal-helper is a fox rather than the humanoid cat usually found in the stories of Western Europe. The fox helps a poor hunter because he spared its life: it is "Der Dank des schlauen roten Fuchses" [the gratitude of the sly red fox] (Lorincz 1979, 40). The fox presents itself as match-maker to the Khan, introduces the young hero as a rich man robbed by highwaymen, and cunningly captures wild animals which the Khan requests as a wedding gift. The hunter marries the Khan's daughter, and the fox kills the possessor of a large fortune (this is usually Mangus, a typical demon of Central Asian tales), thereby securing him the fortune and a magnificent residence. In other, more recent, versions of the story, a young man saves a fox from hunters and in gratitude the fox promises him the daughter of the King of Birds as a bride. The fox presents the youth as a rich man who lost all his fortune when he fell into a river. …

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