Cinderella: The original fairy tale

 Cinderella, as you might have noticed with all my trumpeting, has been released. Keeping in my usual Timeless Fairy Tale pattern, today I wanted to take a look at the original Cinderella fairy tale. I will be candid and admit that with this story I deviated farther from the original than I have with B&B or Wild Swans. Mostly because I think Cinderella’s prince is lazy and/or lame.

Unlike The Wild Swans–which is a German and Dutch fairy tale–and Beauty and the Beast–which is a French fairytale, Cinderella is a European fairy tale. There are French, German, and Italian versions of this story–there’s even a Greek/Egyptian version. I chose to base most of my Cinderella off the French version, which is the most widely known version of the story as Disney’s Cinderella closely mirrors it. It was written in 1697 by Charles Perrault and was called Cendrillon.

Cendrillon opens with a widower marrying a haughty widow who has two daughters. The new stepmother is proud, and greedy–as her her daughters. The three force Cendrillon to perform chores and menial labor in her house. To complete her stepmother’s cruelty, the woman makes Cendrillon sleep in a cold, bare room. To keep warm Cendrillon sleeps near the fireplace in the room, and as a result is often covered in cinders. As you can guess, her stepfamily then gives her the name of Cinderella. Cendrillon’s father still lives, but Cendrillon dares not complain because he is under his wife’s thumb.

One day the prince invites all the young ladies in the land to a ball, intending to choose a bride from them. (Because it’s TOTALLY a good idea to pick the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with, after spending a few hours socializing with a couple hundred girls.) Cendrillon’s stepsisters mock her as they leave in their beautiful dresses. When they are gone, Cendrillon weeps, and her fairy godmother appears. As you can probably guess, the fairy godmother transforms Cendrillon’s rags into a beautiful, jeweled dress. Mice are turned into horses, a pumpkin into a coach, a rat becomes the coachmen, and lizards the footmen. The fairy godmother also bestows a pair of glass slippers, and warns Cendrillon that the magic will fade by midnight.

Cendrillon attends the ball, enchants the courts and the prince, and remembers to leave the ball in time. The following day Cendrillon’s stepsisters–who did not recognize her–are furious. There is a second ball the following evening, which Cendrillon attends again with the help of her fairy godmother. The prince grows even more infatuated with her, and Cendrillon loses track of time until the clock strikes midnight and she realizes her mistake. As she flees she loses one of her glass slippers.

Being that the prince apparently cannot remember what she looks like, he resolves to try the slipper on all the girls in the kingdom (because, of course, no one could share Cendrillon’s shoe size) and marry whomever it belongs to. Naturally, he ends up at Cendrillon’s villa where the stepsisters try to win him over. After their failed attempts to try on the slipper, Cendrillon asks if she may try. It fits, and the two are happily married.  In this version, the stepsisters plead for forgiveness, and Cendrillon agrees to let bygones be bygones. In the end the stepsisters both marry lords as well. The moral, according to Perrault, is that beauty is to be treasured, but graciousness is priceless.

The version recorded by the Brothers Grimm is vastly different. Instead of a fairy godmother, Cinderella receives help from…well…birds. She goes out to a hazel tree growing on her mother’s grave (her mother plays a larger role in the story) and a beautiful dress is brought down by birds who prepared it in advance. Also, instead of making amends with her stepsisters, the girls cut off various parts of their feet to make fit into the shoe–which this time is a golden slipper. The prince either is a total idiot and cannot remember what Cinderella looks like, or he’s the biggest dope ever because he believes both sisters, one after another, when they come out with cut up feet fitting in their shoes and rides off, again one after another, intending to make them his bride before Cinderella steps in. To make it even worse, on Cinderella’s wedding day two pigeons pluck the stepsisters’ eyes out. Pretty opposed to “graciousness is priceless,” hmm?

On Monday I’ll talk about how I portrayed Cinderella–and why–but I do want to take this moment to point out something: Beauty, from the original B&B; Elise, from the original Wild Swans; and Cinderella, from Cendrillon were not the first to fall in love with their eventual husbands. In all three fairy tales it is clearly written that their various princes fall madly in love with them first. In fact, Beauty is the only girl to ever actually say she fell in love. Elise and Cinderella never confirm this–who knows, maybe they’re just thrilled their terrible/painful pasts are over and now they’re going to be princesses.

That wraps up today’s discussion. Until Monday, Champions.

2 comments on “Cinderella: The original fairy tale

    • Ahhh yes, I did make my heroines say they loved their respective princes. 😉 It seemed a little more happy to me. Sometimes I wonder if the original fairy tale princesses loved their princes.

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