Last week I looked at a list of “Twelve Dancing Princesses” retellings, and this week I thought I’d look at what might be the best-known fairy tale in this culture–Cinderella. I suspect if I really tried to gather up every version I’ve read, this would become completely unmanagable! So, I’m highlighting the major ones and recent reads instead.
One thing I found interesting in searching out the “originals” (with due acknowledgement to earlier oral tradition) is that “Cinderella” is one of the few stories that’s in both Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Between the two of them, they seem to account for almost every major fairy tale in Western culture, so maybe both of them presenting “Cinderella” is part of the key to its popularity. And, of course, it plays right into the dream that life can be better–that no matter how dreadful your circumstances, everything can change (and the cynic in me says, without you even needing to do anything!)
Later versions have mostly been pretty consistent with the older ones, in the major strokes at least. Cinderella is a kind, beautiful girl who is downtrodden by her nasty, ugly stepmother and stepsisters. When the prince throws a ball to find a bride, Cinderella desperately wants to go. And she does, aided by some kind of magic–either a fairy godmother, or the spirit of her deceased mother. Cinderella charms the prince but has to leave early, and the prince uses her dropped slipper to identify her–which is a truly bizarre way to find anyone.
I have a lot of problems with the original Cinderella–the incredibly passive main character, the absentee fairy godmother, the prince who apparently can’t recognize his “true love,” and the really weird slipper element. But often the strange bits of the story are exactly what new authors can use to spin off a brilliant retelling…
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine tackles Cinderella’s passiveness head-on. Levine’s Ella is brave and determined, but cursed by an obedience spell. She has to find her own strength to overcome it, and the story is more about her quest to take control of her life than it is to win the prince–who is a childhood friend, not a stranger at a ball. There’s a movie version too, but don’t see it. It bears very little resemblance to Levine’s wonderful book.
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix plays with how hard it would be to go from scullery maid to princess. This is another smart and determined Ella, who made her own way to the ball, only to realize afterwards that the life of a princess is not what she expected–and that the prince isn’t either.
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines is another one that looks at the story after the ball. This Cinderella (Danielle, actually) got her prince and he is charming–but then he’s abducted by her evil stepsister. Fortunately, a couple other fairy tale princesses are on hand to help get him back. This is a great twist on the usual themes of fairy tales, with some truly awesome princesses. I just read the sequel, so stay tuned for a review of both soon!
Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George tells the story from a very different point of view–a princess visiting the court, who notices how really creepy it is when everyone, especially the prince, are suddenly enamored of this mysterious woman in the glass slippers. Because really–why exactly is everyone so blown away?
Disney’s Cinderella is probably the version everyone knows best, and it’s pretty close to Perrault. It’s a cute fluff of a cartoon, although the mice are the best part. Cinderella and her prince are pretty bland, and I just can’t take them seriously when they start singing, “So This Is Love.” No, it’s attraction. I can’t believe you got all that far exploring the depths of human emotion in just one dance.
Silver Woven in My Hair by Shirley Rousseau Murphy is, with Ella Enchanted, my other favorite retelling. It somehow creates a very real, very practical world, tells about it with gossamer-beautiful writing, and even without magic is utterly enchanting. Thursey has dreams, but they’re real ones. Her friends are real people and she falls in love with a real man, not a shining prince out of a daydream.
There must be more Cinderellas out there–any recommendations?