Some of you may remember my review of Happily by Chauncey Rogers, after reading three of his novels (which can be found on Amazon here), I was asked to host a leg of his blog tour! Below you will find a brief history of the origins of Cinderella (with a few links, of course), from the author himself!
Thank you for hosting me here on Southern Today, Gone Tomorrow!
Let’s talk about Cinderella stories. There are plenty of them, especially if you consider Cinderella stories to be any story about an undervalued and overworked person who, through hard work and serendipity or divine intervention, experiences a sudden and dramatic reversal of fortune.
But perhaps we ought to be more selective. We shall say that Cinderella stories must have something about a shoe-guided hunt for a missing girl. It’s a much tighter definition. And, even with that definition, there are still plenty of Cinderella stories.
The oldest known Cinderella story is pretty stinking old, dating back to around to within a few years of the birth of Christ and the advent of the modern era. It’s a story recorded by the Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo.
In this ancient version, Cinderella (named Rhodopis) lives in Egypt. One day an eagle snatches up her sandal and flies all the way to Memphis (the Egyptian one, not the one in Tennessee, silly) and drops the shoe before the pharaoh. If you thought that Prince Charming falls in love awfully fast in the original version, in this version the pharaoh doesn’t even see Rhodopis once before deciding that he’s going to marry the girl who lost the shoe (or, sandal, rather). As you might guess, Pharaoh finds and marries Rhodopis. The end.
Pretty different, huh?
In the Rhodopis version, one might say that the role of fairy godmother is played by the eagle. In versions originating in both China and Vietnam, instead of a fairy godmother or an eagle, the heroine is aided by a fish—a fish that happens to be her reincarnated mother. Mean stepsisters (a feature you’ll notice was missing from Rhodopis, but became quite common in other versions) killed and ate the fish, but the heroine saved the fish’s bones. The bones turn out to be magical, and provide her with beautiful clothing to wear to the New Years Festival, where the king falls in love with her, she loses a slipper, and he eventually rescues her. Besides the fish in place of the fairy godmother, the rest of the Cinderella story we know is already in place. Pretty amazing, considering the story comes from 860 CE and a different part of the world.
It isn’t until 1634 that we get the first written Western European versions of the story. In Cenerentola, a fairy gives the heroine’s father a date seed, which he gives to the heroine, who plants and tends it. When it grows, it gives her gifts of fine clothing, which she wears to a ball. There, as you can probably guess, the king falls in love with her. But—plot twist!—she leaves the ball and forgets a shoe there. While you can guess the rest, you might not guess that in this version the shoe literally flies from the king’s hand to her foot when he finally finds her. Bibbidi Bobbidi that!
In 1697 we finally get the Cinderella story we’re most familiar with—Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. His is the version which introduces the glass slippers, the fairy godmother, and the pumpkin carriage. In Perrault’s version, Cinderella attends three balls, staying closer and closer to the deadline at each one, until she finally stays too long and loses a glass slipper in her rush out the door. Aside from missing the little vermin and having three balls instead of just one, Perrault’s version plays out very similar to the animated Disney version from 1950.
The final version I’ll talk about is the rather gruesome Grimm brothers’ edition, titled Aschenputtel. There’s no fairy godmother in this one, but it does bring in helpful animals again. If you saw the 2015 live-action Cinderella film by Disney, you may recall that Ella’s mother, while dying, tells Ella to “have courage, and be kind.” This seems to come from the Grimm version, where the a plague-stricken mother tells her daughter, Cinderella, to be good and kind, as God would protect her. Then she expires. In the Grimm version, Cinderella’s father inexplicably allows her to be abused. Furthermore, no fairy godmother helps her, but rather a hazel tree that Cinderella has planted above her mother’s grave (planted from a twig which she’d requested as a gift from her father, a bit that also receives a shout-out in the 2015 film). The tree—and the birds that live in the tree—grant Cinderella wishes and watch over her. Again, there are three balls. Each time, Cinderella wears a different outfit. This time, however, the prince lays a trap for Cinderella and covers the castle stairs in sticky pitch, which is why she must ditch one of her shoes—a shoe made of gold, rather than glass. In a gory twist, her two stepsisters mutilate their own feet to fit into the glass slipper. Apparently the prince didn’t notice that one was missing her toes and the other her heel, and had to be informed by some birds that the stepsisters were not the right girl, since their feet were bloody. (Yes, both girls managed to temporarily fool the prince with their hacked-up feet. Perhaps his bloodline is a little too pure, if you know what I’m saying.) Then, as if those poor stepsisters hadn’t suffered enough abuse, Cinderella’s bird friends peck out their eyes and blind them at Cinderella’s wedding. Lovely.
Whew! That last one was long. Sorry about that.
Anyways, I find it fascinating that this story has endured for so long, and that such similar versions are popular in different cultures! Why is this?
Two theories, which I jokingly submit. Is it because there is something in the genetics of all women that make them keenly interested in shoes, so much so that stories about shoes spontaneously appear and thrive around the world? Or is it a conspiracy, began by the cobblers of old, to place inordinate importance on the finery of people’s footwear by weaving tales of life-altering slippers?
Have a theory you prefer? Or your own theory, either in seriousness or in jest? Please share in the comments!
Day 3 of 13 of Happily’s Release Blog Tour. See the full schedule here.