Cinderella

So I discovered this meme just before I started moving and have really been wanting to participate. In this meme you discuss a different fairy tale every week. Turns out I’m starting on a great week! This week the theme is in honor of Share a Story, Shape a Future and in that vein we are supposed to blog about our favorite fairy tale from childhood.

I’m going to take that theme and flip it a bit. I spent a semester studying fairy tales in college and I’m going to quote liberally from one of the essays I wrote in that semester. One of the class assignments was to look at all of the different fairy tale versions of Cinderella and determine which one you would share with your child. I know everyone did Cinderella last week, but I missed it so you get me this week instead!

Keep in mind I’m editing this a lot to make it more blog friendly, and that all of it was meant to be tongue in cheek. I never took any of my assignments super seriously. They would be written just fine, just would subtly make fun of the subject matter as I went. Almost guaranteed an A.

Children learn about their world in a variety of ways and one of the ways that they learn, besides from lessons at school or at church, are stories that are told to them in their youth. Therefore not just any story should be told to young children. The stories that are read to them should hold morals, portray social standards, and hopefully not leave the child traumatized. I assumed that my child would be read the standard version of most fairy tales, including Cinderella — or would have seen them reenacted in plays or in movies — by the time he or she was five years old. So I would probably wait until they were a little older, perhaps seven or eight before I read alternate versions to them. This way they might understand why the story was different and appreciate it more instead of piping up in a minuscule voice, “That’s not how the story goes!” and then promptly tuning me out. In the case of Cinderella, there are many versions to choose from, this choice naturally should be made by the content of the stories and what morals or social ethics they wish to pass on. To narrow it down from the broad sweep of what is known as “ethics” I would choose to select a story based on Cinderella’s passivity, or lack thereof, the level of violence in the story and the relationship our heroine has with Prince Charming.

In many famous fairy tales and particularly ones Disney has chosen to pick up it seems that the star of the show, the “princess” in most cases, doesn’t really do that much. Her role in the tale is to sleep, to lie dead in a glass casket, to surrender herself as a prisoner, and to always, always do as she is told. With few exceptions, the princess is to lie passive for as much of the tale as possible and by the end, she will be given her reward, invariably marriage. This is not really the message I want to pass on to my daughter. Lying around and waiting for a man is generally not proper social behavior, at least not in this day and age. I would want the version of Cinderella that I read to my child to have an active princess, someone who goes out and does something to earn her Prince Charming instead of waiting for someone else to help her out from under the oppressive conditions of her life. Two of the six main versions have an active Cinderella. One, a version by Tanith Lee, portrays her as an evil conniving satanic Cinderella who wishes to have her Prince Charming if only to bring about his doom and exact revenge for the loss of her family’s title. The other, Oochigeaskw, a Native American version, which has the Cinderella work towards her own fate using her own discretion and under her own willpower. She went in the face of her sisters and all of the other village people, and regardless of her poor prospects still attempted to go through with her dream, even though all seemed hopeless. This later version is more apt to instill proper ethics then the first, I believe.

Levels of violence in fairy tales has become an issue in recent years as more and more people actually go back and study the older classics. These were tales told by adults to adults and only recently have they been reworked for children. Tanith Lee’s version took the tale of Cinderella and reworked it again, but not for children, this tale is clearly adult fantasy. It is violent and has very dark underlying themes of sacrifices, Satan worship, suicide, and intrigue. In the tale Cinderella deceives the church while still secretly worshiping her dark Lord, she uses the power he grants her to her own ends, and has his demons attend to her the night of the ball. At the ball she bewitches the prince and forces him to fall so madly for her that he goes on a crazed search to find her when she disappears at midnight leaving nothing but her shoe as a clue. His search led to his death and his kingdom fell into disarray leaving Cinderella with her proper revenge for the prince’s family taking the kingdom from her family in the first place. Perhaps that particular tale is not the best of reading for a seven year old. In the story of Oochigeaskw the violence is still there as her eldest sister burns her with cinders because of the elder’s inherent cruelty. When their father asks why the girl is burned so badly the eldest says that it’s Cinderella’s own fault for wandering so close to the fire. This is also where she gets her name. Oochigeaskw means “the Rough-Faced Girl”. Oochigeaskw is the less violent and the more age appropriate of the two, while still getting a good message across.

In many of the versions of the Cinderella story the prince seems to have problems recognizing Cinderella and telling her apart from her sisters. For some one who is so beautiful I do not see how this could really be a problem, but our prince is famous for his charm not his 20/20 vision. Most fairy tales contain such generic princes. I have seen a famous drawing in which the princes from two different fairy tales cross paths in a wood and run right into the other’s tale, thereby switching plots, without even breaking pace. I really would hope my daughter (or son if he leans that way) would have better taste in men. If you are aiming for a Prince Charming go for one who can tell you and the next girl apart. Not one who wouldn’t even notice the difference, this hints at the fact that he might not even care. In the tale of Oochigeaskw it doesn’t mention whether the prince would be confused if another girl popped into her place, but a prince who seems to care by omission of that little plot twist is good enough for me.

A story containing good morals, less violence then the average fairy tale would contain, and that has half decent lessons in social standards, seems to be the way to go. The Native American version has all of these and would be the most appropriate for my child. One would hope this doesn’t come back and smack me in the face when my daughter screams at me that she is tired of being oppressed into chores and then stomps up to her room climbs out the window into a waiting car and drives off to find her prince charming. At the least I would be reassured that she has learned some lessons from the tales I told her in childhood. And it could be worse; she could spend all of her teenage years wasting away in her bedroom reading fairy tales hoping for one to one day come true. Like I did.

I wrote this essay before the book Just Ella came out and that is another version of Cinderella I would highly recommend for tween and up! It’s a great book!

Anyway, that’s all I have to share on Cinderella. Next week’s will probably be much shorter! Though, can I just say, I am really looking forward to Little Red Riding Hood? I wrote my end of semester paper on just that fairy tale and I’ll talk your ear off about it if you let me. Can’t wait to participate!

3 Responses to Cinderella

  1. carol
    10:57 am on March 15th, 2010

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve actually found that my daughter, who is 10 now, really doesn’t know that many of the standrard fairytales. I guess we skipped reading them, not sure why.

    On a side note, my favorite Disney “princess” is definitely Mulan. There’s a brave strong girl.

  2. Tif
    7:32 pm on March 24th, 2010

    I am so glad to see you join in the fairy fun!!! I have loved this post and I’m really curious to know the name of the Native American version of this tale. Can you contact me with the name and author? I would love it!!

    And, I have to agree with Carol above . . . LOVE Mulan!!! That’s one of my personal faves of the Disney versions!!

  3. Bitsy
    7:42 pm on March 24th, 2010

    I’ll leave a comment here, and put one on your blog as well. The story is The Invisible One and The Rough-Faced Girl. It’s a story told in an oral tradition among native american and first nation tribes.

    Mulan is by far my favorite, definitely the exception to the passive princess rule, I love her!

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