It’s been a bit since I’ve posted a Sci Fi Friday update, and I want to do a quick series on fairy tales, starting with Cinderella and working my way through some of the more popular fairy tales.
I love fairy tales, particularly retold fairy tales or cracked fairy tales. As a kid, I ate them up. As an adult, I’m still entertained. When I was getting my master’s in library science, I wrote a research paper and bibliography on multicultural versions of Cinderella in children’s picture books (although I will also be mentioning a lot of YA retellings as well). This is a very, very condensed/simplified rewriting of that paper. So condensed. Much simplified. Very informal.
Cinderella is one of those tales where you think you know the story, but it’s much more richly complex and varied than Disney would have you believe (I’m not a huge fan of the animated one, but I love the set and costume design of the live action version).
While the image of Cinderalla is one of glass slippers, balls and fairy godmothers, these were all elements added to the Cinderella story by Charles Perrault (actually, those slippers were supposed to be made of fur, which is actually a lot classier back then than what you’re probably imagining). Perrault’s version (and from that, watered down Disney Cinderella), is actually an atypical Cinderella story. Weird, right?
There has been a lot of research on Cinderella stories because it’s so rich and fascinating and varied. Don’t believe me? Check out these resources:
Plus there are a ton of books dedicated to Cinderella.
Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from 500-1,000 Cinderella variations. Variations of Cinderella originated in Eurasia and Indo-Malaysia, and while they weren’t native to Australia, Africa or the Americas, they were readily adopted, distributed and retold (why yes, I do have resources for these claims).
So who wrote the first Cinderella?
Again, this is debatable, particularly since—like all fairy tales—Cinderella was originally part of oral traditions and wasn’t recorded for many, many years.
In true, “debate me, bro!” fashion, some scholars claim it originated with Greek historian Strabo around the first century BCE, when he wrote about a Greek courtesan named Rhodophis who married an Egyptian pharaoh.
Mostly, however, Cinderella as we know it is attributed to Chinese folktale “Yeh-Shen” (around the ninth century, CE), because this story contains more of the elements familiar in the fairy tale.
The traditional European versions came much later, with the first around 1570 by Benaventura des Periers and later in 1634 in “Cat Cinderella” by Giambattista Basile. Perrault sauntered in with his version in 1697, and the Grimm brothers flounced in way late in the game in the nineteenth century with three different versions.
With all of these different variations, there’s got to be a cataloguing system. There are a couple, but two are most prominent. The Aarne-Thompson-Uther catalog is more comprehensive, but the Cox version is a lot simpler.
- A—Cinderella (ill-treated heroine, recognition by means of a shoe or lost object)
- B—Cat-Skin (unnatural father, causing the heroine to flee)
- C—Cap O’Rushes (“love test,” heroine is cast out by father)
- E—Hero Tales
A basic breakdown of the story (Version A): All of these versions have common themes that generally tie them together (and prevent them from falling under, say, Beauty and the Beast or Little Red Riding Hood versions). So, once upon a time, a girl had a father who decided to remarry a woman who also had daughters of her own. The stepmother and her daughters treated the girl like a servant in her own home, until all she desired was a chance to break away for a moment. When she gets her chance (usually through some sort of magical/otherworldly assistance that gives her a gift), she loses the gift, which is picked up or delivered to a wealthy man who decides that he’s going to find the owner of the object. The girl weds the wealthy man and lives happily ever after.
Sound really bland? This is the basic rags-to-riches version—and the most common in YA retellings.
Version B is basically the story of Donkeyskin, where a girl/noblewoman/princess’ mother died in childbirth and she was raised by a heartbroken father who refused to marry anyone as beautiful as his wife. Surprise, surprise (you know where this story is going), when Donkeyskin gets older and turns into the ghost of mama past, Dad decides he’s going to marry his child. She runs away (often with the help of a magical creature or two), uglies herself up, and seeks work at another nobleman’s household, where the nobleman discovers her, marries her and they live happily ever after. Due to the general ick factor associated with this version, you don’t find it too much (or find a less incestuous version).
Version C is either called Cap O’Rushes or The Way Meat Loves Salt. An aging father, finding himself weary of life and wanting to start bestowing his fortune to his daughters, devises a “love test” to see which of them love him more. His two older daughters lie outrageously about their love for him, but his youngest daughter (and the one with an actual conscious and his favorite) simply says, “I love you the way meat loves salt” (or some such nonsense). Outraged, he casts her out. Much like Donkeyskin, she finds work at a nobleman’s household and eventually wins the dude’s heart. They marry, and eventually one day this heartbroken old man comes to visit. Lo and behold, it’s Dear Old Dad! His asshole daughters have cast him out, and so the youngest daughter tells her kitchen staff to cook him the best cut of meat, but remove all the salt. When he takes a bite of the food (he doesn’t recognize his own kid, winning Worst Dad of the Year), he realizes for the first time ever that meat can’t really exist without salt and realizes his mistake. Daughter reveals herself and they all live happily ever after.
And the other versions are all really varied. The indeterminate one is more generic “rags to riches,” while the heroes category follows the male Cinderellas, or Cinderfellas. Vasilisa the Beautiful is one of the more well known Type D Cinderella stories (surprise!), as is The Talking Eggs.
However, despite the relative dearth in variety in YA Cinderellas (please, please correct me if I’m wrong—I really want to read a non-white YA Cinderella), there is a ton of variety and diversity in children’s picture books. Here are the books I picked out for my master’s program, along with a couple that didn’t make my cut (I was limited to 20 and had to make my criteria very selective because there are a lot of great Cinderella picture books out there).
Cinderella Picture Books
de la Rochere, M. H. D., Lathey, G., & Wozniak, M. (Eds.). (2016). Cinderella across cultures: New directions and interdisciplinary perspectives. Detriot, MI: Wayne State University.
Dundes, A. (Ed.). (1982). Cinderella: A folklore casebook. New York City, NY: Garland.
Phillip, N. (1989). The Cinderella story. New York City, NY: Penguin Books.
Rooth, A. B. (1951). The Cinderella cycle. Lund, Sweden: C. W. K. Gleerup. Sierra, J. (1992). The Orynx multicultural folktale series: Cinderella. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx.
Sierra, J. (1992). The Orynx multicultural folktale series: Cinderella. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx.