The story of Cinderella, at its heart, is the story of kindness overcoming vanity and cruelty. There are many ways to tell this story, but the message always comes back to the fact that the Cinderella character takes care of those around her, big and small, while her cruel step-sisters only think of themselves and expect everything to be handed to them without having to lift a finger.
Three years ago, I wrote about various versions of Cinderella told from around the world. It was really eye opening to see how so many different cultures have looked at the classic fairy tale over the years. When we were at our local library recently, they had a display about fairy tales and mentioned a few other versions of Cinderella so my mind started churning again. The story always stays within certain parameters, but it is the people and animals who surround Cinderella that always change. I was pleasantly surprised when I found additional versions to add to my original list.
In Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella, by Alan Schroeder, we get the classic story, but Cinderella’s name is Rose. Rose’s father marries “the crossest, fearsomest woman that side o’Tarbelly Creek,” and when she makes Rose do all of her chores, her father figured it was best to just stay out of it. Rose’s life only got worse when her father died. Rather than a prince throwing a ball, it’s just a rich young man trying to find a wife, but Rose’s sisters don’t let her go to the party. Fortunately, one of the pigs on the farm knows some magic and sends her off. Her step-sisters recognize her, a nice twist on the original, but can’t do anything about it as Seb, the rich gent, immediately takes a shine to her. Her step-mother plans to whip Rose first thing in the morning, but Seb arrived before she could. Of course the shoe fits Rose and she forgives her step-sisters for all of the sorrow they had caused her and she and Seb live happily ever after.
CinderEdna is a fun twist on the story with Cinderella and CinderEdna living next door to each other. Both are forced to do chores, but CinderEdna finds way to bring joy to her life and to avoid sitting in the cinders. To keep warm, Edna kept herself busy and earned extra money working for other families. Another key difference is that while Cinderella is beautiful under her rags, Edna isn’t much to look at, but she is strong, spunky, and knows some good jokes. Rather than rely on a fairy godmother to get her to the ball, Edna takes the bus. When she meets the prince, she finds him a bore and instead falls head over heels for his younger brother who runs a recycling plant and a home for orphaned kittens. The prince and his younger brother, Rupert, fall for the two girls and go searching for them after they each run off. Rupert can’t see Edna because his glasses were smashed, but he knows it is her when she can recite 15 different recipes for tuna casserole and tells him a joke about a kangaroo from Kalamazoo. The two couples wed in a joint ceremony, BUT, Cinderella finds herself bored with endless ceremonies and speeches while Edna and Rupert enjoy their life making the world a better place and caring for cats.
I will admit that I was shocked to find a Jewish retelling of the Cinderella story, but Raisel’s Riddle, by Erica Silverman, is just that. Raisel is a girl being raised by her grandfather, a town scholar, and she has studied alongside him, something highly unusual in the old setting where this story takes place. When he dies, she must find a way to survive and winds up finding work in a faraway village as the helper to a rabbi’s cook, a jealous and harsh woman who could rival any evil stepmother. Raisel wishes to go to the Purim play but has no costume and has chores that must be done. On the night of the play she feeds an old woman who gives her three wishes for her kindness, thereby allowing Raisel to go the play. The Rabbi’s son is quickly taken by her, but when he tells her of her beauty, she responds with words from the Talmud that it is just a costume. When he tries to figure out who she is, she diverts him with a riddle. Before he can answer, the clock begins to toll midnight and she rushes off. The next day, rather than searching for the girl who can fit a glass slipper, the Rabbi and his son search for the educated girl with the good riddle. He finds Raisel and they live happily ever after.
In finding Raisel, I was thrilled to also find the beautiful version The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella, by Rebecca Hickox. The Golden Sandal is a retelling of an Iraqi folktale “The Little Red Fish and the Clog of Gold,” which has every aspect of the traditionally Cinderella story, but with cultural traditions of Iraq where marriages are often arranged. In this version, young Maha’s father is a fisherman and after his wife dies he remarries a woman who is jealous of his love for Maha. When Maha is carrying a basket of fish back from the river, a small red one starts to talk to her and begs her to spare his life. She does and he responds, “Allah says a kindness never goes unrewarded. Call for me anytime and ask what you will.” Years pass and Maha grows sweeter by the day while her wicked step-sister has a face marked by her ugly nature. When the daughter of a wealthy merchant is to be married, there was great excitement “for it was at the women’s celebration that they were seen by the mothers of young men. Whom would they choose to be brides for their sons?” Maha asks the fish to help her go to the henna party and her wish is granted, but she must leave before her step-mother does. As she rushes out she loses one of her golden slippers in the water. When Tariq, the brother of the bride, finds her shoe he decides that she who can fit it is the one he wants to marry. The step-mother of course tries to block this from happening, but like all Cinderella stories, the two live happily ever after.
Cendrillon is a Caribbean retelling of the classic fairy tale, but told from the godmother’s point of view. In this story, the godmother is a poor washer woman who had been given a magic wand by her mother. She was told that it would only work on someone that she loved and at the time she had no one. Cendrillon’s mother dies and of course her father marries a mean woman and Cendrillon becomes a washer woman in her own home. She winds up building an even stronger bond with her godmother as they work side by side. When Cendrillon cannot attend the ball, her godmother recalls the want and puts it to good use. While true to the original story, it is the Creole words, beautiful illustrations, and the godmother’s true affection for Cendrillon that make this version unique and special.
The most unusual version I have seen so far comes in the form of The Irish Cinderlad. One thing that has remained true in all of the Cinderella retellings is that she attends the ball, the prince is enamored by her beauty, he searches for her, and they live happily ever after. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this version with a male lead. Becan, who is plagued with exceptionally large feet, finds himself with three horrible step-sisters when his father remarries. They taunt him and banish him to work in the fields. However, there he befriends a magical bull. With the bull’s help, Becan defeats a giant, slays a dragon, and rescues a princess. But before she can thank him, he disappears, leaving behind one of his enormous boots. The princess searches for him, and like all good fairy tales, they live happily ever after.
There is so much that we can learn about ourselves and other cultures by reading a wide variety of tellings of the same story. Fairy tales and folk tales in general will always be a key part of how our children learn. I’m so thrilled that there are so many versions of tales we thought we knew so well.