Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Romance Stories Throughout Time: Cinderella

From Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal
Cinderella is the oldest fairy tale, and it appears in nearly all cultures from Egypt to China, from Persia to Europe.

"Why" is such a loaded question--and has resulted in loaded answers (Cinderella is popular due to patriarchal domination, due to women's wish-fulfillment fantasies, due to foot fetishes)--that answering it is to enter a quagmire of literary exegesis.

Me--I think it's the story, the original perfect combination of two factors: (1) what Tolkien (thousands of years after Cinderella was created) called eucatastrophe, the salvation that occurs in the darkest hours; (2) the surprise and fun of disclosure: the princess revealed! Joseph of Egypt's narrative falls into this category, and explains why out of all the Old Testament stories, it was preserved almost entirely intact.

We like the rescue story; the cynics can argue that our desire for rescue is wishful thinking. But I think it comes down to fundamental human wiring. Stories are ultimately about recognition. We recognize that human beings may live most of their lives in what Donna calls blahness. But still, life is never entirely what we expect. We have the capacity to be surprised. We have the capacity to see lights at the ends of tunnels. And sometimes they appear. And sometimes we make them appear. And sometimes, when they don't, we create art and literature that become, surprisingly enough, their own lights at the end of the tunnel.

Recognition and restoration: those are the things we crave. They are the reasons we build stuff and make things and form relationships and live in a state other than nihilistic anarchy.

Cinderella isn't my favorite fairy tale (I'm a bigger fan of Beauty and the Beast tropes), but I do have a few Cinderella favorites from the picture book section:
  • Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman, which addresses different versions (see above). Very captivating!
  • James Marshall-illustrated Cinderella--because James Marshall's illustrations make me laugh.  
  • "Catskinella" from Virginia Hamilton's gorgeously illustrated (by Leo and Diane Dillon) Her Stories.
  • CinderEdna (which turns Cinderella on its head)--liberated and funny!

I hate to disappoint the Grimm fans, but I generally avoid versions where people's heels and toes get cut off.

I did recently watch and review Branagh's version.