Monday, March 4, 2013

Cinderella (According to Cassie)

Cinderella (According to Cassie)

So, basically, there’s this girl, and who am I kidding? Unless you’ve lived under a rock for most of your life or are secretly a wizard (in which case, nicely done accessing the Internet. I’m flattered it’s my blog you’ve turned to. Let’s talk about Hogwarts, as I’ve got some important questions), then you know the story of Cinderella. It’s only the most ubiquitous fairy tale in the entire world. Seriously, you can’t swing a dead cat through the cultures of the world without hitting a Cinderella variant (...sorry, that metaphor got away from me).

But honestly, this story is everywhere. Everybody’s got a tale of a young orphaned girl forced into servitude by a stepmother, who goes to a party, falls in love with a prince, loses something of value, and gets the guy in the end. It’s the typical rags-to-riches deal we all want to happen to us.

But it makes reading adaptations a slightly sticky endeavor. Because there are just so many! So where do you focus?

Well, the most well known is Perrault, with his glass slipper and pumpkin turning into a coach and fairy godmother. I’m not sure why this is the most well known, but we’ll get to that. Because I know this to be the version that will immediately pop to mind for most, it’s the one I’ll focus on in the ‘According to Cassie’ vein, but I’m also going to address some others in there as well.

So despite the fact that you all know it, here we go.

Basically, there’s this girl and it used to be she had a normal happy life with her mother and father, but then the mother died and the father grew despondent. The time frame is ambiguous, as is the father’s relationship with his daughter after her mother’s death.

But after a few years have gone by, the father remarries to an absolutely awful woman with two awful daughters (occasionally, one daughter is less awful, but never less awful enough to actually stand up for her new stepsister). It’s never made clear just why the father marries this woman, but that’s not even the most problematic thing about Dad in this story. Oftentimes, after the marriage, the father dies, which is unfortunate for his daughter, but miles better than the other versions of the story where he doesn’t die and is somehow completely okay with what happens next.

And what happens next is that the stepmother, threatened by Ella’s beauty (because she’s not actually named Cinderella, guys, that would be a nickname. You know. Cinder. As in ashes. From a fireplace? Nickname), forces her to become a servant in her own home, waiting on her and her daughters hand and foot, doing all the household work on her own. She’s basically a slave.

Now, okay. I know that young girls in fairy tale land don’t typically have a lot of power. But one of the questions I have always had at this point is why doesn’t she fight back? Stepmother says, “You’re a servant now,” what is it that keeps Cinderella from saying, “bitch, I don’t think so.”? There are many possible answers to this question, but the original Perrault doesn’t offer any of them. She just accepts her servitude, no fight given. It’s even worse when her father is still alive because how is that something he allows?

Anyway, her work in the household earns her the name of Cinderella, given to her by the nicer stepsister, since it’s kinder than what the other calls her – Cinderwench. Thank God for small blessings, I guess? And this is how life continues for many years.

And then the King announces a ball, to be given in honor of the prince’s twenty-first birthday, and all the eligible maidens in the kingdom are invited. I’m going to say that again, in case you missed the implications. The King is so desperate to marry off his son that he is inviting every single solitary female in his kingdom, be she noble, farmgirl, or servant, to come and be considered as the kingdom’s future queen. Yeah, that’s not something that usually happens when looking to marry off a prince, and in the tonnage of issues this fairy tale has going against it, I feel like this one gets lost a bit.

Well, the stepsisters are all excited to go to a royal ball, but Cinderella knows she can’t because they’d never let her and she doesn’t have anything to wear. So, on the day of the ball, she gets them ready and out the door, and then she falls down sobbing at the unfairness of it all.

And just when she’s at her lowest point, who should appear but her fairy godmother! And why Cinderella’s first question isn’t “Why the hell haven’t you shown up before now???” isn’t addressed. Rather, Cinderella is sobbing too hard to even answer the FG’s question as to what the matter is. All she gets out is “I wish, oh I wish—” to which the FG replies, “You wish you could go to the ball?” And Cindy nods an affirmative.

Again, I’m gonna highlight this just in case you missed it: Perrault’s Cinderella has so little agency that she cannot even speak what she wants for her life for herself. She is so helpless that she honestly cannot even get the words out; they have to be supplied for her, just like everything else that’s about to happen. The FG waves her wand and produces a ball gown, glass slippers, a coach to the palace, and people to drive it. Cinderella does nothing. I mean, she suggests using rats as coachmen, but that’s about it. The rest? Just handed to her, presenting us with the message: if you’re sweet and docile and helpless enough, someone will eventually come along and fix your problems for you. But then, it’s Perrault, so we shouldn’t really be surprised.

Anyway, she has to promise to be home by midnight, because that’s when the magic will fade, and she does, and she goes to the ball, and every is struck by her loveliness, and the prince (of course) falls in love with her immediately and they dance all night together. So transformed is she by a bath and fancy clothes that she can sit next to her stepsisters and chat with them, and they have no idea who she is!

And then the clock strikes quarter to midnight, and off Cindy goes, making it home just as the magic fades. We are told that she has a good time when her stepfamily gets home, making them recount the mysterious maiden in all possible detail, along with telling how much the prince admired her, which, I dunno, doesn’t exactly sound to me like Cinderella is as sweet as she’s supposed to be.

Well, this scenario plays out twice more at the last two nights of the ball, but on the final night, Cindy stays so late that she has to run right at midnight, and she loses one of her glass slippers on the steps as she flees. The prince finds it and declares that he will marry the maiden whose foot fits the slipper!

. . . Okay. Lets talk about this for a minute. First of all, you’ve danced with this girl all night for three nights in a row and are head over heels in love with her, and yet it’s her foot and not her face or her voice or a series of questions about what you talked of in three nights that you’re going to use to identify her? Really?

And secondly, did it never cross your mind, princey boy, that there might be some girl in your entire, massive kingdom, who might just have the same size feet as the mysterious girl you danced with? If this is your grand plan to find the love of your life, I can easily see why your father was having such a hard time finding a bride for you. Because you’re an idiot.

See, here’s how this should have gone down. You announce that you’re going to marry the girl you danced with, not the girl who fits the slipper, first off. Then you conduct your house to house search and use the memory of what she looks like and sounds like and what you talked about to find her. And then if you still have doubts that she is who you fell in love with, you say, “Hey, you left something behind on that last night. What was it?” And you will have not announced to the world that you found this glass slipper.


But our prince is not that sensible, and so this is how the story goes. Somehow, no other girl in the entire kingdom has the same size feet as Cinderella, and so when the steward (yes, steward; no, the prince doesn’t even go out and find his own damn girlfriend) puts it on her foot and it fits, they know that, gasp! They’ve found their mysterious maiden! And no one seems to have a problem with the fact that she’s a servant and a commoner!

She also happens to have the second glass slipper on her, which helps.

Except, wait a gosh-darn second here. Didn’t the FG tell Cindy that she had to be home by midnight because the magic would fade and her dress and coach and everything would disappear? So how is it that these shoes are still around?

You know what? I don’t even care anymore. Shoe fits, Cindy marries Prince, happily ever after, yada yada yada.

Thoughts on the original? Whoo boy, I hope you have some time.

Perrault’s Cinderella is ridiculous. Hands down, plain and simple, straight up nonsensically ridiculous. I mean, it’s relatively common knowledge that the reason Cindy gets a glass slipper in this version is because of a mistranslation. It was a fur slipper, but the two words in old German got confused, and she ended up with one made of glass instead, and nobody thought that was strange.

And in looking at this story, and I mean really looking at it, I’m forced to wonder if that was the only thing that got mistranslated. Because there is so much of this story that just plain does not make sense. But I think what bothers me most is that, out of all the available Cinderella stories in the world, this is the one that we know. This is the one that has stuck.

Personally, I prefer the Grimm version, because in that one, Cindy actually does something! She plants a tree at her mother’s grave, and when the ball is announced, she goes to that tree and asks her mothers spirit for a miracle. It’s a small change, maybe, but a substantial one. A magical guardian doesn’t just appear and offer her an out; Cinderella goes and gets it for herself. She decides that this is something she wants, and she acts on it.

And she doesn’t just lose her shoe; the prince knows she’s going to run, so he tries to stop her by smearing the steps with pitch, not imagining that she’ll just step out of the stuck shoes and keep running. And Grimm also addresses the issue of other feet fitting the slipper – Stepmama is willing to cut off pieces of her daughters’ feet to make the shoe fit and make them a princess, and it’s the spirit of Cindy’s mother that lets the prince know he’s got the wrong girl.

But that’s not the version most people know. That’s not the one we cling to. We fixate on the story of the helpless maiden, who can’t even bring herself to ask for what she wants, and the prince who apparently cares so little about her that he sends a servant to find her rather than go himself. Yeah, that’s a love story for the ages . . .


Give Cinderella some control of her own destiny. This is a big one for me because I hate damsels in distress. And I hate the message that if you cry about something long enough, someone will come and fix it for you. So, I’d like to see Cinderella have some measure of control, some way in which she is active in her own ending.

Enhance the role of the prince. In this original story, he doesn’t honestly do much either. He dances, he falls in love, he finds a shoe, he sends a servant out to get the girl. I’d like to see more from this character. I’d like to know why his father is so desperate to marry him off, I’d like to see him display some manner of intelligence, and I’d like some evidence that he’s actually in love with Cinderella.

Address the plot transgressions. Seriously, this story is full of holes, and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. In fact, there are enough of them that I’m going to list them:
  • Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly?           
  • Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly?  
  • Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being?
  • Anybody going to question glass slippers? Don’t know if you know this, but shoes are designed to move with your feet as you walk and run and dance, etc. Also don’t know if you know this, but glass? Doesn’t do those things. It’s actually pretty rigid and unyielding. So, can we talk about the glass slippers?
  •  Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts?
  • Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will?
Plot holes, guys. Fix ‘em.

Anyway, here’s the lineup, and it was difficult narrowing this list down to five. As you can see, I still haven’t quite managed it.

Week 1: Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Week 2: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George
Week 3: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Week 4: TBA (Down to two, depends on if my first choice will actually work for review)
Week 5: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I appreciate your patience with the wait this month, and I hope to have the first review up by tomorrow.


  1. You've certainly pinpointed the major problems with the Cinderella story. Most of those have bothered me over the years. (I have to admit, I hadn't quite thought through the Prince's lack of... anything resembling common sense.)

    It occurs to me that one reason for Cinderella to have accepted the stepmother's treatment of her is that she had very little choice. In the time periods in which this story is usually set, single women in most of Europe had very little control over their own lives. They were property to be dealt with as their parent or guardian (usually male) saw fit. If they married, they became subject to their husband in the same way. If Cinderella had run away, she would have had to become a servant or a prostitute. Being a servant in her own home, (where there were no adult males in authority, was probably a better prospect than being a servant elsewhere. At least she wasn't subject to (shall we say) unwanted attention. There's also the point that depending on the time and place, she was legally under her stepmother's control. Had she run and been caught, she would have been returned, and her situation would doubtless have been even harsher afterward.

    I've read and enjoyed several of the adaptations you'll be reviewing, and I'm interested to hear what you think of them. (I'm now following your blog so I don't forget to check back!) And I have another adaptation to suggest to you: Mercedes Lackey's Phoenix and Ashes. I reviewed it here, if you're interested (though not in great detail.)

    Congratulations on a great blog idea. I look forward to reading your older posts and seeing what's coming next.

  2. I am a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey, particularly her Elemental Masters series, and Phoenix and Ashes is one of my favorites of the bunch. I had it on the list for a long time, but those books are just so long and complex (in the best possible way) that they would be very difficult to summarize. Also, it's much easier for me to read a Middle Grade/YA length book in a week than a Lackey novel!

    And you make an excellent point about why Cinderella stays; I think it's right on the mark, I just wish Perrault had pointed it out. Though, in historical context, he probably wouldn't have needed to.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. I'm looking forward to this month, and have been for a while!