As ubiquitous as the fairy tale of Cinderella is in cultures around the world, it is easily as ubiquitous in fairy tale novelizations. There have been months in the past where the struggle was finding enough novels to fill a full month. Here, the struggle lay in narrowing down the choice (in other words, the “Other Notable Novels” section is going to be quite full this month).
And yet, for all that that is true, almost every novelization I could have read and reviewed pulls from Perrault’s Cinderella. There are exceptions, of course. Donna Jo Napoli has a wonderful one that uses the Chinese Cinderella as its basis, and Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters Cinderella retelling uses more of Grimm’s, but for the most part, authors tend to latch onto Perrault’s.
And that got me thinking — why? Why fixate on arguably the weakest version of Cinderella out there, a story with a heroine so helpless she can’t even voice her own wishes? And then it occurred to me (and hang onto your hats, folks. I’m about to go Super Meta):
Maybe authors latch onto Perrault’s Cinderella because she’s the one most in need of rescue. Not from an evil curse, not from enforced servitude, but from the very confines of her own story told by an incredibly sexist narrator (appreciate as much as you want the work that Perrault did in terms of collecting and reproducing oral tradition tales in France; I certainly do. But that appreciation aside, you can’t deny that he was sexist and chauvinistic, and the stories he chose to collect and the way he chose to tell them reflect this).
I think authors tend to hone in on Perrault’s Cinderella because they want so badly to rescue Perrault’s Cinderella, above and beyond the other Cinderellas out there. Because Grimm’s made her own way to the ball. Chinese, Russian, Native American Cinderellas took charge of their own destinies. And so many other Cinderella figures out there – even if they couldn’t go after what they wanted, they could at least articulate it. But Perrault’s is so terribly helpless, you can’t help but want to give her a stronger personality and some small measure of control.
Because that’s what I noticed this month. Without exception, every Cinderella from every novelization was far less passive, far more proactive, far less willing to sit around and wait for her life to improve. Across the board, we got Cinderellas with gumption and fire and stubbornness, far more than Perrault’s ever showed.
I also noticed that all five of these novels offered Cinderella friends, another thing missing from Perrault’s tale. Ella from Just Ella had Jed and Mary; Poppy had Christian and Marianne and Dickon; Cinder had Peony and her android and Kai; Cindy had Malcolm and India; and Ella from Ella Enchanted had Char and Areida and Mandy. None of our Cinderellas were left alone, and in four out of five cases, they all met and became friends with the prince long before the ball, and in the one instance they didn’t, he turned out to be an idiot.
So, we give her passion, and we give her friends, and I think that’s significant. Every novel we read this month stressed the importance of those two things above and beyond the importance of romance, and it’s hard not to be a fan of that.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George both come Highly Recommended and remain some of my favorite novel adaptations.
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Cinder by Marissa Meyer are both Recommended for sure.
Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer was pretty disappointing, and I wouldn’t want anyone to go out of their way to read it.
Other Notable Novels: Tons. Seriously, guys, there are so many.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, which tells the tale of the Chinese Cinderella.
Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey, which is one of my favorite of her Elemental Masters series.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, which I haven’t read for a while but remember being blown away by.
Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey, which has a fantastic take on Cinderella’s father.
I Was a Rat by Philip Pullman, which examines the story from the perspective of one of the rats turned into a footman, and is tons of fun.
And I’m gonna go ahead and throw out The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C Hines and The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, both of which have Cinderella as a character combined with other fairy tale characters in truly wonderful ways.
Also, someone please read Cinderella: Ninja Warrior for me? My copy had to go back to the library before I could read it, and I just want to know!
There are so many others, guys. Cinderella is everywhere! But the month is up, and we have to move on.
April’s fairy tale is Little Red Riding Hood!