The Original Versions of Cinderella

Image by Angeline 1 from Pixabay

When it comes to fairytales, there’s rarely, if ever, a clear cut “original” version because the stories tend to be old and stem from multiple cultures. I don’t intend to go into even all of the versions I researched prior to writing Once upon a Shoe, because even that many versions would make this post too long. Before I begin, I want to mention that this is just my perception of these versions and that I am writing this off of memory and the last time I read any of these was right before I started writing Once upon a Shoe back in 2016.

My earliest experiences of any fairytales, including Cinderella stemmed from animated films, including the Disney version and other more obscure versions that I can’t even remember who made them. By the time I was in middle school, the library was practically my second home and I read all of the books on fairytales that the small library in my town had to offer, though I wouldn’t be able to name any of the authors or editors who compiled those books. Now, my favorite starting place when researching fairytales is a website called SurLaLune, though I still read any books I can get my hands on. If you want to check it out, here’s the link to a ton of Cinderella versions on their site. The University of Pittsburgh also has a wealth of resources that you can find for fairytales. Here’s their link to some Cinderella tales.

Although the different versions, and even different translations of the same version can be widely varied, there are some common trends that are in most, if not all early versions and their retellings. Cinderella is generally a rags to riches story. Usually, she is considered a virtuous, often kind person who is mistreated in some way near the beginning of the story before something (typically a ball) happens that gives her an opportunity for a change in circumstances. Cinderella has some help in bridging the gap for her opportunity, whether magical or divine intervention or otherwise, and of course she ends up marrying a prince (or someone similar) after being identified by her shoe and she lives happily ever after. This is my very basic interpretation of how the different versions connect.

The two older versions that are best known are those by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Perrault’s version is recognizable in most retellings, including Disney’s versions. Perrault’s tale was highly focused on morality and the importance of certain virtues. Cendrillon is described as so very kind and patient and gracious that I’ve always felt the character was too good to be true. But in some translations, I feel like her kindness is more of an act than anything because in those translations she comes off more like a martyr to me than someone who is genuine, but maybe I’m reading too much into it. Perrault’s version brings in the fairy godmother which we see in most Cinderella retellings, as well as animal helpers and the iconic pumpkin carriage. In this version, Cendrillon attends the ball on two nights with the last night being the one where she loses track of time and loses her shoe. Most translations say she wears glass slippers, but some of the translations I’ve read say they were made of fur. In Perrault’s version, Cendrillon forgives her stepsisters and ensures they both have beneficial marriages of their own.

Grimm’s version, on the other hand is quite morbid and gory (like most of their fairy tales), a fact that my younger self was fascinated by. Their fairytales are definitely not something that is suitable for children. In this version, our heroine’s mother tells Aschenputtel on her deathbed to always remain good and pious and to plant a tree on her grave and it will give her what she wants. In this one, the ball lasts for 3 nights and her stepfamily not only forbids her to go to the ball, but they also give her difficult tasks to keep her busy each night. She has help from birds to deal with the tasks each time. The first night, she merely watches from a pigeon roost. The second and third nights, she attends the ball, getting her finery and transportation by shaking her tree. On the second night, she wears silver clothes and makes it out of the ball by her midnight deadline. The third night, she’s dressed in gold and the prince laid pitch on the stairs to keep her from leaving. One of her gold slippers gets stuck and because she missed her deadline, she has to walk home after her carriage and finery vanish. The prince, determined to marry Aschenputtel, decides to have everyone try on the shoe to find her and somehow it’s too small for everyone else. This is where it really turns dark. The stepmother hands a knife to each of her daughters in turn and advises them to cut up their feet to fit the slipper. Each of the stepsisters is declared his bride in their turn, but then the birds start singing about the blood in the shoe and the prince returns them, eventually finding Aschenputtel. In some of the translations, it goes a step further where the birds peck out the stepsisters’ eyes.

The last version I want to bring up is arguably the oldest, certainly older than the two versions I already mentioned, though it lacks some of the elements that many consider to be iconic. Rhodopis is dated sometime around the end of BC or the beginning of AD. There isn’t much said about Rhodopis herself in most of the translations I’ve read, though the ones that have more details tend to call her a servant or a slave. This one has divine intervention because a bird, usually a falcon (thought to be the god, Horus) takes one of her golden sandals and drops it in the Pharaoh/King’s lap. I really like this version because the Pharaoh has much more personality than the prince in most versions and there’s a solid reason to think that a shoe should identify his bride, considering that from his perspective, an important god just gave him a sign. He has trouble searching for her, but eventually finds her and marries her.

There are several other versions, some of which I like, and others that I definitely don’t like, but I encourage you to explore them. If you missed my last post about my favorite retellings, you may want to check that out as well. Next time, I’ll be posting about my retelling of Cinderella, Once upon a Shoe.

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