Cinderella is a fairy tale embodying a classic folk tale myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward, which received literally hundreds of tellings before modern times. The best-known version was written by the French author, Charles Perrault in 1697, based on a common folk tale earlier recorded by Giambattista Basile as Cenerentola in 1634, but the animated film of Cinderella from The Walt Disney Company, has become the standard contemporary version.
The familiar plot revolves around a girl deprived of her rightful station in the family and given the cruel nickname “Cinderella” by her wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters. Forced into a life of domestic servitude, whence the nickname, as she was forced to tend the fireplace, Cinderella accepts the help of her attendant spirit (“fairy godmother”) who transforms her to attend a royal ball and attract the attention of the handsome prince.
Unfortunately, the magic comes to an end at the first stroke of midnight. At that point, she flees, leaving behind a glass slipper which the prince finds. He declares that he will marry only the girl whose petite foot fits into the slipper.
Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters (in some versions just the stepsisters) conspire to win the prince’s hand for one of them. In the original, bloodier version, the first stepsister fits into the slipper by cutting off a toe, but a magical bird tells the prince to notice the blood dripping from the slipper, and he returns the false stepsister to her mother. The second stepsister fits into the slipper by cutting off her heel, but the same bird gives her away.
Finally, Cinderella appears and fits into the slipper. In some versions, she has kept its twin in her pocket. The evil stepsisters are rewarded by having their eyes pecked out by crows.
The glass slipper is unique to Perrault’s version; in other versions of the tale it may be made of other materials (in the version recorded by the Brothers Grimm, german: Aschenbroedel and Aschenputtel, for instance, it is gold) and in still other tellings, it is not a slipper but a ring or a bracelet that gives the prince the key to Cinderella’s identity. Interpreters unaware of the value attached to glass in 17th century France and perhaps troubled by sartorial impracticalities, have suggested that Perrault’s “glass slipper” (pantoufle de verre) had been a “fur slipper” (pantoufle de vair) in some unidentified earlier version of the tale, and that Perrault or one of his sources confused the words; however, most scholars believe the glass slipper was a deliberate piece of poetic invention on Perrault’s part.
The subject of Cinderella is very common for British pantomimes. In the pantomime form Cinderella’s father (Baron Hardup) is under the thumb of the stepmother. There are added characters such as Buttons (Baron Hardup’s servant, and Cinderella’s friend) and Dandini (the Prince’s right-hand man, the character and even his name coming from Rossini’s opera). The fairy Godmother must magically create a coach (from a pumpkin), footmen (from mice) and a beautiful dress for Cinderella in order for her to go to the ball. Her traditional line “Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!” has passed into common usage from gay culture where the meme of the “glamorous transformation” is a source of fascination and humor.
The idea that “Cinderella” embodies myth elements was explored in The Uses of Enchantment (1989) by Bruno Bettelheim, who made many connections to the principles of Freudian psychology. In more recent times, as Freud’s concepts have found more support as myth and poetry than as neurological science, it has seemed to mythographers less useful to explain one myth in terms of another myth. Instead, cultural elements (“memes” to some writers) may be disentangled from the Cinderella tale. Each social group, in re-telling “Cinderella,” has emphasized or suppressed individual elements and has given them interpretations that are especially relevant within each society. Mythographers return to Cinderella for hints of the social ethos embodied in it, and the familiar story proves to be a useful case example for young students beginning to understand how myth works. Thus serious uses come from what appears on the surface to be a trivial wish-fulfillment narrative.
The story of “Cinderella” has formed the basis of many works:
· La Cenerentola by Gioachino Rossini
· Cendrillon by Jules Massenet
· Aschenbroedel by Johann Strauss II
· Cinderella (music by Sergei Prokofiev)
· Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which was produced for television three times:
· Cinderella (1957) featuring Julie Andrews, Jon Cypher, Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley
· Cinderella (1965) featuring Lesley Ann Warren, Stuart Damon, Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon, and Celeste Holm
· Cinderella (1997) featuring Brandy, Paolo Montalban, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Bernadette Peters, and Jason Alexander.
· Cinderella, the 1899 first ever film version produced in France by Georges Méliès.
· Cinderella, 1911 silent film, starring Florence La Badie.
· Cinderella, an animated Laugh-O-Gram produced by Walt Disney, first released on December 6, 1922. This film was about 7 minutes long.
· Cinderella, Russian musical film of 1947, 84 min, by Lenfilm studios.
· The Slipper and the Rose, a 1976 British musical film starring Gemma Craven and Richard Chamberlain.
· Cinderella, an animated feature released on February 15, 1950, now considered one of Disney’s “classics”. A direct-to-video sequel, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, was released in 2002.
· Cinderfella, 1960, notorious because the main character is a man, played by Jerry Lewis.
· Ever After, 1998, starring Drew Barrymore.
· Cinderella, a 2000 British production set in mid-20th century and starring Kathleen Turner.
· A Cinderella Story, released July 16, 2004, is a modernization of the classic fairy tale featuring Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murry.
· Cinderelmo, a Cinderella story featuring Sesame Street’s Elmo and Keri Russell.
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