Our next Disney Princess is Cinderella. The Walt Disney version of Cinderella tells a tale about a girl who is living with her step-mother and her step-sisters. As tradition with most Disney princesses, she is also able to communicate with animals in a unique way. It seems that Cinderella’s only friends are these mice that live in her house. But, how did the Cinderella that we know so well develop from her original tale?
Cinderella – Early Tales
The story of Cinderella can be traced back as far as 7 BC, to the Egyptians and their version of the tale titled “Rhodopis.” In this tale, an eagle steals a woman’s shoe and drops it in the lap of a King. Once he finds the owner of the shoe, he marries her.
In versions of Cinderella from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, the fairy godmother is depicted as a fish that gets cooked. In some versions, the fish represents Cinderella’s mother’s spirit. When the fish is cooked, Cinderella seeks out the bones. When the bones are found and buried, a beautiful swing appears in the spot, which serves as Cinderella’s “glass slipper” because she is the only one who can make the swing move with her singing. In the version from Vietnam, Cinderella cooks her step-sister as revenge, and forces her step-mother to eat her. Dinner is served!
European Versions of Cinderella
The early European version of the story, published in 1634, is where we derive the name Cinderella. In this version, the girl is called “Cenerentola”, with “cenere” referring to ash or cinder in Italian. This version has many of the elements that we know in Walt Disney’s version – a wicked step-mother and step-sisters, magic, a missing slipper, and the search for the owner of the slipper.
In the French 1697 version of Cinderella, we add in the elements of the pumpkin, the fairy-godmother (finally, not a fish!), and the glass slipper. One big difference here is that the Prince is the one looking for a wife, not the King looking for a wife for his son. We see the animals turn into elements of Cinderella’s get-up, similar to the Walt Disney movie. The mice turn into horses, a rat becomes a coachman, and lizards become footmen. The spell in this tale would also be broken at midnight. Cinderella remembers to leave the ball on time, but a second ball is held the next evening in which we see her forget to leave on time. The Prince retains one of her glass slippers, and leads a search through the kingdom, looking for the wearer of the shoe.
Cinderella Meets Brothers Grimm
Finally, in the Brothers Grimm version, Cinderella’s name is Aschenputtel. Her father is alive. After his wife passes on, her marries a woman with two daughters. They steal everything Aschenputtel has, and force her to wear rags. They force her to do all of the chores. Through all of this, similar to the movie version that we know, Aschenputtel stays kind. One day, her father goes to a fair. The step-sisters ask him to bring back lavish presents, but Aschenputtel asks for a twig. When her father returns, she plants the twig over the mother’s grave. She waters the twig for years with her own tears. Eventually, a hazel tree sprouts up. The girl sits under it three times a day and tells a white bird her wishes. The bird would grant her wishes by throwing them down to her.
The King invited all of the maidens in the kingdom to attend a ball. The two sisters were invited, but Aschenputtel begged her step-mother to allow her to attend. The step-mother threw in her face that she had no dress or shoes to wear. Aschenputtel persisted to beg, and the step-mother threw lentils down into a pile of ashes twice, telling Aschenputtel that if she could clean them all up within two hours, (one hour the second time) that she would be allowed to go. A flock of doves helped Cinderella complete her task. Even though Aschenputtel proves twice that she can accomplish this, her step-mother goes back on her promise.
Cinderella goes out into her yard to ask the white bird for help. The bird provides a gown and silk shoes. Aschenputtel stays until sunset and the prince attempts to escort her home, but Aschenputtel runs away. The next day, Aschenputtel appears again to him, and he dances with her the whole day. When sunset comes again, Aschenputtel escapes him once more by climbing a pear tree. The next day, Aschenputtel and the prince spend the day together, but the prince plots to keep her this time. He covered the entire staircase in something sticky. Aschenputtel’s slipper gets stuck in the sticky substance, but she gets away, and the prince vows to marry the woman whose foot fit the slipper.
Here’s where it gets gruesome. The step-mother tells her daughters to cut off their toes to fit into the slipper- and they follow her directions. One daughter cuts off her toes and the other cuts off part of her heel. The Prince is almost fooled by the step-sister that cuts off part of her heel, until doves alert him of the blood on her foot. The prince returns to the house, furious, and demands to meet the only other maiden- the kitchen-maid. Once she appears, he recognizes her, and the slipper fits!
At Aschenputtel’s wedding, her step-sisters are her bridesmaids. At she is walking down the aisle, doves fly down and peck one of each step-sister’s eyes. At the end of the wedding, the doves return to finish the job- and the sisters are now completely blind. Now that is what I call justice!
In conclusion, Cinderella is a classic tale which has spanned time and culture, developing over time to become the Cinderella story whcih we know and love.