If the Shoe Fits: Cinderella 345 Ways

We all know the story of Cinderella, in the western sphere most of us grew up with the child-friendly, heavily sanctioned Disney-esque version that was read to us as children by parents or teachers. Some of us then later stumbled on the darker gothic Brothers Grimm versions where we discovered step sisters slicing off heels and toes to try and cram their feet into tiny slippers, and the happily ever after ending somewhat marred by the vicious revenge twist where Cinderella’s helpful little birdy friends suddenly turned ferocious and pecked out the eyes of the step-sisters as they exited the chapel. These Grimm step-sisters still fared better than their equivalents who: in Japan fall to their death, in the Philippines are torn to pieces by wild horses, and in Indonesia are forced into a pot of boiling water and sent to the step-mother as her next meal![1]

Part of the reason I love folklore so much is the resilience of these stories. They survive throughout the ages, continuously changing to remain both popular and relevant, and by tracing this evolution we can yield information on cultural and social changes in populations. The Cinderella type theme is one of the most prevalent and can been found in multiple cultures throughout the span of time. The earliest known recorded version is thought to be Rhodopis, a tale about the Greek courtesan, Rhodopis, who had one of her shoes snatched by an eagle while bathing one day. The eagle then dropped the shoe into the lap of an Egyptian king who searched high and low for the owner, and on meeting Rhodopis fell in love and married her. This tale was recorded in the 1st century BC by the Greek historian Strabo[2] and while this does show how far back these stories go, it is important to remember that this is the first recorded version and it is highly likely these stories circulated in oral forms before this.

In 1893 Marian Roalfe Cox had already collected and published a study of 345 different variants of “Cinderella” that she could connect or trace to each other. These varied considerably and took 3 distinct forms, but they all still follow a recognizable theme.  One of my personal favorite versions, mostly due to the absurdity of it all, is Donkey Skin, a tale collected by the French folklorist Charles Perrault about 100 years before the Grimm brothers started their collections. This story tells the tale of a young princess thrown into turmoil when her mother dies and through complex motivations ends up facing the prospect of having to marry her own father, the king. Aghast at this turn of events the young princess turns to her godmother for advice who, after three foiled plots, eventually suggests that the princess demands that her father give her the skin of his most prized possession: a gold coin pooping donkey (yes really- a gold pooping donkey!). The King does so, and the princess flees the kingdom, wearing the fresh skin over her head as a disguise. Eventually the girl finds a job as a scullery maid in the castle of another province, and she becomes known as a little freak they all call Donkey Skin – because she never takes it off in the company of others. (It must be noted that this is not just the girl wrapping the donkey skin around herself like a cloak, but covering herself from head to toe like a home-made, bed sheet Halloween ghost costume). Eventually the prince glimpses Donkey Skin uncovered, falls in love, and after Donkey Skin becomes the only girl who can fit into a lost ring all live happily ever after… but I still have to say, even though the Donkey Skin came off, the fact she was wearing a rotting carcass for months on end would still be a deal-breaker for me.

[1] “Cinderella”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.

[2] Roger Lancelyn Green: Tales of Ancient Egypt, London:Penguin, 2011

2 thoughts on “If the Shoe Fits: Cinderella 345 Ways

  1. Sure – one whiff of Donkey-skin-eau-du-parfum and you’re outta there. *But* I bet her equine disguise kept her ‘ass’ looking sallow white, which of course was highly sort after at the time ;p

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