Is Cinderella just for children?
This post is from thoughts prompted by my listening to the BBC Radio 4 programme Sunday Worship on Sunday 12th May 2013. It contrasted some of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with stories from The Bible. I am just considering here Cinderella but the program also looked at Hansel and Gretal and Snow White.
The Cinderella story is thought to have been first written by French writer Charles Perrault, in Stories and Tales Of The Past (Histoires ou contes du temps passé) in 1697. It was adapted later by the Brothers Grimm into Aschenputtle, from which the Cinderella tale we know today probably evolved. In Ashenputtle there are clear differences in the story telling and some of the characters but it clearly that which became Cinderella.
The Cinderella story, or in our case Aschenputtle, has echoes of some of Jesus’ teaching in it. If you do not know this fairy tale, you can find out more about it, with a synopsis, from Wikipedia’s page for Cinderella. Aschenputtle/Cinderella now has hundreds, maybe thousands of variations around the world.
Two sisters, daughters of the rich man’s second wife after his first wife dies, persecute Aschenputtle and force her into a life of servitude, almost slavery. They wear find clothes and jewels and force Aschenputtle into rags. Whilst actually quite pretty, these sisters are spiritually barren and without compassion. Aschenputtle, who is not only now poor but was wealthy and lost everything when her father married again is, by contrast, pure of heart, compassionate and seemingly bears no ill will.
In the Grimm tale, whilst the sisters were never described as ugly, were even quite pretty, Aschenputtle was even prettier. The beautiful clothing, given her by the birds (or for Cinderella by the fairy godmother) so that she can go to the ball and meet the prince, can be imagined as a metaphor for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And we might think of the prince as a representation of Jesus, seeing the truth of the situation.
It seems fairly clear to me that modern day fairy tales, especially the kind that Disney produce like their version of Cinderella, and other publishers distribute, are designed not to upset anyone or offend peoples sensibilities but it was not always so. In Aschenputtle’s story the sisters even carry out self mutilation, to try and make the slipper fit and win over the prince. One sister cuts of her own big toe, and the other cuts of the heel of her foot. Can you imagine any parents today reading this to their children?
Is it really the children who need to be protected from this, or is it the parents squeamishness and perhaps overprotection of their children that might stop them reading this story out to their children?