Cinderella has always been one of my favorite fairy-tales. It’s not so much the rags-to-riches for me, or the romance, but the prevailing sense of justice when the girl who was treated so cruelly rises above, and takes the very place her tormentors were vying for.
The original bare-bones Cinderella fairy-tale versions leave much scope for the imagination. In fact, they fairly beg authors to come in and fill in the spaces. And many authors have. Here are just a sampling of Cinderella retellings:
Excerpt: That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the fairy touched my nose. “My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now stop crying child.” I stopped.
In one quick paragraph, Gail Carson Levine sets up Ella’s problem–the reason she didn’t just run away from her cruel step-family was that she physically couldn’t because of the fairy’s “blessing.” LOVE this story. It gives a whole new perspective on Cinderella. (Note: This book was made into a movie, but the two stories are quite different. You really need to read the book.) Here is how the author explains her Cinderella retelling:
I wrote it because I love fairy tales and I’d just read Beauty by Robin McKinley, which I admired enormously. (You should read it if you haven’t already.) I was starting a new writing class and needed an idea, so I thought maybe I could expand a fairy tale too. “Cinderella” is such an important tale, it’s the first one I thought of. But when I considered it, I realized I didn’t like Cinderella or understand her. She’s so disgustingly good! And why does she take orders from her horrible stepmother and stepsisters? It’s hard to write a book about a character who annoys and puzzles you. I was in trouble until I thought of the curse of obedience. Then I got it. Ella has to do as she’s told, and she takes revenge whenever she can. Read more at Gail Carson Levine’s website…
Excerpt: What do you know about yourself? What are your stories? The ones you tell yourself, and the ones told by others. All of us begin somewhere. Though I suppose the truth is that we begin more than once; we begin many times. Over and over, we start our own tales, compose our own stories, whether our lives are short or long. Until at last all our beginnings come down to just one end, and the tale of who we are is done. This is the first story I ever heard about myself: that I came into this world before my time. And that my coming was so sudden, hot, and swift, it carried everything before it away, including my mother’s life.
In this Cinderella retelling by Cameron Dokey, we meet Cendrillon, whose father is not merely absent or neglectful, but full-out shuns her as a baby, never wanting to see her again. At the same time, a new mystery is added to the Cinderella story with a baby boy who is brought to the house to grow up, and not allowed to leave the grounds. Yet another twist in this story is in the step family themselves. Cendrillon learns a different lesson from her stepmother than in other versions of Cinderella. No spoilers. You’ll have to read more yourself. I liked the twist.
Excerpt: Spring, 1403, Hagenheim Region Gisela huddled by the fire in her attic chamber, clutching the miniature portrait that fit in her hand. The artist had painted it the year before, when Gisela was seven. Father had been so handsome. Now that Gisela was eight and Father was gone, life could never be the same. If only she had stayed seven forever. “I love you,” she whispered, kissing her portrait-father’s cheek as a tear dripped off her chin. Her stepmother’s unforgiving wooden pattens clicked up the steps that led to Gisela’s attic room.
Melanie Dickerson gives a historic bent to this Cinderella retelling. The story of young Gisela, begins by following the traditional Cinderella story, but instead of slipping into any fairy-tale magic, it remains purely historical. She and the prince meet early on, allowing their relationship to grow throughout the scrapes they find themselves in. I haven’t finished reading this one yet so I don’t know if there are any further twists. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Excerpt: The fire had gone out, and I didn’t know what to do. I was covered with a king’s ransom of silk-sewn comforters and surrounded by six warming pans, so I was mostly warm. But my nose was exposed and freezing, and I heard no friendly crackling from the direction of the hearth. For some reason the chambermaid in charge of keeping my fire going had overslept or forgotten me. Or perhaps I had awakened too early, before it was time for her to come on duty. I hadn’t figured out the palace work schedule yet. The last time I awoke to freezing air and a dead fire, I simply got up and restarted it myself. “Ella,” I lectured myself, “you’re no stranger to tending fireplaces. Just because they put a crown on your head doesn’t mean your hands forgot how to work.”
Surprise! This retelling starts AFTER the ball. So, technically it’s not a pure retelling, but a sequel or spin-off. Margaret Peterson Haddix has my attention right away with this. Just what DID happen after the ball? Here, she starts post-ball, but pre-marriage. And the twist here is that the prince is not the Prince Charming we expect from the original Cinderella. How is this Ella going to cope with her move to the castle?
Excerpt: The screw through Cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean. Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket. A spark singed her fingertips and she jerked away, leaving the foot to dangle from a tangle of red and yellow wires.
Okay! Right away you can tell this is not your average Cinderella retelling. Cinderella is a cyborg in a futuristic New Beijing and instead of mad cleaning skills she’s got mad mechanical skills. Marissa Meyer has a crazy imagination and by crazy I mean amazing. This was such a fun read. So different from all the other retellings. Cinder is the first book in a series of connected fairy-tale retellings.
See Also: The Cinderella Interviews: Marissa Meyer
Here is my own take on the Cinderella story. I wondered: What would happen if the famous dress didn’t disappear, but lived on to have its own adventures? Around the same time I was having these thoughts, I read about how department store window dressing used to be a male occupation until WWII when the shortage of men made an opening for women to fill the positions. Why a male occupation you ask? Two major factors: one, the job was considered too physically demanding for women, and two, window dressing took place at night, and at least in New York City, there was a 10:00pm curfew on female employment. Oh boy, my imagination set to work. My thoughts about the fairy-tale dress and this historical fact collided and the image that popped into my head was Cinderella’s Dress on display in a Fifth Avenue department store in New York City during WWII. Now all I had to do was figure out how it got there, and what were the consequences for displaying such a famous dress?
More books have come out since I wrote this post. Check out Intellectual Recreation’s blog post for more.