The Many Lives of Cinderella
November 03, 2013
Where would we be without Cinderella? That feisty, scullery maid-turned-princess has made an eternal footprint on our collective imaginations, showing up wherever fairy tales are told. The most famous version of the story, even overshadowing the one by the formidable Brothers Grimm, is the French variant codified by Charles Perrault. Perrault’s account gives us the pumpkin-into-a-coach, the fairy godmother, and the glass slippers (the Grimms’ version has golden shoes, no fairy magic, and 400% more eyes gouged out by birds).
It’s no wonder that Cinderella keeps popping up in pop culture. She represents every wish and every dream you’ve ever had. She is a symbol, the hope that you hold in your heart that someday your life will be easier and the world more just. She shows that humble beginnings can lead to great things and that wickedness can be defeated by good. Cinderella does what all fairy tales are supposed to do; they remind us that happily ever after is going to take some effort.
Here are some versions of the Cinderella story that you may enjoy. The best part? The fun doesn’t have to end at midnight.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Once upon a time in 1957, Rodgers and Hammerstein were the kings of Broadway. When they chose Cinderella as their first television production, there’s no way they could have known the generations that would grow up humming “In My Own Little Corner” or tapping their toes to “The Prince is Giving a Ball." That original show in ’57 starred a lovely Julie Andrews, and remakes in 1965 and 1997 were headlined by Lesley Ann Warren and Brandy, respectively. And earlier this year, Cinderella and company did the “Impossible” by finally opening on Broadway.
Walt Disney’s Cinderella
Disney often gets accused of dumbing down our favorite fairy tales, but Uncle Walt’s vision of our glass-shoed heroine actually has some surprises. Included in this 1950s classic is a scene where the stepsisters viciously destroy Cindy’s mouse-made dress and another where the glass slipper gets broken before she gets to try it on! Spoiler alert: she lives happily ever after anyway.
Into the Woods
Cinderella is just one of several subplots in this musical fairy tale mashup. Writers, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, cling to the Grimm version of the story—the one without a fairy godmother and with physical mutilation. This Cinderella is earnest but conflicted, commenting at one point that “wanting a ball isn’t wanting a prince!” In the end, though, she finds what she’s looking for (and is one of the few characters to actually survive until the finale).
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Lucinda the fairy godmother thought she was bestowing a gift when she decreed that baby Ella would be obedient—but Lucinda always was a bit of a crackpot. As she grows older, it is evident that Ella is forced by magic to obey every order given to her. What could go wrong when a nasty stepmother and two ungainly stepsisters move in? By the way, do yourself a favor and skip the movie.
Okay, so this one doesn’t actually have anything to do with Cinderella. It’s about a boxer and… well… that’s all I got. I don’t even know why I’m talking about it. Never mind.
Way back in 1969, Jim Henson was making his name known with a little show called Sesame Street, but his hands were full with several other projects, too. One of them was Hey Cinderella!, a silly, spoofy TV movie featuring the most absent-minded fairy godmother you ever did see (she can’t exactly remember what happened to Pinocchio, but she thinks she left him in a whale somewhere…). Sadly, this gem has never been released on DVD, but hey, a dream is a wish your heart makes.
The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey
The first entry in Lackey’s The Five Hundred Kingdoms series introduces the Tradition: a curse that compels said kingdoms to conform to fairy tale tropes… or else. In The Fairy Godmother, Elena is supposed be a new Cinderella—but when things go wrong, she becomes an apprentice fairy godmother instead. Things go wrong again when she turns a prince into a donkey. But if there’s anything the Cinderella story teaches us, it’s that you can’t keep a good girl down.
And there are more. Cinderella shows up as a spy in Fables, a pregnant teen in the first season of Once Upon a Time, part of a trio of crime-fighting princesses in The Stepsister Scheme, a cyborg mechanic in Cinder, and a 200-year-old matriarch in The 10th Kingdom. Don’t forget Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George, and Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey. And we haven’t even touched on the various operas, poems, short stories, and ballets! If you’re hungry for more, I recommend the Cinderella pages at SurLaLune Fairy Tales. Cinderella is everywhere and everlasting, which just goes to prove that a good pair of shoes can change your life.