Friday, March 23, 2012

Cinderella and Her Just Rewards

An online article from The Telegraph, February 12, 2012 (http://www.telegraph. reported the top ten fairy tales that parents avoid sharing with their children. Previous posts have considered the tenth most objectionable tale through the seventh. Today’s post is about the sixth, “Cinderella.”

Grimm’s version is a dark tale of trial and tribulation, of good and evil, characteristics that put it on par with grand epics and classic literature. From Genesis to the Hunger Games, story-tellers have explored man’s selfishness and his angelic promise fulfilled in selflessness. These features are what make Cinderella a great story and one worth sharing with your children.

First, allow me to review Grimm’s version of the tale, available for you to read at

            Cinderella, already a good and pious child, is at her mother’s bedside as she dies, her last words admonishing Cinderella to live life as a good and pious person and with the promise that she will be watching from above. Cinderella mourns her mother’s loss all her days, often returning to her mother’s grave to weep. She even asks her father to bring her the branch of the first tree that brushes against his hat when he travels so that she can plant this branch on her mother’s grave. From it and with Cinderella’s tears, a lovely tree takes root and flourishes.

Cinderella’s father, as was common in years gone by, takes another wife within the first year of his first wife’s death. She brings two daughters of her own to the marriage. All three are full of pride and carry hearts of stone within their breasts. They bully Cinderella, making her wear common, old clothes and forcing her to do the labor. They even assign her fruitless chores such as picking bowls of lentils out of the ashes of the kitchen fire.

This is the stepmother’s cruel joke when Cinderella begs for permission to attend the King’s three-day festival. First, Cinderella must pick one bowl of lentils from the ashes in one hour, and when she succeeds, two bowls. Cinderella succeeds each time because Nature is kind to her, sending birds to assist her in separating the good lentils from the debris. Still, the stepmother refuses to allow her to go because, she says, Cinderella will shame them.

To console herself, Cinderella goes to the tree at her mother’s grave and prays that Nature befriend her again by providing beautiful clothes. Like the warmth of the sun, an elegant gown falls upon her shoulders and thus, with her wishes fulfilled, Cinderella joins the festivities where, you may remember, she becomes the center of the Prince’s universe. He wants to escort her home so that he can know her circumstances, but Cinderella flees each day, first to her father’s pigeon-house and second to a pear tree. Both times, Cinderella is so agile and quick-thinking that she escapes without being identified, even after the Prince asks her father, the owner of the pigeon house and tree, to help him search.

Cinderella’s father doesn’t even recognize his own daughter, but he does wonder if it could be she. Still, when he searches for her, he finds her in her old dirty clothes asleep on the ashy hearth.

The Prince is driven to learn who Cinderella is. He orders that the staircase leading to and from his estate be painted with tar, and when Cinderella tries to flee on the third day, one slipper remains behind, stuck in the tar. With this shoe, the Prince tries to identify his one true love. The first stepsister’s foot is much too big so her mother advises her to cut off her toe, trusting that she will not need to walk when she becomes the Prince’s bride. The blood, of course, betrays the stepsister when Nature’s messengers, the birds, call the Prince’s attention to it. Similarly, the second stepsister fails after she cuts off her heel at her mother’s suggestion and leaves a blood trail.

No one, neither Cinderella’s father nor her hard-hearted stepmother, supports the Prince’s request to try the shoe on Cinderella. When they relent, they see that she is indeed the beauty and object of the Prince’s affection.

When Cinderella marries, the stepsisters ask to be part of the processional. One walks on each side of the bride, and on their shoulders light birds that pluck out their eyes before ceremony’s end. Thus, the stepsisters are forever punished for their cruelty. They were blind to Cinderella’s goodness and must live their lives without sight for never having learned humility or begging forgiveness for their wickedness. They simply wanted to share in Cinderella’s good fortune.

Cinderella, as you can infer, is very moral tale. Good and evil face off, and good wins. Nature itself takes a side in the battle, helping good and punishing bad. The big ideas within this tale include:

·      A mother’s love endures beyond the grave. From the tree planted on her grave come the birds that blind the step-sisters and the birds that grace Cinderella as she rides beside her Prince for the first time. In addition, from that tree comes the beautiful clothing that shows Cinderella's beauty.
·      Nature’s bounty is a blessing to those deserving. Cinderella might never have overcome without the help and support of nature, especially the birds that render aid when she must pick lentils from ash and deliver punishments to the vain, fickle stepsisters.
·      Life may try us, but it need not destroy us. Cinderella endures her mother’s death, her father’s neglect, her step-mother’s cruelty, and her step-sisters’ bullying, but she remains good and pious. And life rewards her as her mother promised. She finds love, wealth, security, and status.
·      Human beings have within them the power to shape their lives. Cinderella chooses to honor her mother’s advice, and in so doing, she bypasses bitterness and regret.
·      The choices we make can restore us to well-being or jeopardize our happiness. All the other adults in Cinderella’s household lose their happiness to pride and envy, but Cinderella remains loyal and lovely inside and out.

Even though there are few role models in Grimm’s version of “Cinderella,” there is still much to be gained by sharing the story with children. They will read about a hero who overcame hardship, sorrow, and cruelty.

Reading Challenge:

Find a copy of Cinder-Edna, a modern spin on the old tale. In this version, Cinder-Edna does not adore girly things. She wants to be resourceful and capable, and she succeeds.

An alternate or additional reading is the online article “Cinderella Fairy Tales: Online Resources” by Elizabeth Kennedy for About .com (http://childrensbooks. You will discover that many cultures in many ages have told and retold versions of the Cinderella story. Sometimes she is unattractive; sometimes she is even a boy. Follow the links in the article and learn more about Cinderella’s appeal.

Writing Challenge:

Like many romance tales, Cinderella stories include magical elements that help the protagonist survive and succeed. Most of the Cinderella stories feature an oppressed protagonist who is good, so good, in fact, that he or she escapes a life of poverty and sorrow, lifted from lowly circumstances into an idealized existence, loved for character rather than birthright.

Write your own version of a Cinderella tale, using the traits noted above.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Commonly Confused Words, Pour and Pore

The hard-hearted stepmother poured a bowl of lentils in the ashes of a kitchen fire, demanding that Cinderella separate them from the ashes in one hour. Cinderella succeeded because the birds came to help her. Together they pored over the debris and plucked the lentils from the ash.

Pour, spelled with the vowels “ou,” means that something, like lentils, flows from the bowl or someone, like the stepmother, causes the lentils to flow by tilting the bowl so that they spill into the ashes.

Pore, spelled with an “o” and an “e” at the end of the word, means to examine or study something as Cinderella and the birds did while trying to pick out the lentils from the ash.

Pore is also a noun, and every teenager is familiar with its meaning. It’s a small opening like those that gather dirt in your skin and make life miserable when you want to look your best.