Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Nature of Cinderella

The Los Angeles Review of Books investigates symbolism and nature in Cinderella while reviewing some recent retellings.

From the piece...

On top of the many modern retellings, there are also a myriad of older versions that we might consider templates: not only Grimm’s “Aschenputtl” (published 1812), but also the Chinese “Yeh-hsien” (recorded circa 850), and Giambattista Basile’s Italian “Cerentola” (published 1634). Any consideration of the story we call “Cinderella” for simplicity’s sake must acknowledge that Cinderella has had a dizzying array of personae over hundreds of years, in several cultures. There is no one authoritative tale of Cinderella, only a hall of mirrors with a different face in each reflection.

One theme that older versions have in common, however, is the cultivation of a strong affinity between the main character and nature. In “Yeh-hsien,” the protagonist is given dresses and jewels by the magic bones of her pet fish. Another Chinese version of the tale, Lin Lan’s “Three Wishes,” portrays women reincarnated as animals. The beautiful young girl’s dead mother becomes a cow who aids her daughter with domestic tasks set by a cruel stepmother — until the stepmother kills and eats the cow. The Cinderella figure of that story, Beauty, is drowned in a well by her ugly stepsister, then transformed into a sparrow, then back again into a girl. The Grimm’s Cinderella has perhaps the most marked connection to nature. If the tale seems to emphasize the lowly status of Cinderella as a servant in her stepmother’s house, it is worth remembering that Cinderella is an employer of her own: she commands the birds to sort the lentils her stepmother has thrown into the ashes, and when she needs lovely clothes for the ball, she tells a hazel tree, “Shake your branches, little tree, / Toss gold and silver down on me.” Doves are her confederates, and when the stepsisters take knives to their feet in order to fit into Cinderella’s gold slipper, the birds warn the prince: “Roo coo coo, roo coo coo, / Blood’s in the shoe.”

This emphasis on nature may be due in part to a focus on transformation.

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