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The Cinderella Story and its background

The Wolf and Seven Kids can be used an example of a relationship between legends and first fairy tales.

Painting of Cinderella by Thomas Sully

Painting of Cinderella by Thomas Sully

Cinderella, the most popular fairy tale in the world

She is kind, patient and beautiful. Cinderella's classic rags to riches story give us loads of consolation and inspiration. She lost a mother, her father was of no help, her step mother and step sisters mocked and humiliated her but she never gave up.

Although being sad and disappointed, her spirit stayed optimistic and eventually she became the ultimate winner in the game of life. Experts believe this story is more than one thousand years old and we can find at least 1500 (yes, two zeroes!) variations of the same fairy tale all over the world, sometimes with really surprising messages and twists, always with a gracious girl in a leading and winning role.

(Intro image by Thomas Sully, all used images are in public domain, more info at the end of the article under 'My resources'.)

Ever heard about the Cinderella complex?

Short summary

Russian version of Cinderella (called Vassilissa) by Ivan Bilibin

Russian version of Cinderella (called Vassilissa) by Ivan Bilibin

After his wife's death, a father of little girl starts searching for a new lady - to be a wife for him and a mother for the little girl. He decided to marry a nice widow who already had two daughters from her previous marriage. But after they marry, new wife showed totally different character. She started to degrade her new step daughter, turned her into a servant or even a slave, forcing her to sleep in the ash and mockingly called her a Cinderella.

After a while, a king of the country announced his son is ready for marriage. All girls from the neighborhood are invited to the ball and Cinderella would like to go too. But her stepmother doesn't allow her, only her true daughters will go. Well, this doesn't stop Cinderella, who goes to the dance with a help of some magic.

Prince falls in love with the beautiful girl who wasn't recognised by anybody. When she leaves the party, she loses a shoe and prince decides he will marry the girl who's feet fits the shoe. All girls from near and far tried to put it on, but only Cinderella (despite the sabotage by her vicious step mother) managed to get in. She marries the prince and they live happily ever after.

Cinderella on Blu ray

Timeless Disney's classic from 1950 is now available in the highest possible definition in the three discs edition. Enjoy probably the most famous fairy tale ever in the comfort of your home with your family.

Rhodope (role model for Cinderella) was possibly Aesop's mistress.

Rhodope (role model for Cinderella) was possibly Aesop's mistress.

When we are talking about the history of Cinderella, we must not forget the story titled Cenerentola from Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile. His Zezzola is not a so innocent character as we expect from today's Cinderella, but many well-known elements (second marriage, two stepsisters, golden shoe, a tree, a king who tries three times to catch her, ...) are more than obvious.

There are several differences in both retellings and I will list them only briefly:

Ashputtel, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Ashputtel, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Little Glass Slipper: shoes are made of glass, we have a fairy as a helper, in the end stepsisters are forgiven and married too, non-religious, lots of humour.

Aschenputtel: shoes are made of gold, birds and a tree as helpers, in the end, stepsisters are cruelly punished, many religious references, no humour.

Aschenputtel by Anton Seder

Aschenputtel by Anton Seder

Some of the most important symbols in Cinderella

- A Shoe (a slipper): footwear is an important status symbol; in the story Puss in Boots a cat became a respected member of society only after gets a pair of boots. With Cinderella, we have almost the same case. She needs them to get to the ball, she needs the again, to marry the prince. In Twelve Dancing Princesses, they almost lost their position thanks to worn out shoes and so on.

- Pumpkin: it is related to witchcraft, protects against evil spirits and related with everything feminine. Pumpkin seeds symbolize the possibility of the dream coming true, just like a huge pumpkin can grow out of a small seed.

- Mirrors: they can show wealth (mirrors were very expensive in the past) like in the story of Bluebeard, warn us about the deceptiveness of an image (Cinderella is a much better person than her image shows) and can also serve as an imaginary door into different reality (think about Alice in the Wonderland).

- Ash: it is a symbol of loss and mourning, it represents the end of a certain period of life (in this case carefree childhood) and hope for something new, better, what is seen at mythological bird Phoenix.

- Gold (we have gold carriage in some and gold shoes in other cases): maturity, wealth, competitiveness, sustainability and justice. In Christianity symbolizes eternal light (Perrault and brothers Grimm were all very religious).

Similarities with other fairy tales

Cinderella is not an isolated island in the world folklore, so we can easily relate it to many other fairy tales. We have already mentioned Puss in boots and Bluebeard (both through shared symbolism).

Thanks to recurring pattern riches-to-rags-to-riches in many fairy tales we can also relate it to the story of Beauty and the Beast or Jack and the Bean-Stalk.

There are also many fairy tales with absent, arrogant or incompetent father, like Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, ...

Jealousy among sisters or mother (step-mother) and daughter is another easily recognizable pattern: Snow White, The Wishing Table, Beauty and the Beast, ...

We could continue with more elements lake proof of identity which is interchangeable with worthiness (Donkeyskin, Goose Girl, ...) or importance of given word (The Frog King, Rumpelstiltskin, ...)

Illustrators love this scene most of all

Cinderella running away, illustrated by Anne Anderson

Cinderella running away, illustrated by Anne Anderson

To learn more about the artist, just click on the link below the image.

My resources

Are you a fan of the Cinderella's story too?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 07, 2014:

Great to hear that, emi sue!

Emily Lantry from Tennessee on October 05, 2014:

This was really interesting. Cinderella is one of my favorite classics. Thanks for sharing. :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 18, 2014:

Some thing can't never become old at all, JosephDickens:)

Joseph Chen from Houston, TX on September 17, 2014:

Yep..Somethings are never too old for the things you love :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 17, 2014:

Some things are never too old, right? Thanks for stopping by, JosephDickens!

Joseph Chen from Houston, TX on September 15, 2014:

This is an old story but I keep on reading it over and over again. It brings me fantasies. :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 15, 2014:

Thank you very much, Dolores Monet, I appreciate your visit!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on September 15, 2014:

Thanks for the backstory of this old tale. I loved the illustrations. especially the Russian one.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 03, 2014:

@tazzytamar: It is not the most popular story in the world for nothing, i suppose ...

Anna from chichester on August 02, 2014:

I love the Cinderella story and I always have :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 02, 2014:

@Colin323: Please do, you'll be surprised how much lies behind a simple fairy tale:)

Colin323 on February 27, 2014:

@TolovajWordsmith: That's interesting; I didn't know that. I'll look out for that version.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 27, 2014:

@Colin323: If life was fair, we wouldn't have fairy tales. About prince marrying commoner ... Cinderella is in most versions considered as a member from upper class and in some she is even a princess from a house which lost money and status for some reason.

Colin323 on February 26, 2014:

It ticks all the boxes: a poor girl makes good; wicked stepmother gets her come-uppance; prince marries a commoner for love. If only life was so far and satisfying!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 14, 2014:

@traveldestinations: Aren't we all? ;)

traveldestinations on February 13, 2014:

I am a fan of the Cinderella's story.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 06, 2014:

@Elsie Hagley: Although I grew up with Perrault's Cendrillon, I prefer Grimms' Aschenputtel too.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on February 05, 2014:

I used to love reading this fairy tale as a child in the 1940s. There have been many versions since, but I still like the Grimm's fairy tale the best.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 05, 2014:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 05, 2014:

@takkhisa: We probably all have some kind of image 'preset' in this case. Thanks for stopping by!

WriterJanis2 on February 05, 2014:

I love this story and love the Disney movie. Very interesting to read about the symbols involved. It makes perfect sense. So thrilled to read something new from you!

Takkhis on February 05, 2014:

When I hear the name "Cinderella" I first think of a beautiful girl that I have discovered on TV first.

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