We all know the story of Cinderella, right? The pumpkin and glass slipper, the fairy godmother and the ugly sisters… Or, maybe we’re also familiar with the Grimms’ portrayal of the tale – Ashputtel – with no trace of a Hallowe’en vegetable at all. In the version of the tale recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812, poor little Ashputtel has nothing but a hazel tree for a fairy godmother (albeit one with a magical dove in it, who grants her every wish) and her sisters are quite pretty – although foul of heart. By 1819, they’d updated their story to include a truly grim ending: both sisters having their eyes pecked out by Cinderella’s magical doves.
So, the pumpkin and glass slipper were invented by Disney, weren’t they? To give the dark tale a happy ending for the modern child? Well, no. If we travel back further in time, beyond the Grimm’s records of their contemporary German folk-tales, way back to 1697 (115 YEARS BG – Before Grimm) we find all the familiar ingredients of the story as we know it. Charles Perrault, in his book Stories or Fairytales from Past Times, tells the tale we’re all familiar with including the glass slipper and the fairy godmother (both of which features people say he invented for the story himself). There’s the pumpkin and the happy ever after, too, of course. And he tells us in the title that this is a story that had been told for a long long time before he’d set it down in writing, in French.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there… Various British forms of the story abound, including one English telling called Tattercoats with no wicked stepmother, no ugly sisters, no pumpkins and no fairy godmothers… But it does have a poor neglected daughter (grand-daughter in this case, actually), a magical transformation (also involving birds) and a happily-ever-after-marriage-to-the-Prince.
So, what’s it all about, and why so many adaptations? Can we ever really know what the true, authentic interpretation of this story is? And does it really matter?
I’ll be exploring some of the answers to these questions and pondering the elusive “truth” of the fairy tale more deeply in my review of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old – published to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Grimms’ original collection. Coming soon.