Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Not Really a Cinderella Type: ATU 480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls

Okay, so I had to devote a little time to a non-Cinderella tale in Cinderella Tales From Around the World. The type is ATU 480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls.

From my introduction to the book:

ATU 480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls

Finally, it is important to briefly discuss another tale type, ATU 480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls, which is not generally considered a Cinderella tale but is often designated as one in popular publications, especially children’s picture books. This tale type has numerous variants—-it may even rival Cinderella in number—-although the range in motifs is narrower than in the Cinderella Cycle. Only one extensive study of the tale type has been published, The Tale of the Kind and Unkind Girls by Warren E. Roberts, in 1958. The type has a persecuted heroine and a royal marriage, but it does not usually include disguises, an identifying object, or even a magical helper in the style of Cinderella tales. Once again, one of the best known versions of the tale can be found in Perrault’s work, this time a tale called The Fées (The Fairies) but more commonly known as Diamonds and Toads in English translations. Another popular version is the Grimms’s Frau Holle (Mother Holly). One of the earliest recorded versions appears in Giambattista Basile’s Il Pentamerone circa 1630 as The Two Cakes, but elements of it appear even earlier in The Old Wives’ Tale by George Peele in 1595.

A young woman is persecuted by her mother and sister and given the menial labor of the house. When she is sent on an errand away from home, she encounters opportunities to serve others, which she cheerfully does without complaint. A fairy or other magical being rewards her generosity and goodness with the blessing that jewels and gold will fall from her mouth whenever she speaks, combs her hair, etc. Upon returning home, her mother witnesses the good fortune and decides to send the favored daughter on the same path so that she will receive the same blessings by doing the same work. However, the ill-natured daughter complains and either performs the tasks terribly or not at all. The fairy then punishes her so that snakes and lizards will fall from her mouth whenever she speaks. A prince meets the good daughter and decides that her ability to produce riches merely through speech is a more than adequate dowry, so he marries her. The unkind daughter eventually dies, either bitten by one of the snakes, living as a societal outcast, or killed in some other way for her nastiness.

These ATU 480 tales directly compare the two opposite sisters and have them receive rewards based upon their behaviors, a much less subtle and more didactic message of goodness rewarded. The meeting with the prince is usually a minor part of the story and only a final reward for her goodness, not a major plot device. However, similar story elements often appear in both these tales and Cinderella tales, thus blurring the lines between the tale types.

That about covers it without belaboring the point. For example, The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci and Jerry Pinkney, a picture book, is often offered in curriculm and discussions a Cinderella tale. Technically no. And I put the tale it was derived from, also The Talkings Eggs, in Cinderella Tales From Around the World to make that point. I love the book. I love the tale. It can make an interesting classroom discussion and I am not fighting it for classroom use. I want it there! But it's not a true Cinderella.

If I keep my health and my years-long plan--there's a spreadsheet!--I will do a Kind and Unkind Girls book collection and perhaps three people will buy it. It will easily be a 828 page book, too. There are hundreds of this ATU 480 tale type. And they are much more similar to each other than the Cinderella tales which are really quite dissimilar as you've seen from this multi-day discussion.

But to be sure, some of the Cinderellas share many elements with Diamonds and Toads and its variants so the confusion is understandable. A few rare tales could be typed as both, but not often.

And an assumed Cinderella tale markets so much better to a general book-buying audience than "It's a Kind and Unkind Girl tale!" That practically begs for low sales numbers, doesn't it? And adults grow bored with this tale and its didacticism. But young kids love it because it's just so very FAIR. How often is life really fair after all? Even in fair-y tales?

Tomorrow: No more tale types discussion and on to some Cinderella history. Earliest Cinderellas, anyone?


  1. I would love to see a collection of Kind and Unkind Girls tales, Heidi!

  2. "The Kind and Unkind girls" tale is one of my absolute favorite type of fairy tale besides Cinderella. I too would absolutely love to see a collection based on that, and would buy it in a heartbeat.

  3. I love "The Kind and Unkind Girls" tales. Will there be a collection of these tales, Heidi? I found none on Amazon. And being French, I can't find such collections easily...