Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What is the Cinderella Cycle?

What is the Cinderella Cycle? No, it's not Huffy Disney Cinderella Bike (Starlight/Magical Blue, Medium/16-Inch). Sorry, I couldn't resist! That bicycle is one of the top search engine results when you search for Cinderella Cycle on the web.

But our Cinderella Cycle is a term popularized by Anna Birgitta Rooth in her book of the same name, The Cinderella Cycle, first published in 1951. It is long out of print and somewhat rare, but very useful book in understanding the breadth and depth of Cinderella tales.

From my introduction to Cinderella Tales From Around the World:

While there is no official count of Cinderella tales—finding an exact number is virtually impossible—the general consensus is that well over 1,000 variants, with a conservative estimate of over twice that amount, have been recorded as part of literary folklore. In the past few decades, no scholar has apparently taken on the task of tallying them all, presumably due to the vastness of the project. In the end, more countries around the world have at least one, if not several Cinderellas, in their folklore than do not, whether it was created independently or borrowed from another culture.

During the 1800s, many folklorists were focused on finding the genesis tale, the original Cinderella that birthed all the others. Influenced by the scientific principles of evolution as well as language development, many theories were posited and the search for the evolution and genealogy of the tale inspired much research, scholarly papers, and heated debate. The most popular theories centered around India and China origins with a migration towards Europe, but the search and its accompanying theories have mostly fallen into disfavor, or at least a lack of interest, in current times.

First, a definition of a Cinderella tale has to be agreed upon. The Cinderella Cycle, as it was termed by Anna Birgitta Rooth, or the family of Cinderella tales to oversimplify the term, is surprisingly diverse and at first glance appears to be a hodgepodge of tales only barely related. But when the collection is viewed in its entirety, the tales reveal similar plots, themes and events that demonstrate their unity under the Cinderella label. These days we have The Types of International Folktales, a system developed by Anti Aarne, Stith Thompson and Hans-Jorg Uther (ATU System), to categorize the Cinderella tales although some tales defy an easy identification. Since it is the system most used by folklorists today, and also the simplest for cataloging the different Cinderellas, we will use it here without being restricted by it, for some tales fit more than one type or none of the types very comfortably.
For the rest of this week, I will be sharing more of the history of Cinderella scholarship as well as the Cinderella Cycle itself, offering the definition of a Cinderella tale I settled upon to compile my book.


  1. All this for Cinderella? I know it's popular, but it's not that great of a fairy tale.

    Anyway, I thought I'd just mention that I found an interesting one in a book of Yiddish Folk Tales recently. It starts off like "Like Meat Loves Salt" then turns into "Cinderella" part way through then changes back to "Like Meat Loves Salt".

  2. Can't wait to read all about it. Cinderella has been an extremely influentual tale. The scholarship or "genealogy" of fairy tales and folk tales is fascinating.