Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When Is It a Cinderella Tale?

While compiling Cinderella Tales From Around the World, I leaned heavily on the work of Marian Roalfe Cox and Anna Birgitta Rooth as well as the ATU classification system. All of these are discussed in much greater detail in my introduction to the book, but I don't want to get too engrossed in those elements here on the blog. In other words, let's get on to the tales, yes?

But first I will spend a few days talking about the different types of Cinderella tales. I admit, when I started the project years ago, I started out thinking Cinderella was boring. And, to be fair, the one we know so well is rather so because we are saturated with her. Perrault's Cinderella dominates all the others in popular culture and while I appreciate his genius in storytelling--even more so after immersing myself in this project--most of us are rather weary of glass slippers and pumpkin carriages, aren't we?

Across her many, many incarnations, Cinderella is a murderess. She is a victim of incest. She is a victim of future spouse abuse. She can be smart. She can be dumb. She can be humble. She can be haughty. One thing she never is, at least anywhere I read, is a cannibal, although sometimes her sisters are. Sometimes she even gets an unhappy ending. I found versions of her I quite enjoyed. And through them all, I detected her power to keep enchanting us as readers despite our preconceptions.

My book focuses on five Cinderella tale types that are surprisingly different and wouldn't even be called Cinderella by someone interviewed on the street. But Cinderella they are.

Throughout these versions, five primary motifs appear over and over, signifying a Cinderella tale:

1) Persecuted heroine, usually by family
2) Help or helper, usually magic
3) Meeting the prince, usually with true identity disguised
4) Identification or penetration of disguise, usually by means of an object
5) Marriage to the prince

As Marian Roalfe Cox wrote in her own Cinderella:

In compiling this collection of variants the difficulty has not been in tracing resemblances, but rather in determining what degree of family likeness or relationship shall constitute eligibility. Numerous “as the sand and dust” are the stories which have received their share of a family heritage. A particular folk-tale incident may recur in an endless number of permutations and combinations with other sets of incidents, and hopeless is the task of comprehending a series whose term is infinity.

For this reason, this collection is focused upon the female Cinderellas and does not include the Cinderlads which often follow a similar pattern of elements. Quite simply, there was neither space nor time for them.

So over the next five days, I'll discuss these five tale types. And then I'll start sharing individual tales themselves, the ones I fear may get lost in the deluge of tales found in the book. The ones that will hopefully inspire you to want to read more about Cinderella under all her names.

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