A vast amount of what I did for the first month of the first lockdown was extensively and minutely deconstructing Cinderella variations. It started as a process to identify what exactly a Cinderella story is, what elements are present in all of the different versions. I say “all of the versions”, There are more than 700, some scholars claim over a thousand. I’m collaborating with another storyteller and together we are examining in detail a sample of 21 stories, carefully selected through rigorous, scientific criteria such as “We’ve got to have this one: there’s a talking horse in it!”.
Inspired by questions like “Do all Cinderella’s have a Fairy Godmother?” (Nope. Not by a long way), or “How many have wicked step mothers?” (significantly less than half), we have uncovered some shocking statistics. Our perception of the story has been altered to a point that will be hard to explain in the time available for a theatre show. One of the surprising revelations being that the apparently desirable royal male is far from the bland, two dimensional, characterless but handsome, Identikit prince that we initially thought.
I wrote In January about the problem with princes failing to recognise the heroine and going away with a step sister who has cut her toes off, but that is just the tip of the deeply disturbing princeberg. In the popular imagination, a glass slipper being taken around to all the women in the country until the ash covered kitchen wench puts her foot in it and is re-united with her paramour, sits at the centre of the Cinderella myth. Statistically though, only one out of the full seven hundred styles a slipper of glass, and a mere half of the tales in our sample feature footwear of any sort. So bear in mind that, Out of the 21 ‘princes’ we have looked at (some are kings, some are just rich blokes), the following litany of dodgy shoe related behaviours take place within only twelve tales and our experience so far is that even worse are likely to come to light if you look any further.
Four of the princes, having become enamoured of their respective sink skivies, are unable to find out who they are or where they come from. In two of these cases the posh plonker hasn’t even attempted to engage the object of his “affection” in conversation or considered asking her directly. The other two have asked but, despite getting no answer, have failed to get the hint. These four delightful examples of regal breeding take it in to their heads that they have a right to know and that the best way to find out is to obtain one of her shoes. This they set about doing by taking tar (or in one case, honey) and spreading it all over the exit of a public building. Nobody questions this and no charges are brought.
One prince obtains the hapless girl’s shoe by sending a servant to pursue her coach until, in her hurry to get away, she sheds a slipper. Another takes matters in to his own hands and, grabbing her foot as she tries to ride away from the church, hangs on until he hauls her multicoloured mule from it’s mount.
Four more royal males begin a search for our leading lady without ever having met her: they simply find her little, lost slipper and become obsessed with marrying the woman whose foot would be small enough to fit. The two, so called, lovers do not exchange so much as a word before the testing of the tiny treads brings about their, usually instantaneous, wedding. That’s a full 20% of cinderella stories being basically a shoe fetishists fantasy.
Most of the twelve slipper searchers simply announce that they are going to marry the woman who can get the slipper on. No further proposal is made. In fact out of the entire cohort of monarchical muppets, only two actually ask the female protagonist if she wants to marry him and only one gets a positive answer, but all of them end up married regardless.
This reveals a dizzying level of assumption and entitlement on the part of the sovereign slipper snatchers and a terrifying lack of choice or control for the women involved. If you have ever told one of the seven hundred or more Cinderella stories to a child, it might be worth having a think about what they are being trained to accept, or even aspire to, when their impressionable young ears hear it.