Disney Reflections No.2 – Rodents Are the Best Dressmakers

This is Disney Reflections, a series of monthly posts in which I compare Disney animated fairy tales to the original stories.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/44/Cinderella-disney-poster.jpgThough Walt Disney had been tossing around ideas for a version of this fairy tale for years, Cinderella was eventually released in 1950. Cinderella’s hair confirms this fact.

The fairy tale: I covered three versions of the Cinderella legend for the Fairy Tale Tuesday project, from Jamaica, Russia and Germany, but not the Perrault version! It closely resembles ‘Ashputtel’ only with a fairy godmother instead of a vicious bird and considerably less gore.

The film: In a “tiny kingdom…rich in romance and tradition” – and presumably hard cash, to pay for the fancy houses – a widower with one young daughter marries a widow with two daughters of her own. She’s introduced looming at a window, flanked by sullen little girls and petting a large cat, like a Bond villain in disguise. When her husband dies, she lavishes all his money on her daughters Anastasia and Druzilla, while all the work of the household falls to Cinderella. Forced to abandon her bedroom in favour of a rickety tower room, running in circles to patch up the neglected house, the story pulls no punches about her storyline – this girl is being abused.

Fortunately, Disney bluebirds maintain their alliance with disenfranchised stepdaughters and act as friendly, feathery alarm clocks. Cinderella covers her head with a pillow, thereby endearing herself to me at once; the well-meaning wake up call interrupted a wonderful dream. When the nearby clock tower chimes in its two cents, she shoots a glare its way, like it has personally betrayed her. “They can’t order me to stop dreaming!” she declares defiantly. She means her step family, who would indeed order her to stop dreaming if they could.

Dressing swiftly, with the aid of the aforementioned bluebirds and a gaggle of drowsy rodents, Cinderella is almost ready to start her day when a pair of frantic rats come racing into the room. A new rat is in the house. Cinderelhttp://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20121009234430/disney/images/f/f6/Cinderella-979.pngla’s first priority – picking out an appropriate outfit from her stash of dinky clothes – is sidelined when she learns the rat is stuck in a trap. She not only releases him, she gives him the name Octavius (quickly shortened to Gus) and places him in the particular care of Jaq, a more worldly wise rat familiar with the perils of the household. Chief of these is the stepmother’s cat, Lucifer. He’s a huge fluffy grump with his own canopy basket. Cinderella’s big, clueless dog Bruno dreams of chasing him, but in reality Lucifer has it all over him and Cinderella too.

She tries to make peace while preparing three breakfasts and feeding the chickens, throwing down extra corn for the mice. In order to reach this feast, they need to circumvent Lucifer; Jaq stages a ‘Great Escape’ style diversion but Gus overestimates his carrying capacity and draws the cat’s attention at exactly the wrong moment. Despite Jaq’s valiant efforts, Gus is cornered under a teacup. Cinderella unwittingly comes to the rescue once more; the teacup is one of three which she has to carry upstairs, and Gus is delivered right into the lap of an outraged stepsister, who runs straight to her mother for vengeance. Lucifer runs in the same direction, because if there is a side you want to be on in this house, it is the stepmother’s. She sits in the shadows of her bedroom, all death stare and heart’s blood lipstick, plotting terrible things. The rat in a cup incident earns Cinderella a lengthy list of jobs to add to her already hefty schedule. Even Lucifer feels she’s gone too far – probably because she wants Cinderella to bathe him.

Meanwhile, at the castle, the king is throwing a hissy fit and really anything that comes to hand. He’s desperate for grandchildren – as evidence of his terrifying paternal pride, he has a portrait gallery of baby photos culminating in a painting of his adult son that’s got to be about ten times life size – and is infuriated at the prince’s lack of co-operation. His friend/ lackey/ captive audience, the duke, tentatively suggests that maybe he should give the prince some space, letting him find love on his own terms. “Love,” scoffs the king. “Just a boy meeting a girl under the right conditions. So we’re arranging the conditions.” His son is due to arrive home today, so the king’s throwing a huge welcoming party – and inviting every eligible girl in the land.

Two of those eligible girls are Cinderella’s stepsisters, currently polishing their musical skills. They would not be ugly if they’d just stop scowling, but they’re certainly tone deaf. Outside, Cinderella is scrubbing the floor and singing sweetly amidst a cloud of psychedelic bubbles. Lucifer spoils her fun by gleefully prancing all over the clean floor with grubby little feet. This movie is going to a lot of effort to make the audience dislike him, but I will love this cat until the day I die.

Cinderella has to leave off scrubbing anyway to collect the mail and interrupts the music lesson to deliver the king’s invitation. She’s still in the room as it’s read aloud and declares her intention to attend the ball like everybody else. There’s a calm resilience to Cinderella, an undaunted willingness to stand up for herself, that you can’t help admiring. Unless you’re her stepmother, who smoothly agrees Cinderella may attend…if she gets all her chores done first and finds something suitable to wear. Cinderella plans on wearing an old ballgown of her mother’s, but it will take extensive modification and her family soon find a million other uses for her time.

The posse of girl rats who live in her room take over. They have her sewing supplies; they can do this thing. Jaq and Gus eagerly volunteer but the girls reject them based on outdated gender stereotypes and send them to forage for trimmings instead. This means another run-in with Lucifer. Undaunted, they return with a sash and blue beads, both abandoned by Cinderella’s stepsisters. They get to help out with the sewing after all and judging from the way they handle scissors, the girls had good reason to want them elsewhere. Together the rats and bluebirds whip together a stylish pink and white confection, then eagerly await Cinderella’s return.

She’s had a bad day. Having given up all hope of attending the ball, she bids her stepfamily goodbye with immense dignity and poise, and climbs to her tower…where she finds the rats’ present. With ecstatic cries of thanks, she dons the gown and rushes downstairs. Her stepmother, initially shocked, quickly recovers. Drawing her daughters’ attention to their repurposed accessories, she stands back and allows a sartorial bloodbath. The girls literally tear apart Cinderella’s clothes, it’s genuinely disturbing. They then flounce into the waiting coach, and Cinderella runs out into the garden to cry.

She’s sobbing so hard she doesn’t notice the little sparkles that presage imminent magic. Next thing she knows, her head is on the knee of an apple-cheeked old lady. Cinderella realises this is her fairy godmother – she has to work that out on her own, because her godmother is busy looking for her wand. I swear she plucks it out of midair just to show off.

http://www.toonswallpapers.com/user-content/uploads/wall/o/56/Cinderella-Look-Glass-Slippers-1280x960-Wallpaper-ToonsWallpapers.com-.jpg “The first thing you need,” she proclaims, “is a pumpkin.” Cinderella is skeptical, but her godmother gabbles gobbledygook with such authority that the vegetable blossoms into a glittering carriage. Next, she turns all the watching rats into shiny white horses, and the actual horse into a coachman. Bruno the dog becomes a footman. With that, she thinks Cinderella is all set to go – it takes a gentle nudge for her to remember the rags and tatters state her goddaughter is in. A flick of the wand fixes that. Clad in a sparkling dress and glass slippers, Cinderella is so far over the moon that she doesn’t even care all this magic has a very limited expiry date.

We’re in the middle of the film and still haven’t met the prince. We glimpse him now, on a red-carpeted stage, greeting a queue of single girls with the occasional discreet yawn and sarcastic look at his impatient father. He only wakes up when, over Anastasia and Druzilla’s heads, he glimpses Cinderella wandering around uncertainly at the far end of the room. He walks straight off the stage to meet her. The watching king stage manages some romantic lighting and a dreamy waltz. Sure that the evening’s end game has been won, he toddles off to bed, leaving the duke to settle final details. Since the prince dances off with Cinderella, that leaves the rest of the guests to entertain themselves. I hope the food’s good.

Floating together through the blue and white dreamscape of the royal gardens, Cinderella and her prince are sweeping each other off their feet. Just as they are about to kiss, the killjoy clock tower starts striking midnight and Cinderella leaps up. “I haven’t met the prince!” she cries, as a weak excuse. He tries bewilderedly to explain who he is, but she’s already racing down the stairs, leaving one shoe behind in her rush. The duke – noticing too late that the romantic moment has gone awry – wildly overreacts and sends a scary swarm of riders in black to catch her. Luckily, the carriage disintegrates on the last stroke of twelve and they are left with no trail to chase.

The king, assuming his son has proposed, greets the duke the next morning with cigars (HELLO 1950’s TOBACCO FETISH) and a knighthood. The duke unwisely explains the failure while his monarch has the sword raised. To say the king is disappointed is the understatement of the century: he goes on a rampage. “You were in league with the prince,” he howls, while doing his level best to cut the poor duke in half. He only calms down when he hears his son has developed an obsession of his own and sworn to marry only the girl whom the lost shoe fits. The duke is sent out to try it on the foot of every girl in the land.

Hearing the news, the stepmother wakens her own daughters. Very sensibly, they don’t see the point, since the shoe belongs to neither of them – their mother, clearly infuriated that her daughters have acquired this streak of common honesty, insists they make every effort to get the shoe and the prince too. They begin running about, throwing clothes at Cinderella in their haste to get ready. She has overheard the news; lost in giddy daydreams, she pushes the clothes back at her startled stepsisters and glides off, humming last night’s waltz. Her stepmother’s eyes practically glow with wickedness as she puts the pieces together. She follows Cinderella up to her tower room and locks her in. Then she calmly descends to greet the exhausted duke.

Jaq and Gus follow, committed to retrieving the key. While one stepsister and then the other attempt to squeeze into the tiny glass shoe – assisted by a truly committed footman – the rats steal away the key and haul it up stair after stair. This is the rodent equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. They are so close, right outside Cinderella’s door, when Lucifer pounces. He catches Gus, and therefore the key. The other rats charge forth, armed with forks and a lit candle; the bluebirds hurl crockery; all to no avail. Lucifer is impervious to their frantic attacks. Then Bruno comes charging up the stairs and Lucifer is so terrified he JUMPS OUT OF THE TOWER. We never find out if he’s okay. I am really properly upset about this. Setting dogs on cats is not normal and not funny. It is cruelty.

I just Googled the Cinderella sequels. (There are two.) Lucifer is all right.

I’m still angry.

http://img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20091219050226/disney/images/b/b6/Cinderella4.jpg Anyway. Unaware of the battle raging upstairs, the duke is about to depart when Cinderella runs downstairs. He takes in her teeny feet and excellent manners with a surge of optimism. The footman hurries forward and is deliberately tripped by the stepmother; the shoe flies off its cushion and smashes into fragments on the floor. Cinderella calmly reveals the other half of the set, slipping it easily onto her foot. The duke looks like he wants to marry her himself out of pure relief.

The actual wedding takes place at once. Cinderella loses her shoe again on the church steps, fleeing a rain of confetti; her adoring father-in-law returns it. Climbing into the honeymoon carriage, she finally gets to kiss her prince.

No word on how the stepmother takes this emotional blow.

Spot the Difference: Again, Disney sticks fairly close to the fairy tale plot. In both the original story and the movie, the godmother transforms everyday things into a party ensemble, including rats – they unsurprisingly get more screen time in Disney’s version, chewing up the scenery with several separate chase scenes and cute Donald Duck-esque babbling. Lucifer is an original character, of course, and the king, while he certainly exists, had nothing like the narrative presence. He basically writes the romance so he can get grandchildren. Still, with their matching levels of mild sarkiness, Cinderella and the prince are not the worst couple ever. I just hope they swapped names before they got married. It seems an important detail to overlook.

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Review No.35 – Cinder

Cinder – Marissa Meyer

Penguin Books, 2012

Cinder is a cyborg. In the city of New Beijing, that means however gifted a mechanic she may be, her earnings can be controlled by her malicious stepmother; that however hard she works, it will never be enough to make her a ‘proper’ human; that when her stepsister falls sick, she is immediately blamed. Her only dream is to someday escape. Then she meets Prince Kai, son of the dying emperor, and a wider picture opens up before her eyes. These are dangerous times, and not only for cyborgs. As Cinder uncovers secret after secret, she may have to make an impossible choice – between a dream of freedom, and saving those she loves most.

Of all the many retellings of ‘Cinderella’ I have read, this quirky science fiction version is one of the most original. I love the concept of Cinderella as a cyborg – elements of the original fairy tale are used in an enjoyably subversive way and references to other fairy tales offer a tantalising glimpse of what may lie ahead in the rest of this series. The ending, however, felt messy and confusing – while I expected loose ends, I hoped for something more satisfying. Cinder is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles. Its sequel, Scarlet, is scheduled for release early next year.

Review No.31 – Moonlight and Ashes

Moonlight and Ashes – Sophie Masson

Random House Australia, 2012

In the Faustine Empire, magic belongs to the Mancers. Anyone else accused of possessing it simply disappears. That’s bad news for Selena, who only discovered her moon-sister heritage with the death of her mother. If her spiteful stepmother or step-sisters ever discovered the truth, she would be lost, but her life with them is already almost unbearable. When she is pushed beyond what she can stand, she uses a gift of her mother’s magic, giving herself one night to shine at the prince’s ball. She could never have imagined the consequences that are to come – what her secret magic can create, and what it might make her do.

It’s nice to find a retelling that uses the Grimm fairy tale instead of the more popular Perrault, with the transformative magic in a tree instead of a wand. Masson takes the theme further with a world that has a distinctively Germanic feel, though it certainly isn’t fairy tale timeless – people travel on trains, carry pistols, take photographs. The individual threads of the plot were intriguing but I felt they lacked cohesion and the complexities built up over the course of the book were let down by a simplistic ending. What really bothered me, though, was the central romance, which was completely unconvincing and made Selena’s otherwise strong-voiced character feel inconsistent. This retelling had some excellent ideas, and some interesting inversions, but just couldn’t quite pull it together.

Fairy Tale Tuesday No.7 – A Cinderella Triptych

Some fairy tales attract retellings the same way spinning wheels attract blood. Storytellers in every medium simply cannot resist them. Look at ‘Cinderella’. The story has been retold over and over with astonishing frequency. There are novelisations (e.g. Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted, Sophie Masson’s Moonlight and Ashes, Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, shall I go on?), a plethora of short stories, films (Disney’s blue ballroom-gowned princess of the dressmaking mice, Drew Barrymore’s Ever After). In the new TV series Once Upon a Time she gets magically transported to another world along with the entire population of the land where fairy tales come true. She gets Rumpelstiltskin back for blowing up her fairy godmother by capsicum spraying him in his own shop, but she still finds her Prince Charming in the end, and a very special pair of shoes.

So what is it about ‘Cinderella’ that keeps drawing everyone back? What is it that fascinates us so about the girl in the glass slippers?

I think maybe it is because at heart, we understand this story. We’ve lived it. Everyone has been lonely in their lives – lost, abandoned, underappreciated – someone kicked us out of the way and took over what we thought was ours, someone pushed us into the ashes and forgot we were there. Even the luckiest person in the world must have longed for a fairy godmother to conjure some stardust into their life at one time or another. It’s a human thing. Every country in the world has a Cinderella. She’s everywhere from China to Germany, Russia to Jamaica. There are even male Cinderellas, complete with wicked stepbrothers and eligible princesses – though oddly enough, not usually fairy godmothers.

That’s why for this post I’m doing something a little different. Instead of reviewing just one fairy tale, I’m reviewing three – a triptych of variations on a very familiar story that can made new again at the wave of a wand. Or a pen.

Version 1: Sarah Winyan

This Jamaican fairy tale is in my 1985 reprint of Ruth Manning Sanders’ A Book of Enchantments and Curses, which is falling to bits from being read too many times. It opens with a sad little girl sitting under a tree while two birds gossip together over her head. Her name is Sarah Winyan and everything for miles belongs to her, but her parents are dead and all she has is a vindictive stepmother who keeps in rags and misery. Sarah Winyan sings of her troubles on her way home and is unfortunately overheard by the stepmother, who goes kind of crazy. She summons up a devil in the shape of a huge shaggy dog and calls it Tiger. If he tears Sarah Winyan to pieces, the stepmother promises, she will give him gold, and what’s more, she’ll come to dance with him on the Lord of Hell’s mountain. The devil’s pretty clever though. He knows he’s dealing with a tricky customer, so he makes her sign a contract agreeing to his terms. When their deal is struck, he sets off into the dark woods after Sarah Winyan.

The little girl is trying to gather wood. She looks up and sees a pair of burning eyes in the night behind her. Terrified, she scrabbles her way up a tree to hide – not very successfully. As the devil looks up at the ragged little thing, however, he takes pity on her. By the terms of his contract, the little girl now belongs to him, which means he can decide not to kill her if he wants. So instead of tearing her apart he leads her safely away into the woods – though he hates her singing too and makes her stop.

Meanwhile the stepmother is busy with her spell book. She conjures a coffin and the image of Sarah Winyan inside it, then arranges a funeral for the girl she’s sure is now dead at Tiger’s claws. While she’s hamming it up with the weeping and wailing, though, a pair of foresters called Aldred and Oti are picking apart her story. They’ve only just heard Sarah Winyan singing in the woods, so how can the little girl be dead? They go back in search of her and hear her whispered song like the words of a ghost. But she’s alive all right, crying beside a fire in the depths of the wood while Tiger sleeps on her lap. When she sees the brothers she eases her way out and Oti seizes his opportunity, shooting Tiger with a silver bullet. The devil leaps from his shattered body and roars off to the fake funeral, where he snatches up the stepmother and whisks her off to Hell. Sarah Winyan is reinstated in her grand house with Aldred and Oti as her friends and protectors. The story closes on her happy new song as Lady Winyan. If there’s a prince in this girl’s future, he’s coming to her, not the other way around.

Version 2: Vasilissa Most Lovely

This Russian fairy tale comes from the same collection and is probably my favourite Cinderella story, for Baba Yaga and her horsemen if nothing else. A merchant’s wife falls ill and gives her daughter a very special doll with the promise that if she is ever in trouble, all she must do is feed the doll and it will give her aid. With that the mother dies and her predictions of trouble come true, because the father shows predictably poor judgement and marries an extremely unpleasant type with two daughters of her own. The three gang up on little Vasilissa, but since her father is away so much on business he doesn’t seem to notice. Luckily for Vasilissa, she has her doll, and it’s everything her mother promised. When she’s sad, it comforts her; when she’s overworked, it does her tasks for her.

And so Vasilissa grows up, a beautiful young woman surrounded by suitors, while her stepsisters get ignored. Their mother is furious. “We do not marry the youngest before her elder sisters!” she screams, and sets to plotting how she can get rid of the girl. One night when her husband is away, the stepmother sets the three young women to work knitting, lace-making and spinning by the light of a single candle. When it goes out, they are left in total darkness. The stepsisters insist they must finish their work and Vasilissa is sent off to borrow a light from a neighbour. But the only neighbour awake at this hour of the night is Baba Yaga the witch who is more likely to eat anyone daring to disturb her evening than lend them a candle.

Vasilissa doesn’t know what to do. She’s shut out in the dark and won’t be allowed back inside until she returns with a light. So she feeds her doll a bit of biscuit and abracadabra, it lights up like a lamp! For some reason, probably because she wants to keep her doll a secret, Vasilissa uses the light not to get back into the house but instead to find a path through the forest to the witch’s house. In between the trees comes riding a horseman all in white, followed soon after by a rider all in red. Neither stops to help Vasilissa. In fact, she has to walk for so long that it is almost nightfall again by the time she comes to Baba Yaga’s hut and frankly all she wants to do then is turn around and walk away again. The place is surrounded by a fence of human skulls and as Vasilissa stands there, shivering, a horseman all in black comes riding past. As though his passage is a signal, the skulls blaze with sudden light.

Then Baba Yaga herself, riding a mortar and pestle down through the sky, returns home and sniffs Vasilissa out from the trees. The girl is terrified, of course, but comes forward with curtsey and asks for a light. She’s come all this way, after all, and it’s not like she can back out now she’s actually here. The witch is amused. She decides to put Vasilissa to work and if she’s satisfied with the results, she may give the girl a light. Or she might eat her. Who knows? Not the best job offer ever, but Vasilissa serves up a dinner that isn’t herself and listens politely while the witch lists her a set of impossible tasks. No sooner is the witch asleep than Vasilissa is pleading with her doll for help. Its advice is to sleep and see what happens. Vasilissa has little choice but to obey.

And it’s good advice, too, because when she looks around her in the morning the tasks are already done. All that’s left to do is make dinner that evening when Baba Yaga gets home. The witch is surprised and pleased with her new employee’s success, but she’s not ready to give up that light yet. Another day passes – another set of tasks are completed by the doll. On the third night of Vasilissa’s stay Baba Yaga’s mood turns conversational and Vasilissa dares inquire after the identity of the three horsemen she has seen riding through the forest outside each day and night. The white horseman is Dawn; the red is Sun; and the third is Night. All three are Baba Yaga’s faithful servants, which is a really scary idea when you think about it. The witch has a question of her own. She knows she has asked the impossible and yet Vasilissa has succeeded. How? Vasilissa explains it is the blessing of her mother and the witch is disgusted. She won’t eat anything blessed. Ew! She doesn’t forget their bargain, however. Vasilissa is given a skull lamp and is sent home.

The girl’s been missing for days and what started out as a ploy to get her eaten has become a curse, for no light will last in the stepmother’s house. Even a skull lamp is better than nothing and they bring it inside. That’s a decision they will soon regret. The skull leaps from the table and chases the stepmother and her daughters upstairs, downstairs, all over the house and out into the dark forest. They are never seen again. Baba Yaga does not, after all, appreciate being disturbed. The merchant comes home to find his daughter alone with her doll. He learns his lesson, taking her with him next time he departs, and in the course of their travels she meets the young Tsar, who falls in love with her. From a sad little girl with nothing on her side but a doll, she becomes Empress of all Russia. And maybe, just maybe, one day she’ll have a daughter of her own, who will carry a very special doll everywhere, just in case she meets a witch someday. You can never be too careful.

Version 3: Ashputtel

This is the German version, taken from the Dean & Son Ltd. volume Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A rich man’s wife dies and less than a year later he remarries, bringing home a stepmother for his young daughter and two pretty stepsisters. Yes, they’re described as being ‘fair in face’, but don’t be fooled. In behaviour at least, they’re as ugly as it gets. The little girl is turned into a drudge in her own house while her father does…nothing. At. All. Unlike Vasilissa’s dad, he’s not even a merchant, so it’s not like his neglect can be explained away on absence. He just doesn’t care enough to intervene.

Pretending everything’s okay, he sets off to the fair one day and promises to bring a present home for each girl. The eldest asks for fine clothes, the second asks for pearls and diamonds, and the youngest – by now so dirty and downtrodden she is known only Ashputtel – asks for the first sprig to brush against his hat on his way home. Me, I’d have asked for a one way carriage ride out of there, but Ashputtel is a sentimental little thing and she gets what she asks for. Planting the sprig on her mother’s grave, she waters it every day with her tears until it becomes a fully grown tree where a bird comes to build its nest and watch over her.

Now the king of this particular country gets it into his head to hold a three day long feast, at the end of which his son will choose a bride. Ashputtel’s stepsisters are terribly excited by their invitation and insist on her help to get ready. When she begs her stepmother to let her accompany them, however, she is told to sort peas out of the ashes, which is a mean and slightly noncommittal way of saying Not A Chance. But Ashputtel has a secret weapon. Is it a fairy godmother? No, actually, it is a whole host of birds who fly in through the kitchen window to do the task for her. Denied her excuse, the stepmother backpedals abruptly and says Ashputtel can’t go anyway.

Is that going to stop her? Certainly not! Ashputtel has no mice, but the bird from her tree manages to rustle up a gown of gold and silver, along with a pair of spangled silk slippers. She looks so beautiful that even her sisters don’t recognise her. The king’s son dances with her all night, but instead of letting him see her home she slips off and returns to the cold ashes undetected. The next night, and the night after that, she returns to the palace to dance the night away with the increasingly smitten prince. She won’t tell him who she is and when he tries to follow her, she gives him the slip outside her father’s house, leaving only a slipper behind. The prince announces he will marry whichever lady the shoe fits. Ashputtel’s sisters actually do have beautiful feet, but they can’t make the shoes fit. That’s not enough for this stepmother, however. She takes a knife and cuts off a bit of her eldest girl’s foot to make it small enough. Because, you know, who needs to walk when there’s a crown up for grabs?

It doesn’t work. The prince is fooled, no one said royals had to be smart, but as he is departing he passes under Ashputtel’s tree and a little bird warns him of the deception. Nothing daunted, the stepmother tries it again with her second daughter, and is again foiled by Ashputtel’s bird. The prince decides that surprise, surprise, the stepmother can’t be trusted, and asks Ashputtel’s father instead whether there are any other girls in the house. The answer is “Only a little dirty Ashputtel…the child of my first wife; I am sure she cannot be the bride”. Oh, you think so? The prince has her called in and of course the shoe, which by now must be soaked in blood and totally disgusting, fits first try. Without her having to cut anything off. The prince finally recognises her and whirls her onto his horse. Passing under her tree, the bird confirms the matter once and for all and alights on Ashputtel’s shoulder to join her in her new life as the prince’s bride.

There is a version of this in which the stepsisters lose not only parts of their feet, but also – at the beak of Ashputtel’s bird – both eyes. I do not like this version. I believe it was Charles Perrault who first replaced the bird with a fairy godmother and the spangled silk by glass; it was also Perrault who decided Cinderella should forgive her stepsisters instead of taking bloody revenge in the good old Grimm tradition. Some people resent the ‘sanitisation’, but I think that’s sort of missing the point. This is a fairytale that adapts to fit its listener, whenever and wherever it is told. Once there were killer doves. Then there were dressmaking mice. Now there’s a Cinderella who’s taking on Rumpelstiltskin with capsicum spray. There’s room enough for them all in the Cinderella family, room enough for the Vasilissas and Sarah Winyans and so many more. You haven’t seen the last of the girl from the ashes.

In fact, I don’t think you ever will.