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This article is about the fairy tale. In philatelic usage, a cinderella is a label resembling a regular postage stamp, but that is not valid for prepayment of postage: see artistamp. Cinderella is also a hard rock band that had their first major release in 1986.

Cinderella is a popular fairy tale; embodying a classic folk tale myth-element of unjust oppression/triumphant reward, which received literally hundreds of tellings before modern times. The earliest version of the story originated in China around 860 AD. It appeared in The Miscellaneous Record of Yu Yang by Tuan Ch'ing-Shih , a book which dates from the Tang dynasty. The best-known version was written by the French author, Charles Perrault in 1697, based on a common folk tale earlier recorded by Giambattista Basile as La Gatta Cennerentola in 1634, but the animated film from Walt Disney Productions, (see Cinderella (1950 movie)) has become the standard contemporary version.



Cinderella tries on the slipper
Cinderella tries on the slipper

The familiar plot revolves around a girl deprived of her rightful station in the family and given the cruel nickname "Cinderella" by her wicked stepmother and ugly step-sisters. Forced into a life of domestic servitude, whence the nickname, as she was forced to tend the fireplace, Cinderella accepts the help of her attendant spirit ("fairy godmother") who transforms her to attend a royal ball and attract the attention of the handsome prince.

Unfortunately, the magic comes to an end at the first stroke of midnight. At that point, she flees, leaving behind a glass slipper which the prince finds. He declares that he will marry only the girl whose petite foot fits into the slipper.

Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters (in some versions just the stepsisters) conspire to win the prince's hand for one of them. In the original, bloodier version, the first stepsister fits into the slipper by cutting off a toe, but a magical bird tells the prince to notice the blood dripping from the slipper, and he returns the false stepsister to her mother. The second stepsister fits into the slipper by cutting off her heel, but the same bird gives her away.

Finally, Cinderella appears and fits into the slipper. In some versions, she has kept its twin in her pocket. The evil stepsisters are rewarded by having their eyes pecked out by crows.


The glass slipper is unique to Perrault's version; in other versions of the tale it may be made of other materials (in the version recorded by the Brothers Grimm, German: Aschenbroedel and Aschenputtel, for instance, it is gold) and in still other tellings, it is not a slipper but a ring or a bracelet that gives the prince the key to Cinderella's identity. Interpreters unaware of the value attached to glass in 17th century France and perhaps troubled by sartorial impracticalities, have suggested that Perrault's "glass slipper" (pantoufle de verre) had been a "fur slipper" (pantoufle de vair) in some unidentified earlier version of the tale, and that Perrault or one of his sources confused the words; however, most scholars believe the glass slipper was a deliberate piece of poetic invention on Perrault's part.

The original Chinese version of the story emphasized that Cinderella (or Yen-Shen as she was called) had the smallest feet in the land. Small feet were an important aspect of beauty in Chinese culture, leading to practices such as foot binding. The translation of the story into cultures with different standards of beauty has left the significance of Cinderella's shoe size unclear, and resulted in the implausibility of Cinderella's feet being of a unique size for no particular reason. Humorous retellings of the story sometimes use the twist of having the shoes turn out to also fit somebody completely unsuitable, such as an amorous old crone.

The idea that "Cinderella" embodies myth elements was explored in The Uses of Enchantment (1989) by Bruno Bettelheim, who made many connections to the principles of Freudian psychology. In more recent times, as Freud's concepts have found more support as myth and poetry than as neurological science, it has seemed to mythographers less useful to explain one myth in terms of another myth. Instead, cultural elements ("memes" to some writers) may be disentangled from the Cinderella tale. Each social group, in re-telling "Cinderella," has emphasized or suppressed individual elements and has given them interpretations that are especially relevant within each society. Mythographers return to Cinderella for hints of the social ethos embodied in it, and the familiar story proves to be a useful case example for young students beginning to understand how myth works. Thus serious uses come from what appears on the surface to be a trivial wish-fulfillment narrative.

Refactoring continues. An example of the "uses of Cinderella" is presented by Shirley Climo, The Egyptian Cinderella (1989), aimed at young children: "Rhodopis, a Greek slave girl living in Egypt, is teased by the servants about her coloring. Eventually, one of her rosy-gold slippers is carried to the pharaoh's court. He searches for, and finds, the girl. Based partly on fact (a slave named Rhodopis did marry Pharaoh Amasis) and partly on folk legends, this story is remarkable for its details of life in ancient Egypt and for the Egyptian-style illustrations" by Ruth Heller. As a document, this reveals some 1989 American approaches to historicism, cultural multiplicity , racism, educating for a spirit of tolerance. The anachronism of a supposed skin-color sensitivity in Egypt itself is revealing.

Earlier, less self-consciously instructive Cinderellas have more revealing mythic content.

The term Cinderella has evolved from its storybook beginnings to become the name for a variety of female personalities. Some girls are described as a Cinderella if she is meek and immediately submissive to stern orders. Others are called Cinderella if she tends to quietly complain. For example, a girl from a wealthy household who has been ordered to wash the dishes as a fulfillment of her once a month chores would be deemed a Cinderella; a fallen princess who has finally met with tough reality.


The story of "Cinderella" has formed the basis of many works:




The subject of Cinderella is very common for British pantomimes. In the pantomime form Cinderella's father (Baron Hardup) is under the thumb of the stepmother. There are added characters such as Buttons (Baron Hardup's servant, and Cinderella's friend) and Dandini (the Prince's right-hand man, the character and even his name coming from Rossini's opera). The fairy Godmother must magically create a coach (from a pumpkin), footmen (from mice) and a beautiful dress for Cinderella in order for her to go to the ball. Her traditional line "Cinderella, you shall go to the ball!" has passed into common usage from gay culture where the meme of the "glamorous transformation" is a source of fascination and humor.

Musical Comedy



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