I’ve struggled trying to put my finger on Cynthia Rylant for some time now. I’ve mentioned in my previous two posts on The Old Woman Who Named Things and If You’ll Be My Valentine, that I just couldn’t define her as a writer. I know that she is a household (er—classroomhold?) name, and that she has great descriptive writing, but I just wasn’t feeling it completely. I’m a girl who judges things on the way they make me feel, so I liked her, but I wasn’t yet in love with her. After reading her Cinderella, I. Finally. Get. It.
The concept of Cynthia Rylant’s Cinderella (published 2007) is pretty brilliant. Mary Blair was the person who originally painted the Cinderella pictures for Walt Disney’s film. The people at Walt Disney gave Cynthia Rylant the pictures, and told her to write the story of Cinderella. This version of Cinderella is all about the love. It even tells you on the very first page that “This is a story about Love.” Poor Cinderella’s father died, leaving her with an unkind stepmother, unkind sisters, and nothing else but “her beauty and a wish for Love.” It seems that love is all she thinks of. Likewise, the Prince has yet to find a wife because he has yet to fall in love with anyone. His father wants to retire from the throne, and so they host the famous ball. Cinderella is, of course, not invited, and so she cries. Those tears cause a fairy godmother to appear, who allows Cinderella to go to the ball and enter onto her destined path.
This is my new favorite version of Cinderella. I’m left with a feeling of complete satisfaction and happiness for what occurs. After reading several traditional fairytales over the past week or so, I have been left with a certain taste for them in my mouth—I’m not sure it’s one I like. Every single fairytale features nothing but weak women, weird men who fall instantly in love and do things like offer to buy a dead girl’s casket (I should mentioned she was in the casket. Does that make it better or worse?), and these horrible archetypical characters. There has been zero depth to any of the characters that I have been reading about. I found that aside from the sorceress in Rapunzel, who I am desperate to learn more about, I have not cared about a single character. I don’t think the author(s) of these traditional folktales really wanted you to care either. The traditional folktales seem to be focused on morality, justice, and everyone getting their come-uppance. I find that in the end of these traditional fairy tales, I’m more fascinated by the fact that I have never heard of Cinderella’s sisters getting their eyes pecked out or Snow White’s stepmother having to dance to death in red hot shoes, than I am worried about any of the characters.
Cynthia Rylant has changed this for me. It may be because I’m a girl. It may be because I’m from a different era. It may be because I’m a big sappy. Or it could be because I’m a sappy girl from a different era, but I appreciate her emotional take. In all the other fairytales, the princes kind of creep me out. This prince, though, is “a fine son, a son with integrity and courage and loyalty and honor.” No other fairytale I have read has been concerned about the courage, loyalty, and honor of the prince. And the poor prince just wants to find love!
Cinderella, too, spends her life looking for love. When they finally meet, the next four openings are just magic. I love them so much, I have to retype them here: First opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “Who can say by what mystery two people find each other in this great wide world?” Second opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “How does a young man find his maiden? His heart leads him. He finds her in a room. He asks her to dance. And when he touches her, he knows.” Third opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “Cinderella and the young prince danced into a private world all their own.” Here comes the real kicker, people. Are you ready for it? Fourth opening when Cinderella goes to the ball: “In silence, Love found them.” So may other fairytales have our prince/young maiden meet, and the prince immediately falls in love and whisks her away. In this one, they fall in love together. It somehow feels real on these few pages.
Most fairytales also have the women as weak, subordinate, and fairly boring. Granted, this Cinderella does spend her days wishing for love and doing what other people ask of her, but there is one critical difference for this Cinderella. (I know it is in the movie as well, but I love that Cynthia Rylant preserved it.) In most of the versions, Cinderella’s father or the manservant find Cinderella and make her try on the shoe. In this version, Cinderella approaches the duke on her own, and asks if she can try on the shoe. I appreciate this Cinderella who takes her destiny into her own hands!
I didn’t think I would like the pictures, because they aren’t what I remember from the movie. That being said, I do love them. Looking at these pictures, I feel like I am glimpsing into history. The idea of Cynthia Rylant and Mary Blair being connected across the generations amazes me. Folktales are always changing and adapting, and I like taking something old, like the original paintings that Mary Blair did for the movie, and making it into a modern, yet timeless tale. It’s incredible, and I think Cynthia and I can be best friends now.
In related news, did you know that Walt Disney gave Mary Blair's pictures of Alice in Wonderland to Jon Sciezska and had him write the story?!?! Does that not just sound like perfection to you?