Sunday, February 16, 2014

A beautiful retelling of "Cinderella"

I’ve been waiting for my own personal Cinderella story for the past 26 years.  There was a time period, age ranging about 10-12, that I think I was actually convinced some random prince was going to come pluck me up out of my mom’s apartment and whisk me away to a lifetime of happiness.  I’m fairly certain that this personal conviction that my own happily ever after was just one royal visit to Virginia away is due to my reading of Ella Enchanted.  Ever since that day, and that book, I’ve had unrealistically high expectations of men.  And now that Prince William is married, my own hopes of a Cinderella ending have been woefully shot down. 

                Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella (published 2002), is a classic retelling.  It is different from the Walt Disney tale, but this particular storyline is the one told by the Grimm brothers, with some changes.  Cinderella’s father remarries after her mom dies.  His new wife rules his life, and because of this he allows her to mistreat Cinderella.  Cinderella is forced to work all day long, until she finally falls asleep in the ashes of the hearth.  One day, Cinderella’s father asks his two stepdaughters and Cinderella what they would like from town when returns from his trip.  The stepsisters ask for pearls and a fancy necklace, but Cinderella asks for, “The first twig, Father, that brushes against your hat on the way home.”  He brings her back her wish, and this twig turns into a hazel tree.  With the help of birds from this tree, as well as her fairy godmother, Cinderella is able to attend the ball and win over the prince.  And unlike me thus far, Cinderella achieves her happily ever after.

                There are so many fractured fairy tales out there that I really appreciated this classic version of Cinderella.  This version mirrors Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Ashputtle very closely.  In that version, the daughter also receives a hazel twig that turns into a tree.  Ruth Sanderson added in the fairy grandmother, and that part of the story more closely resembles Charles Perrault’s Ciinderella, where the godmother takes a pumpkin, mice, and a rat to transform Cinderella.  I liked the addition of the fairy godmother, because it makes her hasty departure from the ball much more understandable. In the Grimm version, she just decides she wants to go home and goes home, leaving her dress by the hazel tree for the birds to pick up and make disappear.  In the Perrault version, as well as Sanderson’s version, Cinderella has to be home by midnight because the magic wears off.  I really enjoy Ruth Sanderson’s mixing of classic versions of Cinderella to create something that is slightly different from what most people are used to, yet still entirely recognizable.

                I have to mention some of the changes that Sanderson made, simply because they are so amusing.  In the Grimm version, one sister chops off her toe and another sister chops off her heel in order to get her foot to fit in the glass slipper.  It isn’t until some birds point out the bleeding shoes that the prince even notices that the woman is not the one he’s been searching for.  In the end of the Grimm tale, the two sisters get their eyes pecked out by some birds, leaving them blind for life.  In Sanderson’s version, birds attack the sisters and their mother, forcing them into the house.  For the rest of their lives, they are not allowed to step one foot out of the door, or else the birds will attack them.  In a way, I find the Sanderson ending a lot more satisfying than the eye-gouging one that the Grimms present.  I also like the prince better, because he immediately recognizes Cinderella as the girl from the ball and doesn’t fall for the old cut-your-toe-off-to-fit-the-shoe trick.

Doesn't it just feel French to you?!
             Ruth Sanderson also illustrated this book.  The illustrations are full-bleed oils, and the entire book takes place in what appears to be France in the 1700s.  Looking at the pages, one gets the idea that perhaps King Louis XIV is the king and the ball is taking place in Versailles!  The woman and men are all wearing clothing indicative of France in 1700 and 1800s, and the decorations within the house are all of the same style. Above all, Sanderson makes Cinderella beautiful.  Cinderella looks to be a young woman, and Sanderson paints her with such beauty and honesty on her face that you have to root for her.  The prince is, of course, handsome and kind, and you can’t help but feel like their happily ever after is completely justified in the end.  These illustrations give the reader the sense that this is taking place in the very distant past.  Ruth Sanderson does not make an attempt to modernize it, and I am okay with that.  There are so many different Cinderella stories out there that buck the norm, I appreciate her beautiful attempt at recreating a classic, yet keeping it a classic.  I will admit that it is a very western, very European approach to Cinderella.  If you are looking for diversity, this book is not where you turn.  Luckily for us, there are many books like that that you can also use to supplement your library.  For those who are looking for a classic Cinderella tale, I would certainly recommend Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella.  This could be a great introduction into a unit that studies all different kinds of Cinderella stories, because this is the kind of story that would be most familiar with children. 
As for me and my fairy tale, I suppose I’ll have to just wait around and hope that Prince Harry makes a surprise visit to Gloucester, Virginia.

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