Cinderella is one of the fairy tales that veers wildly from the Perrault version to the Grimm version. And I do mean….wildly. (this is probably the longest day of the series so far, so settle in!)
Perrault’s tale: Cendrillon, in French: this is the one that you’re probably familiar with, because Disney used it.
A widower married a woman with two daughters. His first wife gave him Cinderella, a girl of a pure, sweet nature. Her new stepmother and stepsisters, however, were vain and haughty, and treat Cinderella awfully, making her a maid in her own house. Her father does not protest the treatment, since he too is under the control of his wife. (Disney killed off the father, probably thinking it was a lot easier to do than explain why a dad doesn’t defend his daughter.)
Instead of one ball, there are several in a row. Cinderella despairs at having not been invited, but her Fairy Godmother appears: the pumpkin becomes a coach, the mice turn into horses, a rat becomes the coachman (instead of the horse, as in the movie), and lizards become footmen (instead of Bruno the dog). The Midnight Warning is given.
The first night, Cinderella is home by midnight, and is radiantly happy, because she danced with the Prince. The stepsisters do not recognize her from the ball, but talk instead of the beautiful woman who captivated the prince (Not realizing it was Cinderella).
The next evening, Cinderella isn’t so lucky. She and the Prince are so captivated with one another that she loses track of time and races out of the palace only on the stroke of midnight, leaving behind the glass slipper. The Prince pockets it and resolves to find the girl whose foot fits the slipper. Cinderella has the other–it doesn’t disappear with the end of the magic spells.
The Prince (Not the Duke, as in the Disney version) goes from house to house, finally reaching Cinderella’s. The stepsisters try on the shoe, to no avail. Cinderella asks if she might try. The stepsisters taunt her, but, to their amazement, they see it fits. The stepsisters beg Cinderella’s forgiveness, which she graciously bestows. They go on to marry lords, and Cinderella weds her prince.
So, differences from the Disney story:
- No talking animals
- No dog or horse
- No Duke or King
- Cinderella’s father is alive, but does not protest his wife’s treatment of his daughter
- The ball is two nights, not just one
- Cinderella’s family doesn’t know she was the girl at the ball who so enchanted the court, unlike in the movie, where the stepmother figures it out and locks Cinderella in her tower room.
- The stepsisters beg forgiveness at the end
We can consider Perrault’s version to be the “first” version of the tale.
The Grimm brothers, per usual, as we’ve seen, took the tale and, um, “grimmed” it up. (We’ll call this version 2. To read it in its entirety, go here. I’ve condensed it a bit.)
Here are their changes:
- Most notable: There’s no fairy godmother. Cinderella’s ball gown and slippers come from her dead mother.
Let’s back up a bit: In the story, Cinderella’s father has a slightly bigger part. He is riding to a local fair, and before he leaves he asks the girls what they would like him to bring back. The stepsisters ask for jewelry and beautiful gowns, while Cinderella asks for the branch of a hazel bush. When he returns, he bestows the items. Cinderella takes the twig, plants it on her mother’s grave, and it grows into a beautiful tree, which Cinderella waters regularly with her tears. Cinderella went to the tree three times a day, and here she wept and prayed under its branches. A white bird came to the tree, and whenever Cinderella wished for something, the white bird would throw down what she wished for.
The King proclaims a three day long festival in their kingdom. All the girls in the kingdom were invited, so that the prince can pick a wife. The stepsisters demand that Cinderella help them get ready, but Cinderella asks her stepmother if she could go, as well.
The stepmother says yes–if Cinderella can find all the lentils that she’s thrown into the ashes of the fire and place them in an iron pot. And, she has to do this in two hours. If she succeeds, she may go.
Cinderella calls all the birds to come and help her, and with their help, she succeeds. The stepmother then raises the ante: she must pick out two bowls of lentils in under two hours, thinking Cinderella will never be able to do it.
She succeeds, and asks permission again. But the stepmother still will not let her go, pointing out her dirty face, nails, and lack of appropriate attire. The stepmother and her daughters depart for the ball, and Cinderella flees to her mother’s grave.
Cinderella cries out: “Shake and quiver, little tree! Silver and gold throw down on me!” The bird throws down a silver gown and golden slippers.
So–the fairy godmother doesn’t give her the wishes, the tree/spirit of her mother does.
(In Into the Woods, Cinderella’s wish is almost inserted verbatim. A very slight change is that she sings: “Shiver and quiver little tree! Silver and gold throw down on me! I’m off to get my wish!” Cinderella’s story in that musical is also taken from Version 2. )
- There’s no Midnight Warning
Cinderella can stay as long as she likes. The prince wishes to escort her home, to see whom she belongs to, but she eludes him. Her father, however, sees her in the woods and thinks it might be his daughter.
The next night, Cinderella goes back to the tree and repeats her wish. The same result occurs. The prince is still curious to know how the maiden is eluding him at the end of the evening, and who her parents are.
- Pitch on the stairs
This is a musical moment in Into the Woods: Cinderella sings “On the Steps of the Palace”, which include the following:
He’s a very smart prince
He’s a prince who prepares
Knowing this time I’d run from him
He spread pitch on the stairs
I was caught unawares
And I thought, ‘well he cares.’
This is more than just malice!
Better stop and take stock while we’re standing here stuck to the steps of the palace.
In order to keep the girl from eluding him, the Prince spreads pitch (like tar) to catch her. However, it only catches her golden shoe.
- The golden shoe, and the fittings
So, the slipper is not glass–it’s solid gold. The Prince has the same announcement–you fit the shoe, you marry him. The stepmother, desperate for one of her daughters to be chosen, instructs them to cut off part of their feet(It’s the Grimm Brothers!) to get the shoe to fit. The birds, ever loyal to Cinderella, alert the prince of their falsity. The prince asks if they have another daughter–Cinderella appears. She is washed and neat, and, when she tries on the shoe, it fits.
- The Stepsister’s comeuppance
The Grimm Brothers are not as kind to the stepsisters are Perrault was! They attend the wedding of their stepsister and the prince, and plan to ask her forgiveness. However, as they walk out of the church, birds peck out their eyes, leaving them blind.
So, to sum up:
- Grimm brothers: No midnight warning, ball is three days, no fairy godmother (tree instead), lentils in the ashes, birds help Cinderella, the show is gold, pitch on the stairs
- Perrault: Glass slipper, stepmother, midnight warning, ball is two days, Cinderella loses the shoe in flight, no animal help. Father is a bit more involved.
- Disney: (AKA, the version most of us know) Dead father, talking mice, Cinderella’s dress destroyed by stepsisters, Fairy Godmother, ball is one night only, Midnight Warning, Stepmother locks her in the tower, mice rescue her, Stepmother breaks glass slipper, Cinderella produces the other, she weds the prince. No mention of stepsisters’ fate.