By Leslie Simon
When you hear the name Cinderella, the first image many people think of is a blonde in a blue dress. However, there are over 1,500 versions of the Cinderella story with a variety of different looks. There are even differing opinions on Disney’s Cinderella image, with people disagreeing about whether her dress is blue or a silvery grey. Regardless of the way she looks, hers is a multicultural story that pops up in different countries all around the world, as the story’s theme of kindness is universal. Read on to learn about the inspirations and history behind this famous character.
Rhodôpis - First recorded by the Greek historian Strabo around the beginning of the first century, he discusses an early variant of the story where a Greek slave girl attracts the attention of the Pharaoh of Egypt when an eagle flies off with her sandal and drops it on his lap.
Ye-Xian (Yeh-Shen) - The Chinese version of the Cinderella story predates the European version more people are familiar with by over 1000 years! From the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Through the magical power of fish bones, Ye-Xian is granted her wish of attending the spring festival (where one goes to find a partner) and is granted a gorgeous outfit with golden slippers. She loses a slipper at the festival, and it makes its way to the King. He searches for the owner, and when Ye-Xian tries it on, she is magically transformed back into the outfit she wore to the festival, and the King proposes.
Zezolla, The Cat Cinderella - In 1634 Giambattista Basile published one of the earliest recorded versions of Cinderella in the italian book Pentamerone, and this is the first time we see the name “Cinderella.”
Cendrillon (or The Little Glass Slipper) - French author Charles Perrault published his version of Cinderella in 1697 in the collected stories Contes de ma Mere L'Oye (Tales of Mother Goose). He collected various fairy tales from storytellers, then added magical elements. In his version, her shoes were made of fur, rather than glass. Historians believe Perrault confused the word “vair” (French for fur) with “verre” (French for glass). His Cinderella is more humane, offering lodging to her sisters in her new castle and finding them husbands in the court.
Aschenputtel (or The Little Ash Girl) - In the Brothers Grimm version, published in 1812, there is no fairy godmother to help her out. Instead, in some versions, Aschenputtel buries a twig at her mother’s grave that grows into a hazel bush in which lives a bird that grants her wishes.
The Rough-Face Girl - Written by Rafe Martin and influenced by a Native American folktale from the Algonquin, the Cinderella character is called “The Rough-Face Girl” because her hair and face are burnt by cinders from being forced by her sisters to tend the village fire. But because her heart is pure, she is able to see the invisible chieftain who is seeking a wife, and her beauty is restored after bathing in a lake. While Martin’s book was published in 1992, the story was first published in 1884 in The Algonquin Legends of New England.
Chinye - In Obe Onyefulu's book about the West African interpretation of the story, Chinye is told by an old woman to take the smallest gourd from a hut and break it to find the treasures inside. Chinye’s jealous sister finds the hut and greedily takes the largest gourd, but instead of treasures inside it unleashes a wild storm. Her stepfamily lose everything, ashamed they leave the village, and Chinye uses the wealth from her treasures to help the village.
Tattercoats - In this English fairy tale collected by Joseph Jacobs and published in More English Fairy Tales in 1893, Tattercoats is proposed to by a wealthy gentleman who she meets on the way to the Prince’s procession. She denies the proposal, but says she will meet him at the palace at midnight. She goes to the palace in her tattered clothes, but even though everyone laughs at her, the wealthy gentleman unveils that he is actually the Prince and her clothes transform into beautiful garments.
Walt Disney’s Cinderella - full-length cartoon musical was created in 1950 and based off the French variation of the story by Charles Perrault. The characterization of Cinderella initially received mixed reviews, with Bosley Crowther of The New York Times comparing her to L’il Abner’s voluptuous blonde character Daisy Mae.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella - Originally written in 1957 for TV with Julie Andrews as the lead, this musical has seen success both on television and on stage.
Besides Julie Andrews, Lesley Ann Warren and Brandy are some audience favorites in the title role.
The Arvada Center production is the most recent version, featuring a book and story that was updated in 2013 by a writer called Douglas Carter Beane. The revision adds a few new characters and dimension to the kingdom and its politics, while highlighting Rodgers and Hammerstein's famous and beautiful songs.
Photo from Arvada Center production by McLeod9 Creative - featuring Rachel Turner as Gabrielle and Hillary Fisher as Ella.
To learn more about the Arvada Center's Cinderella production and purchase tickets, visit the event page.