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The Cinderella Story and its background

Updated on January 19, 2017
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Tolovaj is a small publishing house specializing in literature for children. The theory of fairytales is one of our passions.

Painting of Cinderella by Thomas Sully
Painting of Cinderella by Thomas Sully

Cinderella, the most popular fairy tale in the world

She is kind, patient and beautiful. Cinderella's classic rags to riches story give us loads of consolation and inspiration. She lost a mother, her father was of no help, her step mother and step sisters mocked and humiliated her but she never gave up.

Although being sad and disappointed, her spirit stayed optimistic and eventually she became the ultimate winner in the game of life. Experts believe this story is more than one thousand years old and we can find at least 1500 (yes, two zeroes!) variations of the same fairy tale all over the world, sometimes with really surprising messages and twists, always with a gracious girl in a leading and winning role.

(Intro image by Thomas Sully, all used images are in public domain, more info at the end of the article under 'My resources'.)

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Short summary

Russian version of Cinderella (called Vassilissa) by Ivan Bilibin
Russian version of Cinderella (called Vassilissa) by Ivan Bilibin | Source

After his wife's death, a father of little girl starts searching for a new lady - to be a wife for him and a mother for the little girl. He decided to marry a nice widow who already had two daughters from her previous marriage. But after they marry, new wife showed totally different character. She started to degrade her new step daughter, turned her into a servant or even a slave, forcing her to sleep in the ash and mockingly called her a Cinderella.

After a while, a king of the country announced his son is ready for marriage. All girls from the neighborhood are invited to the ball and Cinderella would like to go too. But her stepmother doesn't allow her, only her true daughters will go. Well, this doesn't stop Cinderella, who goes to the dance with a help of some magic.

Prince falls in love with the beautiful girl who wasn't recognised by anybody. When she leaves the party, she loses a shoe and prince decides he will marry the girl who's feet fits the shoe. All girls from near and far tried to put it on, but only Cinderella (despite the sabotage by her vicious step mother) managed to get in. She marries the prince and they live happily ever after.

Cinderella on Blu ray

Timeless Disney's classic from 1950 is now available in the highest possible definition in the three discs edition. Enjoy probably the most famous fairy tale ever in the comfort of your home with your family.

One of the oldest known tales

Cinderella is not only popular, it is also among oldest fairy tales with many known versions being older than thousand years.

For some time, the official oldest version was Chinese Ye Xian from the 9th century, but now most folklorists believe the eldest is Egyptian Rhodopis from the 1st century BC.

Until a new old Cinderella pops-up somewhere ...

Rhodope (role model for Cinderella) was possibly Aesop's mistress.
Rhodope (role model for Cinderella) was possibly Aesop's mistress. | Source

When we are talking about the history of Cinderella, we must not forget the story titled Cenerentola from Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile. His Zezzola is not a so innocent character as we expect from today's Cinderella, but many well-known elements (second marriage, two stepsisters, golden shoe, a tree, a king who tries three times to catch her, ...) are more than obvious.

No matter who wins in this competition, the most popular one is, without doubt, The Little Glass Slipper by Charles Perrault with Aschenputtel from the collection of brothers Grimm as the only serious 'competition'.

There are several differences in both retellings and I will list them only briefly:

Ashputtel, illustration by Arthur Rackham
Ashputtel, illustration by Arthur Rackham | Source

Little Glass Slipper: shoes are made of glass, we have a fairy as a helper, in the end stepsisters are forgiven and married too, non-religious, lots of humour.

Aschenputtel: shoes are made of gold, birds and a tree as helpers, in the end, stepsisters are cruelly punished, many religious references, no humour.

Aschenputtel by Anton Seder
Aschenputtel by Anton Seder

Some of the most important symbols in Cinderella

- A Shoe (a slipper): footwear is an important status symbol; in the story Puss in Boots a cat became a respected member of society only after gets a pair of boots. With Cinderella, we have almost the same case. She needs them to get to the ball, she needs the again, to marry the prince. In Twelve Dancing Princesses, they almost lost their position thanks to worn out shoes and so on.

- Pumpkin: it is related to witchcraft, protects against evil spirits and related with everything feminine. Pumpkin seeds symbolize the possibility of the dream coming true, just like a huge pumpkin can grow out of a small seed.

- Mirrors: they can show wealth (mirrors were very expensive in the past) like in the story of Bluebeard, warn us about the deceptiveness of an image (Cinderella is a much better person than her image shows) and can also serve as an imaginary door into different reality (think about Alice in the Wonderland).

- Ash: it is a symbol of loss and mourning, it represents the end of a certain period of life (in this case carefree childhood) and hope for something new, better, what is seen at mythological bird Phoenix.

- Gold (we have gold carriage in some and gold shoes in other cases): maturity, wealth, competitiveness, sustainability and justice. In Christianity symbolizes eternal light (Perrault and brothers Grimm were all very religious).

Similarities with other fairy tales

Cinderella is not an isolated island in the world folklore, so we can easily relate it to many other fairy tales. We have already mentioned Puss in boots and Bluebeard (both through shared symbolism).

Thanks to recurring pattern riches-to-rags-to-riches in many fairy tales we can also relate it to the story of Beauty and the Beast or Jack and the Bean-Stalk.

There are also many fairy tales with absent, arrogant or incompetent father, like Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, ...

Jealousy among sisters or mother (step-mother) and daughter is another easily recognizable pattern: Snow White, The Wishing Table, Beauty and the Beast, ...

We could continue with more elements lake proof of identity which is interchangeable with worthiness (Donkeyskin, Goose Girl, ...) or importance of given word (The Frog King, Rumpelstiltskin, ...)

Illustrators love this scene most of all

Cinderella running away, illustrated by Anne Anderson
Cinderella running away, illustrated by Anne Anderson | Source

To learn more about the artist, just click on the link below the image.

Are you a fan of the Cinderella's story too?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      Great to hear that, emi sue!

    • emi sue profile image

      Emily Lantry 3 years ago from Tennessee

      This was really interesting. Cinderella is one of my favorite classics. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      Some thing can't never become old at all, JosephDickens:)

    • JosephDickens profile image

      Joseph Chen 3 years ago from Houston, TX

      Yep..Somethings are never too old for the things you love :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      Some things are never too old, right? Thanks for stopping by, JosephDickens!

    • JosephDickens profile image

      Joseph Chen 3 years ago from Houston, TX

      This is an old story but I keep on reading it over and over again. It brings me fantasies. :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      Thank you very much, Dolores Monet, I appreciate your visit!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Thanks for the backstory of this old tale. I loved the illustrations. especially the Russian one.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @tazzytamar: It is not the most popular story in the world for nothing, i suppose ...

    • tazzytamar profile image

      Anna 3 years ago from chichester

      I love the Cinderella story and I always have :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Colin323: Please do, you'll be surprised how much lies behind a simple fairy tale:)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Colin323: If life was fair, we wouldn't have fairy tales. About prince marrying commoner ... Cinderella is in most versions considered as a member from upper class and in some she is even a princess from a house which lost money and status for some reason.

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      Colin323 3 years ago

      It ticks all the boxes: a poor girl makes good; wicked stepmother gets her come-uppance; prince marries a commoner for love. If only life was so far and satisfying!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @traveldestinations: Aren't we all? ;)

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      traveldestinations 3 years ago

      I am a fan of the Cinderella's story.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Elsie Hagley: Although I grew up with Perrault's Cendrillon, I prefer Grimms' Aschenputtel too.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

      I used to love reading this fairy tale as a child in the 1940s. There have been many versions since, but I still like the Grimm's fairy tale the best.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thanks!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @takkhisa: We probably all have some kind of image 'preset' in this case. Thanks for stopping by!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      I love this story and love the Disney movie. Very interesting to read about the symbols involved. It makes perfect sense. So thrilled to read something new from you!

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 3 years ago

      When I hear the name "Cinderella" I first think of a beautiful girl that I have discovered on TV first.