|Disney's Cinderella by lettiebobettie|
It was so much fun to chat with people from all walks of life, some fairy tale and folklore students, others being first timers, some young adults, some seniors, some Americans and many not - I thought I'd share some discussion highlights. There was also the surprise of optional "tech challenges" designed to stretch people out of their comfort zones a little by trying a range of (free) technology for different presentations (like learning how to upload a video to YouTube). While this aspect did take a lot more time than the basic time estimation it seems that everyone who attempted them felt it time well spent and got a lot out of trying something different. Apart from being able to be part of ongoing semi-live discussions on various aspects of fairy tales, seeing how people tackled the tech challenges was my favorite part of the course.
First let me give you the title and premise we began with:
Fairy Tales: The Origin and Evolution of Princess Stories
(Edit FTNH: What was meant by this was actually the main Disney princess stories, where they came from and how things changed from early literature recording these tales to when Disney put his/their version on screen, so no Iron Stove, Dancing Princesses or Goose Girl. I was pleased to see this didn't limit the conversation at all, especially since so many participants hadn't grown up with Disney so the discussion remained fresher than it might have been otherwise.)
|by Ruth Sanderson|
Princess stories have been popular for centuries and remain so today around the world; we’ll dive into what these fairy tales mean, and trace the history of these narratives back to their source material, examining contexts all along the way. We’ll borrow tools from cultural studies, literature studies, and film studies to help us analyze these phenomena and what they mean to our society. Many of us may associate princess stories with modern-day products (much of it marketed to small children) or with Disney movies and theme parks. We’ll examine these current versions of fairy tale mythology as well, using our new interpretive tools to uncover not just what’s been changed in the moral and message of the narrative, but what the stories mean as told now.
The first "princess" was Cinderella and we read Grimm's, Perrault's and Basile's versions of the story as well as had a couple of short video lectures. We were asked to give our impressions of what the name "Cinderella" meant to us, if the narratives matched out memories/impressions and what we thought after reading one version after the other and then to use various interpretative "lenses" (historical, authorial, feminist, Freudian and also queer).
Then people got chatty... :)
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The first part of the Cinderella discussions (reflecting on what our memories were of Cinderella and first impressions of the various narratives were) are HERE
Cinderella, to me, brings me back to the moment in my childhood when I began to understand the full richness and complexity there is to be had in the world of folk and fairytales. Like many kids growing up in the US, my main exposure to fairytales came through Disney movies. But when I was about 8 or so, I saw the touring cast of the musical "Into The Woods" by Steven Sondheim. While the Cinderella story I knew was the Disney (based off of Perrault), Sondheim based his Cinderella on the Grimm (well, at least in the first half of the show *grin*). I loved the idea that it was her mother helping her, and the gory bits with cutting off the heel and toe grabbed me, and the fact the prince had to scheme to catch Cinderella (rather than her growing careless and dropping a shoe) just presented me with a much more nuanced story than the Disney - "oh look, magic." It was then that I began to find and read many other fairy tales from around the world, and I never looked back. (Danielle Schulman)
by G. Manton (1890)
My father was in the USAF. Because of this, I spent a significant portion of my childhood in Japan and S. Korea. My first exposure to the Cinderella tale was in the form of the Chinese story, Ye-Shen. My 2nd exposure to the Cinderella story came from Disney-inspired books and movies.
by Harry Clarke
Until today, I did not know about the Grimm's version. However, after reading the Grimm's version, I see a lot of commonality in the Grimm's version and the Ye-Shen story. One notable difference is in the Ye-Shen story, the magic is derived from some fish bones. (Johnothan L. Babb)
Yes! And Charles Dickens used same concept in his story The Magic Fishbone, which I read long before I read the Yeh-Shen story. I've often wondered if, as the Far East (as it was then called) became more open to Western trade, Dickens somehow heard the Yeh-Shen story and adapted that idea to his own purposes. (Anne)
(One) of the things that always makes Cinderella so interesting is the way she adapts to a certain culture's expectations for a virtuous woman/wife. Perrault wrote his fairy tales for an audience of 17th century nobles, so his Cinderella shows a certain craftiness and ability to forgive slights that would be valuable at a court full of scheming nobility. Drew Barrymore's Ever After was created at the height of the 90s "Girl Power" wave, so she is intelligent, clever, physically strong, and an equal to the prince - all the traits I was told were good as I was growing up. But although Cinderella's personality and actions will change with the times, as well as the details of her life - number of sisters, presence of the father, use of magic - the core story remains the same across time and space, which I find simply fascinating. (Suzi Hough)
by Roberto Innocenti
Now that I'm reading back over everything to pull out some discussion tidbits, I see many comments I wish I had responded to but know I just didn't have time to then and wish, once again, we had a couple more weeks of the course left to wrap up the tech challenges and to go through all the discussions a little more thoroughly.
As you might expect, the comments ranged from romantic to cynical, from discussions of love to orders of custom and business - especially when it came to Cinderella. For example:
I've always been fascinated by the fact that the Prince doesn't recognize Cinderella when he comes to try the slipper on her foot (The Rodgers and Hammerstein's videos and the first version of the story show this). I think this points out that sometimes Love doesn't know what it's looking for, and that we need something to measure it and confirm that this is truly the one we belong with (The slipper being the perfect fit illustrates that there is no one else it could belong too). (Meghan)
by Nataliya Derevyanko
I love what you (Meghan) said: "I think this points out that sometimes Love doesn't know what it's looking for, and that we need something to measure it and confirm that this is truly the one we belong with (The slipper being the perfect fit illustrates that there is no one else it could belong too)."
I think that the Prince not recognizing her has something to do with a left over class structure of finding a good mate and a good pedigree. He thinks she is some foreign royal because of her finery and therefore, she would make a good match for him. I think this can be found in an analysis of the Grimms' version? I also believe there is a little of this left in the Disney version (the version I immediately think of when I hear "Cinderella") when the prince's man is trying the slipper on Cinderella and calls her "senora" (or "signora" unsure of which culture/spelling).
I remember when I was young, a friend's mom told us that many cultures had their own version of Cinderella, for instance, in Russian she had fur slippers instead of glass. I've never really delved deeper into that, although I'm aware of other cultures having their own versions, but I thought it was interesting that this story carries so much weight as to be dispersed throughout many cultures. I think part of the story's appeal is that an unambitious girl, who nonetheless knows what she wants, and is good and kind to even those who are mean to her, in the end, gets what she desires. This speaks to what Penny Sidoli said about the ambitious world. At heart, I think most of us want to be the good guy, the underdog, because we know that it is better to win with love than fear or manipulation and we want to be the person who can. I heard a Walt Disney quote once where he said that he loved Cinderella personally because she didn't sit around waiting for her prince to come, she went to the castle and got him herself! I like her for this reason, also. (Theresa Williams)
The Palace Awaits by Rob Kaz
Theresa, I do like your perspective.
I find an interesting thought, what the slipper I think may point to is the theory of soul mates. What if the slipper, which goes on your foot i.e. your sole, is a about your soul. In Grimm, the girls hacked up their foot to be just the right fit. The girl can't be the prince's mate because she is only part of who is is and her sole is not the right fit. So, is the story about going out and getting what your want, yes, it is, but could it also be about finding the other half of the one you fit with? (Leslea A Moore)
In my mind Cinderella was never a romantic fairy tale but a social climbing tale - one of political and social maneuvering and of matches made for mutual benefit. There's a lot of manipulation from multiple characters, all for their own reasons, and that wasn't lost on me, even as a child. I DID always like the fact that if you stayed true to your heart that nature/your heritage/your ancestors/creatures etc would be more likely to help you. In most versions I've read (that I remember) there is a strong element of Cinderella understanding that she needs to invest her time and effort toward others needs (birds, mother's grave, doing her stepsisters hair properly etc) before she can expect any return (this is the "gracious" aspect). In this way though I often found this tale to be quite cold. Love is very far from this story the way I read it/them. It's all about opportunity and getting what you want. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, of course, it just doesn't endear the tale enough to me overall to put it in my top picks. I am COMPLETELY fascinated, though, by all the variations. That's more interesting than any one version in particular to me. (Gypsy Thornton)
Historical Disney Cinderella by Claire Hummel
We had lots to say about the stepsisters, including their beauty (something changed by Disney, so they were outwardly and well as internally ugly)...
From (Perrault's) version of the story I’d also highlight:
- The presence of the big looking glass the sisters had.
- The two sisters hadn’t eaten a thing in the two days prior to the ball.
- The fact that they broke several laces to get a slender shape. (Being slenderness something important in both versions of the story). (Tamara Santamariña)
I love the almost smirking attitude of Cendrillon when she begs to borrow her stepsister's dress to go to the 2nd ball and see the beautiful stranger--who she knows is none other than herself! And sharing her gifts with the sisters at the ball? She's almost daring them to recognize her--yet they don't! I love the undertones in this story. (Margaret Lundberg)
|by Casey Neal|
Growing up as someone who was in love with fairy tales, I had read both Perrault's and the Grimm Brother's version, as well as one from China, which was closer to the Grimm Brother's version than Perrault's-- so I was familiar with the text. One thing, though, was that I kept comparing both stories to the Disney film and I found that Disney made a few changes that somewhat cheapened the story. For instance, the moral Perrault laid out at the end of his tale, that being kind and generous was more important than being beautiful, was lost in the Disney film by making the step-sisters ugly. If Cinderella is the only beautiful person in the entire story, how can we draw the conclusion that it was her heart and kind personality that won the Prince (and ultimately the love and respect of her step sisters)? Further, I find it interesting from a feminist viewpoint that in both stories, the father was alive and well. I had forgotten that about the original stories, but it does make the Father at least complicit in the evil acts of the Stepmother and stepsisters, while the Disney film demonizes the stepmother (an archetype that is rampant through Disney films) and sisters for being vain and jealous and the source of all Cinderella's woes. Being that he was actually her father, wouldn't his actions towards Cinderella be even worse than the women's? (Lauren Soderberg)
by J. Scott. Campbell
What struck me as the most shocking was the father's impotence/unwillingness to step in and help his own daughter. As most of us (I assume), I first met Cinderella through Disney. The "easier" choice of an absent, presumed dead father is much more palatable to modern people than the unfeeling, selfish father Cinderella has in the Perrault and Grimm versions. (Deborah G.)
And, of course, there was the little fact that Cinderella commits murder in Basile's version:
The most surprising story point I found is in Basile's version — the one in which Cinderella commits murder. I was expecting cruelty from the stepsister and the stepmother (I was even ready for a version where one of the stepsisters was somewhat tempered in her mistreatment of Cinderella), but not from Cinderella herself. I think every iteration of the fairytale I've read/seen/heard had painted Cinderella as good and kind, gracious even. So, it was shocking that the earliest tale of Cinderella included a murderous yet somehow virtuous girl. (Kristen Menke)
And we had some interesting summaries too:
I thought it was interesting that each of the three Cinderella stories had a different point to make:
Cinderella Pin-up by Tim Shumate
The Grimm story shows that virtue is rewarded and wickedness is punished.
The stated moral of the Perrault story talks about the importance of graciousness. I thought graciousness was an interesting word since it's not one of the seven Christian virtues.
According to Perrault, you can accomplish anything with graciousness....it seems to have been an important skill for a woman's success in the 17th century.
The Basile story doesn't care about punishing wickedness or rewarding virtue but it points out the futility of meddling with destiny. (Susanne Martin)
Cinderella, to me, brings me back to the moment in my childhood when I began to understand the full richness and complexity there is to be had in the world of folk and fairytales. Like many kids growing up in the US, my main exposure to fairytales came through Disney movies. But when I was about 8 or so, I saw the touring cast of the musical "Into The Woods" by Steven Sondheim. While the Cinderella story I knew was the Disney (based off of Perrault), Sondheim based his Cinderella on the Grimm (well, at least in the first half of the show *grin*). I loved the idea that it was her mother helping her, and the gory bits with cutting off the heel and toe grabbed me, and the fact the prince had to scheme to catch Cinderella (rather than her growing careless and dropping a shoe) just presented me with a much more nuanced story than the Disney - "oh look, magic." It was then that I began to find and read many other fairy tales from around the world, and I never looked back.
I hadn't read the Basile before. The disguise element so that her sisters wouldn't see her leave the house - it's not a major factor in this version, but is it the basis for the various "Catskins" versions? I know we are not doing a folkloric approach in the class, but now I'm curious. :) (Danielle Schulman)
Cinderella statue in rain
There are literally hundreds of versions of the Cinderella story, and the various "Catskins" are among them. I found a book by Marian Cox--written in 1893--that listed over 350 versions. That number is now believed to be over 700! (Margaret Lundberg)
It's the treatment of the stepsisters (who aren't ugly except for their personalities) that's really interesting. Obviously it satirizes and therefore, discourages self mutilation, but it also shows that changing yourself to fit some preconceived mold or "shoe" can be disastrous. Or that no matter how pretty something appears on the outside of the shoe, it's just a bloody mess on the inside, you can't hide your stripes so to speak and you shouldn't try. It's almost a positive message in disguise. (Misty)
It's interesting how we're constantly trying to re-tell this story even today. Clearly there's something about it that we can all still relate to. (Veronica Bersamin Jo)
- the relation of Cinderella to the phoenix legend (and retellings that used/touched on that)
- the small shoe/foot size of Cinderella
- the purposeful dropping of the shoe vs the accidental
- whether or not the prince attempted to stop her running away on subsequent ball nights
- the manifestation of help - mother's spirit being discussed in particular
I wondered where this magical 'godmother' came from, why she seemed non existent to Cinderella previously, and if that role is similar to our culture today. (Kristi Franzwa)
There are MANY other interesting ideas, comments and bits of information I don't really have room to include. I've really only scratched the surface, especially since some need to be read in context of a discussion while other really interesting comments are on the lengthy side. Since this is already a lengthy post, I suggest, if I've piqued your interest, that you go read the thread HERE.
Stay tuned for more MOOC highlights!