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The Original Cinderella?

Did you know that at one time folklorists had counted over 2,000 Cinderella stories from cultures around the world?

The earliest known version is believed to be the story of Rhodopis, a Greek slave girl who married an Egyptian king, which was recorded early in the 1st century. A Chinese version, Ye Xian, was recorded in the 9th century, and there have been thousands of Cinderella stories since then.

Most of the stories involve a missing shoe. Some have a fairy godmother while in others, help comes from a fish, or birds, or a tree.

The version we are most familiar with has its roots in the French court in the 17th century, when it became a popular pastime to write literary versions of folktales. Charles Perrault wrote his Cinderella story (Cendrillon in French) and added the pumpkin coach and the fairy godmother that have become associated with Cinderella in popular culture. Perrault’s Cinderella wore a fur slipper – quite a luxury in those days when cold stone castles were warmed only by fireplaces – but the words for “fur” and “glass” sound very similar in French, and when his story was translated into English, the slipper became a glass slipper. There is something magical about the impossibility of wearing a glass shoe. You may notice also that the ball lasts more than one night in this version.

If you’ve seen Disney’s Cinderella, she is helped at first by birds who make a dress for her that the stepsisters later destroy. Perhaps the birds came from the German version of the story, Aschenputtel, which was published by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century.

Our Virtual Storytime for today features a reading of Perrault’s version of Cinderella. You may notice that the stepsisters, when getting ready for the ball, put on “patches” – a patch is a little dark spot that was considered a beauty mark. They wore them on their faces. It’s sort of like a temporary tattoo only very plain, despite being a beauty mark! They also wore “stays” – in order to fit into the fancy court gowns, they wore long shirts, like tank tops without the straps, that were fitted inside the material with bone. There were laces at the back, and the maid servants would pull the laces as tight  as they could to make the ladies’ waists look small. Hmm, maybe Cinderella wouldn’t have been able to bend over and pick up her glass slipper even if she had time before the clock struck twelve!

What other differences do you notice when you hear this version of the story?

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