February 13, 2011 at 6:16 pm (Book Commentary, Faery tales) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

There are so many ways to tell a story.

There are at least a thousand ways to tell this story.

All week a lyric has been running through my head. “Sometimes I feel like a poor, penniless child.” I was sure Janis Joplin sang it. I could picture her singing it. I researched. I googled. I could find nothing.

This morning as I was walking “motherless” popped into my head and that was it. The lyrics were an imperfect reflection in my mind. The song actually goes “sometimes I feel like a motherless child” and is an old blues spiritual sung during the 1960s by bands like Van Morrison and Joplin.

Penniless, motherless – are not these two concepts the same.

In the story of Cinderella, the first Fairy Tale I remember reading, Cinderella becomes motherless and is treated as penniless by her new family. Though I was never motherless, I started life out penniless.

And I have a stepmother and half-sisters.

The morning sky, last week, was layered grey, blue, pink-like a taffeta skirt reminiscent of Disney’s Cinderella. I love this movie – the talking mice, poor, pretty Cinderella and the absent (but loving) father. I own this movie. Truth be told, I own two copies of this movie as I have both the VHS edition and the DVD collector’s edition.

Disney’s Cinderella, in my mind, is more of a concept, an ideal and less of a person, a woman. She’s pretty, privileged and perfect even when she is being tormented by her ugly, mean, ungrateful stepmother and step-sisters.

This version of the story and the happy ending are too easy. Where is the strife? Where is the conflict? Where is the anger at being turned into a scully maid?

There are a thousand ways to tell this story and SurLaLune lists many of them. The story has been told from the Godmother’s point of view (Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon); in another tale the gender is reversed (Prince Cinders by Babette Cole); a stepsister gets to tell her version (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire); and sometimes Cinderella does not fall for the prince (Ash by Malinda Lo).

Then there are movies like Ella Enchanted and Ever After.

There are a thousand ways to tell this story.

My favourite version is by the Brothers Grimm.

At the beginning of the story everyone is happy and content. The rich merchant has a beautiful, devoted wife, the wife has a man who not only provides for her but also loves her and they are both blessed with a pretty and subservient daughter.

Then there is death and remarriage and strife.

The rich merchant abandons his child to fate and a self-serving stepmother. Although is he also not being self-serving?

Subservient Cinderella copes and survives. Her counsel is her dead mother and duty-bound father. There are no talking mice or fairy godmothers here, Cinderella solves her own problems.

She goes to the ball not seeking a prince but seeking her self.

After the ball, after decisions made on both sides (hers and the prince), there is still more strife.

Bad decisions get made by the stepmother, which cost her daughters’ blood and pain. The rich merchant leaves the household decisions to his wife. How responsible is he here?

Yes, in the end, Cinderella weds the prince and one can suppose they live happily ever after.

But, there is in the telling of this version of the tale, a second lesson. Decisions have consequences. Even the decisions we let others make for us.

And maybe, there’s a third lesson. Fathers can not be trusted. Stepmothers are evil. Step-sisters are not blood (or are they).

There is so much hidden.

Lesson one: It is possible to live happily ever after. But only once and it’s a lot of work and can’t you tell I still not sure if I believe this is possible.

Lesson two: Decisions have consequences. Even the decisions we let others make for us. Yes. For the first twenty years of my life I was an obedient daughter and it nearly did me in. I choose now to be honest with my decisions and I want a lover who will do the same.

Lesson three: Fathers can not be trusted. Stepmothers are evil. Step-sisters are not blood (or are they). Fathers are people and though I won’t trust mine to know what I need I have finally come to the place where I know he loves me. Stepmothers are people too; some may be a little kinder than others and some may be perfect but they all have to find a way to step into something already formed and carve a place for them selves. All my siblings are blood in that they are family essential to my heart, my sense of home and my place in the universe.

What I take from Cinderella is that I must choose how to live happily ever after. I must define, for myself and myself alone, what this means.

Sometimes I feel like a penniless child,

Sometimes I feel like a penniless child,

Sometimes I feel like a penniless child,

Long way from my home.

P.S. February 2011 is my Fairy Tale month. The next two posts will also deal with Fairy Tales.

P.S.S. For a lovely new picture book re-imagining Cinderella, read Come To The Fairies’ Ball by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Gary Lippincott.

I occasionally check out books from the Childrens’ room of the local library and recently came across this enchanting picture book.


Here amidst “a terrible fooforaw” with “a fret and a fuss and a fidget and grumble” a young fey searches for her “spider web gown” so that she can go to the ball, where all “trotted and trembled, they waltzed, waddled, winged” about and find themselves within happily ever after.


The book is appropriately published by Wordsong and the two page spread of the ball is pretty and well composed, with many treasures for an inquisitive eye to seek and find.


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  3. Marion said,

    How odd…I just picked up Come to the Fairies’ Ball at a second hand book store. It had obviously never been read! I wondered how this book could have been owned by someone and yet, I’ll bet they hardly cracked the book open…It is a delightful book!

    Super post, as always…I love the fairy tale series!!

    • solitaryspinster said,

      How lucky for you. I should go to the second-hand bookstore more (but then I would spend all my money on books.)

      😦 gigi

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