Cinderella The Beginning
Cinderella is one of the most well-known fairy tales but did you know that the first version of Cinderella comes from ancient China?
First literal version of the story appeared in China in 823 AD. Writer heard it from his servant who was originally from Vietnam. In the story Cinderella was part of the cave tribe. Living in caves was very common among some ethnic groups in ancient Vietnam. Some of the caves had whole Eco-systems inside them including forests and lakes. According to common custom Cinderella´s father had two wife's. Cinderella´s mother passed away when she was a child and few years later her father passed away too. Stepmother and two step-sisters were cruel towards Cinderella and she was forced to work as their servant. One day in despair she was crying by the pond and a giant gold fish started to talk to her. Soon goldfish and Cinderella became good friends. Goldfish was always there to comfort her. One day stepmother saw Cinderella hugging the goldfish and got outraged. She ordered the goldfish to be catch and told the chef to prepare a meal from it. When Cinderella heard that fish had been killed her heart was broken. When she was mourning spirit of the mountain appeared in front of her in the shape of an old man. He told Cinderella to pick the bones of the goldfish and hide them into her room. Whenever she would need something all she had to do was to ask that from the bones and the wish would come true.
Love For Shoes
There was a great ball coming and Cinderella asked for gown and shoes. Bones granted her wish and she received a beautiful dress that was made of king fisher´s feathers and tiny delicate golden shoes. Cinderella went to the ball. She had great time there but when she returned to her home she had lost other one of the golden shoes. One of the men in her tribe found the shoe and admired it´s beauty. Man thought that the king himself would appreciate such a beautiful shoe. So he sailed to the neighbor kingdom and represented the shoe to the king. King was blown away by the beauty of the shoe and ordered all his servants to look for the girl who the shoe would fit. King found Cinderella and asked her hand in marriage and they lived happily ever after.
This fairy tale was written down during Tang-dynasty. There was a cruel custom in China to bind women´s feet still in the end of last century but this story was told way before this custom started. However also in this story comes out the admiration for small feet that the Chinese had.
Cinderella Travels To Europe
China was trading with Indonesia, Malaysia and India. From these countries story spread to Europe with merchants. First European version of Cinderella appeared in 1630´s in Naples. Story was rewritten by Italian writer and story teller Giambattista Basile. Cinderella was included in his story collection Il Pentamerone stories for the little ones. Name of the book can be misleading. These stories were rancid and meant only for adults.
Story starts the same way as the Vietnamese fairy tale. Cinderella´s mother dies and father re-marries. Soon she finds out that the stepmother is a horrible woman and she and her governess kill her together. Plot gets thicker when father marries the governess. New stepmother turns out to be even more cruel than the previous one. She also has two stepsisters who make fun of her and force her to sit by the cinders and that is where she gets her famous name Cinderella.
Charles Perrault´s Cinderella
Most famous version of Cinderella was written by French fairy tale author Charles Perrault. Cendrillion" appeared in 1697. His version has all the famous elements that we all know: pumpkins, clock striking at midnight and above all, glass slipper. Perrault´s Cinderella is not as violent as Basile´s Cinderella. On the contrary she is overly kind and obedient. When she finally ends up marrying the prince she even finds husbands for her evil stepsisters. Perrault was the official fairy tale writer in the court of the sun king Ludwig the 14th. France was very Catholic country in the 17th century and all fairy tales needed to have moral lessons and nothing suspicious or unappropriated. Perrault´s writing style is vivid and tells a lot about human nature.
"Was she then so very beautiful? How fortunate you have been! Could I not see her? Ah! dear Miss Charlotte, do lend me your yellow suit of clothes which you wear every day."
"Ay, to be sure!" cried Miss Charlotte; "lend my clothes to such a dirty Cinderwench as thou art! I should be out of my mind to do so."
Cinderella Of The Brothers Grimm
In the beginning of the 19th century Brothers Grimm decided to add Cinderella to their fairy tale collection. Brothers hesitated first because they considered Cinderella mainly as a French fairy tale. As a result they made Cinderella more fitting to Germanic fairy tale tradition. Grimm´s Brothers Cinderella was no longer daughter of a count but she was a daughter of merchant and they did not live in a town but in the rural country side. Brother´s Grimm version of Cinderella is dark and sadistic. Stepsisters cut their heels off so that the glass slipper would fit and during Cinderella´s wedding, white doves fly down from the heavens and pick stepsisters eyes making them blind for the rest of their miserable lives.
Cinderella in Folk Tales
Folk tale means a story that has been told orally by generation after generation. In many cultures folk tales can be based on myths and legends but what it comes to some of the world´s most famous fairy tales they have also become folk tales. From Europe alone one can find over 500 folk tale versions of Cinderella. Interestingly enough in Finland and in Sweden there are folk tales about male Cinderella who has an evil stepfather and two stepbrothers and he falls in love to a girl who is way above his social status.
Scene where Cinderella gets her iconic dress was Walt Disneys personal favorite animated scene.
Cinderella on the big screen
There are over 100 film and tv- adaptations made from Cinderella. One of my favorite movie adaptations is Disney animation from 1950. After the second world war Disney animation studios were out of money and near bankrupt. Cinderella was a financial success and helped the studio to get back to it´s feet. Disney´s Cinderella is based on Charles Perrault´s fairy tale and movie is quite loyal to the story but Cinderella in the animation is not all that obedient as in Perrault´s story. What is interesting in the animation is that in the halfway of the movie viewer starts to see little changes in Cinderella´s character. She is near the breaking point and the signs of rebellion starts to show. Lady Tremaine is one of the scariest Disney villains. If you watch any sequels of Cinderella you will see that she does not only want to control the life of Cinderella she also wants to control the lives of her own daughters. Lady Tremaine never shows her true feelings. Can it be possible that she doesn´t have any?
In Roger and Hammerstein musical film from 1997 Brandi played the part of Cinderella.
Drew Barrymore played Danielle in the movie "Ever After". Movie was based on the story of Cinderella and it was one of the most successful films in 1998.
Rags to Riches
Cinderella is one of the most beloved fairy tales still today. It has rich visual world. Pumpkins, fairy godmother, talking animals, handsome prince and the glass slipper. Magic in Cinderella is enchanting. Love does not care about your social status or how much money you have in your bank account or even more importantly love doesn´t care if you have terrible family. We use the phrase "Cinderella story" to describe person´s against-the-odds journey from rags to riches. Cinderella speaks to people because it is a fairy tale that encourages us to dream and to believe in ourselves, to follow one´s heart and maybe someday those dreams can truly come true.
Ballad of Mulan
Legend of Mulan has inspired people for thousands of years. She has become a vital part of Chinese culture and storytelling. Who was the real Mulan? Did she really existed or has her legend evolved from many different female soldiers? Let´s find out.
In China, there have been many historically important female warriors and each one of them has integrated into the legend of Mulan. There aren´t any archaeological findings which would prove the existence of the real Mulan but there are lots of literal sources which mention her. A poem called the Ballad of Mulan appeared sometimes between 386 BC and 533 BC during the Northern Wei Dynasty in ancient China. After it´s appearance the Ballad of Mulan has inspired countless amount of artists, musicians, writers and movie makers.
Martial Arts Expert
According to the legend in her youth, Mulan was very much a tomboy. Her mother thought her house chores and her father, who was a former soldier trained her to become a warrior. Mulan became an expert in martial arts. One day 17-year-old Mulan was washing laundry by the river when she overheard that the army was recruiting soldiers. Her father was old and sick and Mulan knew that he would not survive in the battle. She decided to took her father´s place and disguised herself as a man. Her father was not happy with her decision neither he was against it. Her mother was sad and was worried whether she would remain a virgin and would any man be willing to marry her after she would return. Mulan convinced her mother that she would remain untouched.
In the army, Mulan did her best to hide her true identity. She took all the night shifts so that she would not have to sleep in the tent with the other men. Her excellent martial art skills caused jealousy among some other soldiers like Zhang Shaz who always made fun of her. Other soldiers like the chief Jin Yong became good friends with Mulan but none of them knew her big secret.
Jin Yong and Mulan fought in countless battles together and eventually Mulan fell in love with her friend but she had to hide both her feelings and her true identity. After 10 years of service, Mulan was promoted as a general. During a sudden attack by the enemy´s army, Mulan wounded herself in the battle and her real identity was revealed. She had gained the respect of her men who now on respected her even more and Jin Yong realized that he truly loved Mulan.
Greatest of all Heroes
After a great victory in a battle, the emperor himself wanted to reward Mulan but she declined and said that she only wished to return to her village. That what happened Mulan after she left the army is unclear. According to some versions of the story Jin Yong died in the battle and Mulan took her own life to be with him for eternity. In some stories, Mulan returns to her home village where her father has passed away. She does not return to the army but remains in the village and takes traditional woman´s role. However, her experiences from the battlefields come into her dreams. Is she haunted by these dreams or does she secretly wish to return? We do not know. In the romanticized versions of the tale, Mulan and Jin Yong left the army and spent the rest of their lives together.
History of Mulan
Between 400 and 700 BC Chinese were constantly fighting against Mongols and other tribes from the north. War lasted nearly 300 years in different parts of the land. During these hopeless times, stories about courage warriors were well received. Since there isn´t any archaeological evidence which would prove the existence of real Mulan it is more than likely that her character was inspired by one of several Chinese female warriors which have all intertwined into the legend of Mulan.
The character of Mulan still lives strongly today in Chinese pop culture, in games, comics, books and movies. Her legends come back to life when people are looking for reminders of outstanding courage. Most known story version to the western audience is Disney animation from 1998. Disney´s Mulan is in fact quite loyal to the Ballad of Mulan. In China, the story of Mulan has been used to lift up fighting spirit whereas the Disney animation focuses more on the inner growth of the main character. After the appearance of Disney´s Mulan Disney changed the criteria for Disney princesses, when before Disney princess was a character who either married to royalty or had royal blood. Now a leading character who commits an outstanding act of bravery would become a Disney princess. Mulan is the first official Disney princess who is not born into a royal family or marry a royal.
Last verse from the ballad of Mulan
The buck bounds here and there,Whilst the doe has narrow eyes.
But when the two rabbits run side by side,
How can you tell the female from the male?
Finding One´s Identity
The story of Mulan is about finding one´s identity. In many different versions of the story, Mulan wonder´s what makes a hero. Is a woman a hero when she waits for her husband to return from the war? Is a woman a hero when she raises boys to become soldiers? There are times when Mulan questions her own identity and male and female roles are reversed. Is she now a man because she wears an armour and fights in the army? What makes a man and what makes a woman? What makes a true warrior? In China, traditional gender roles have been shifted just within the past 50 years the story of Mulan has given inspiration and courage for all those seeking for their identity and their true purpose.
First literal versions of Snow White
Snow White is one of the youngest European fairy tales. The most famous version of Snow White was written by the Brothers Grimm but there were stories about ladies sleeping in glass coffins told in the earlier literature as well.
In 1630´s Naples Italian author Giambattista Basile wrote a story about a girl who slept in a glass coffin. She was killed by her mother who had hit her head too hard with a comb. Basile´s fairy tale collection Il Pentamerone stories for the little ones was filled with grotesque tales which often made fun of Italian court of the time.
In 1782 popular German fairy tale writer Johann Karl August Musäus published a book called "Folkmärchen der Deutchen" (German folk tales). Book included a story called "Richilde" and it is believed that this story was the inspiration for Brothers Grimm´s story.
Richilde was a proud and a beautiful woman who owned a magical mirror which she had received as a baptizing gift. She had a step-daughter called Blanca (referring to the color white). Each day Richilde would go to her magic mirror asking who is the fairest of them all? and each time the mirror would answer you my queen.
On Blanca's 15th year birthday the mirror answers to the queen that Blanca is the fairest of them all. Richilde becomes outraged. She orders poison from her doctor and prepares a gift basket and sends it to Blanca.
Blanca lives in a castle of her own where she has dwarfs as her servants. Dwarfs recognize the poison and save Blanca´s life. Richilde attempts again and again until one day Blanca opens a letter which is filled with poison and she falls into coma.
Dwarfs build a glass coffin and Blanca´s body is taken to the castle´s crypt. Handsome prince is on a pilgrimage and he hears about a beautiful princess in a glass coffin. There is no true love´s kiss in this story. Prince wakes Blanca with a relic he has brought with him from the holy land.
Prince and Blanca fall in love and together with the dwarfs they start planning revenge for the evil queen. Prince visits the queen´s castle and starts to flatter her. Vain queen wishes to marry the young prince. Weddings are being organized but soon queen finds out that her step-daughter is alive and she is the one who prince wishes to marry. Dwarfs have prepared burning steel slippers and the queen is forced to wear them while dancing the wedding waltz with one of the soldiers. She is locked into the highest tower to think her evil deeds while Blanca and prince live happily ever after.
Fairy Tale Motifs
Dwarfs were most likely inspired by gruesome custom of the 18th century European aristocrat families who "collected" divergent people. Tsarists of Russia was even known from organizing a Wedding ceremony to one of her little chamber maidens. Another popular character to appear in fairy tales is the evil stepmother. We can find her from fairy tales such as Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Stepmothers in the fairy tales are known from trying to turn the life of their step-children to living hell. Here are some methods from the stories of Brothers Grimm how stepmothers have tortured their step-children:
- turning into an animal
- marrying to a beast
- poisoning with an apple
- poisoning with a comb
- poisoning with a shirt
- abandoning to the forest
Snow White by Brothers Grimm
During one beautiful midwinter day when snow flakes were falling from the skies like feathers. There was a queen sewing by the window. She hurt her finger to the needle and three drops of blood dropped into the snow. Queen watched the snow thinking:
"I wish I had a child. Red as blood, white as snow and black as the wooden frames of my window"
Soon after that she had a baby girl who had lips red as blood, skin white as snow and hair black as Eben wood. Queen died and the king married again. New queen was beautiful and a proud woman and she owned a magical mirror. Each day she asked:
"mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all"
and each time the mirror would answer:
"you my queen"
King died and the evil queen treated Snow White as her servant. One day mirror said that Snow White was the fairest of them all. Queen got outraged and ordered one of her hunters to bring liver and lungs of Snow White. Hunter felt sorry for the young princess and helped her to escape. Snow White hide into the cabin of the seven dwarfs where she became their servant. Queen found out she was alive and disguised as a witch gave her a poison apple. Snow White fell into a coma but everyone thought she was dead. Dwarfs build her a glass coffin which they took into the top of a mountain. The moment handsome prince lifted the coffin to carry it away, the piece of poisoned apple falled between her lips and princess Snow White was awakened.
Albert Ludwing Grimm
Many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales were not orally collected folktales, like brothers wanted people to believe. Most of them were collected from the books from the library of Kassel and majority of the Grimm fairy tales were not even German but of Italian or French origin. What it came to Snow White brothers were honest for once and they admitted that the inspiration for the story came from Musäus´s "Richilde". Another story that inspired Brothers Grimm version came from a fellow German writer called Albert Ludwig Grimm (who was not related to the Brothers). In 1809 three years before the first fairy tale collection of the Brother´s Grimm was published Albert Ludwig Grimm published his book called "Kindermarchen" (stories for children). There was a play in the book, very similar to Snow White. In the play stepmother orders two hunters to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. In the woods hunters escape when they see seven dwarfs approaching holding torches in their hands.
Dwarfs Great Minors of the Mountains
In Brothers Grimm fairy tale dwarfs are minors who mine copper and iron. Inspiration for the dwarfs most likely came from old pagan German myths such as story of Nibelung and Norse Edda poems.
In the fairy tale dwarfs are introduced with a repetition:
Who has been sitting in my chair?" one of the dwarfs asked
"Who has eaten from my plate?" second dwarf asked
"Who has taken a bite from my bread?" third dwarf asked
"Who has eaten my vegetables" fourth dwarf asked
"Who has used my fork?" fifth dwarf asked
"Who has cut with my knife?" sixth dwarf asked
"Who has drank from my glass?" seventh dwarf asked"
Snow White of the Brothers Grimm is kind and obedient. In 19th century fairy tales noble lady was always good-tempered and good-hearten. She takes care of the dwarfs and becomes their servant. She cleans and she cooks for them. Nature always plays big part in Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Dwarfs don´t take the glass coffin into a castle crypt. Instead they take it into the top of a mountain. Each night and day one of the dwarfs looks after the coffin. Snow white loves birds so there are always birds flying around her as well. Usually crows, doves or owls.
Russian Snow White
There is an interesting folk tale version of Snow White found from Eastern Russia. In this version of the fairy tale evil queen uses group of beggars as her "mirror" asking them: Have you ever seen anyone as beautiful as me?
Answer of the beggars does not please the queen.
Baby in that cradle is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen
Outraged queen orders beggars to leave empty handed. She takes the baby to the edge of the forest and leaves her there. One of the beggars, an older lady, finds the bab there and adopts her. Snow White grows to a beautiful young maiden. When the old woman dies girl is forced to find a new home for herself. She finds a beautiful small cabin hidden in the woods. There she meets eight brothers who promise to treat her as their sister. Brothers are not dwarfs in this version of the story. They are dragon killers and each day they go fight against the dragons. One evening dragon attacks to the cabin. Clever Snow White boils water in the cauldron and drops some heavy stones there. She invites the dragon to eat with her but when the dragon enters inside Snow White throws the burning stones to the dragons mouth and kills it. Brothers find the dead dragon and they become even more attached to Snow White and the following nights they kill more dragons together.
Stepmother finds out that Snow White is still alive and she sends a poisoned shirt for her. Snow White puts the shirt on and falls down to the floor. Brothers believe that she is dead and take her into the forest in a coffin made of gold and glass. Son a of a priest is riding by and sees the beautiful girl. He steals the coffin and takes it to his bed chamber where he sleeps next to the dead girl.
Son of a priest gets thinner and soon he himself start to look like a corpse. He goes to see the local witch who promises to help her. First she turns man´s home into a banya (Russian sauna). Room is heated and the poison in the shirt starts to disappear. Snow White wakes up very dizzy after being in a sleep for a week. Son of a priest wants to marry Snow White but she can not agree without talking to her brothers first for they are now her guardians. Brothers are thrilled when they find out that Snow White is alive. Evil queen is on her way but the brothers manage to kill her.
Russian Snow White has lots of elements from traditional Slavic folklore tradition. Unlike her western counterpart she is very active character who does not wait around for her prince to come. There are elements of necrophilia which makes this version ten times darker than the Brothers Grimm version. Brothers who are dragon killers can be seen as an allegory of Russian´s ancient past where warriors of distant tribes were sometimes referred as "dragons". This fairy tale was written by Russian fairy tale author Alexander Puskin in 1830. It is believed that he had based his story to the French translation of Brothers Grimm Snow White. At that time Puskin was father of small children and was very found of creating fairy tales for Russian children.
Disney´s Snow White
Most famous film adaptation of Snow White was made by Walt Disney in 1937. Young Walt Disney had ambitious dream to create a full-length animation film. Hollywood movie industry refereed the film as "Disney´s folly" while it was on production. To get a loan for the film Disney had to pledge his own house among other things. But it was all worth it because Snow White became a huge financial success with $ 1.48 million budget bringing $480 millions in the box offices world wide.
Disney´s animation was based on Brothers Grimm version of Snow White but the biggest difference was that Walt Disney gave individual personality to each of the dwarfs. They became Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey. There was over 700 animators working on Snow White and over 20 million drawings were made. Film was a critical success and recommended for both children and adults.
Disney´s Snow White is sweet and kind-hearten in her nature but she also has sassy side of her that people often tend to neglect. This comes out especially in scenes that she shares with Grumpy. Snow White is also the first official Disney princess in the Disney princess merchandise.
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.