You know the story. A beautiful girl is reduced to wearing rags and scrubbing out the fireplace. A horrible stepmother and two ugly stepsisters torment her on a regular basis, and she only makes it to "happily ever after" with the help of the typical fairy godmother. Okay, Cinderella's not a bad story. We especially like the part where she gets to wear the beautiful ball gown and flirt with the prince. Some of us might even have hopes of meeting our own fairy godmother one of these days. But what if that isn't the real story?
The Real Story
Cinderella was a folk tale told by mouth long before anyone wrote it down. The Brothers Grimm are credited with being among the first to write down fairy tales, including Cinderella. In their version of Cinderella, which is simply the version mothers told their children for centuries, the story is much rougher than the polished version we know and love.
Cinderella's mother died, and her father remarries. The stepmother and stepsisters are beautiful on the outside, but ugly within. They torture Cinderella and make her work like a slave. Her father apparently has no problem with this in the original version.
Cinderella would go and visit her mother's grave two times a day, and her devotion and good nature were rewarded by a little bird in a tree there who threw down whatever she wished for. One day, there was an announcement that the King would host a three day festival. Cinderella wanted to go, but everyone laughed at her.
She did go of course, but there was no fairy godmother. The bird by her mother's grave threw down a beautiful golden dress for her to wear and nobody recognized her at the festival. She danced with the prince all night long, but when she got tired, she had to run away from him because he wanted to walk her home to see where she lived.
The second night the same thing happened, but the bird threw down an even more beautiful golden and silver dress. The third and final night, the bird threw down the most beautiful golden dress anyone had ever seen and the golden slippers to match. The prince was on to her by now, and had the stairs smeared with sticky pitch before she could try and run away. She did run away but lost a golden (not glass) slipper.
Beauty is Pain
The prince takes the golden slipper to find his true bride. The stepsisters each get a turn and of course it doesn't fit. The first stepsister's toes are too big. The stepmother advises her to cut off her toe since the girl won't need to walk when she is queen. The daughter does so, and almost gets away with it, but the bird in the tree tattles on her. The prince returns the bleeding stepsister and tries again.
The second stepsister cuts off part of her heel to fit the slipper. Again, the bird rats her out and she gets returned. Finally, Cinderella gets her turn, even though her own father tries to tell the prince she's too dirty to be seen. Of course, the slipper fits and they ride off together into the sunset. But...the story doesn't end there.
Believe it or not, fairy tales were used to teach lessons to children all those years ago. Cinderella is no exception. By now, you've noticed she was showered with gifts for being so devoted to her dear mother and being pure of heart. Her stepsisters however, were not so pure in their intentions. Hundreds of years ago, nobody had any trouble punishing the bad – and I'm not talking about a time-out.
So, despite missing part of their feet, the stepsisters raced to the palace to share in Cinderella's fortune. At her wedding they stood on either side of her. Unfortunately for them, fairy birds hold a grudge. Each stepsister had her eyes pecked out by birds. As the Brothers Grimm so eloquently put it, "for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived." - Ouch.
Of course we can't expect designer jeans to fall out of trees simply by being nice to others. It would be great, of course, but severely unlikely. Likewise, it is pretty safe to say that birds won't peck out your eyes for being mean to your little brother yesterday – you hope. The powerful lesson remains, however - what goes around, comes around. Good is rewarded and bad is punished. Now, where have I heard that before?