Old School Cinderella

My wife was born and raised in the US, but in many ways she was raised in another country.  Her mother is German, and as a result my wife’s first language is German.  When she first went to kindegarten they sent her home because she didn’t understand English.  She had never eaten American style pancakes until we were dating, and had no idea such a thing existed.  She also grew up learning the Brothers Grimm stories for children and young people.  Many of these have familiar titles, but the stories themselves are very different than what you are likely expecting.

Take Cinderella, for example.  The basics of the story are the same;  poor girl with an evil step mother and step sisters who make her life miserable, a prince who uses her shoe to try to locate her after a surreptitious dance, etc.  But in the Brothers Grimm version the emphasis is on her loyalty, humility, perseverance, and hard work instead of “just being” like girls are told in the Disney version.  Hard work is a standard theme in Brothers Grimm, and those who consistently embrace it without complaint are eventually rewarded.

There she had to do hard work from morning until evening, get up before daybreak, carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. Besides this, the sisters did everything imaginable to hurt her. They made fun of her, scattered peas and lentils into the ashes for her, so that she had to sit and pick them out again. In the evening when she had worked herself weary, there was no bed for her. Instead she had to sleep by the hearth in the ashes. And because she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.

Instead of a fairy godmother, there is a tree she planted by her mother’s grave and watered over the years with her tears, and a bird who granted her wishes.

Cinderella went to this tree three times every day, and beneath it she wept and prayed. A white bird came to the tree every time, and whenever she expressed a wish, the bird would throw down to her what she had wished for.

When the time for the famous dance with the prince came, Cinderella first dressed her step sisters, and then pleaded for permission to go herself.

the stepmother finally said, “I have scattered a bowl of lentils into the ashes for you. If you can pick them out again in two hours, then you may go with us.”

Cinderella calls on the birds to help her sort the lentils, allowing them to eat any which aren’t good.  She has to do this twice because her stepmother pulls the same trick again, the second time putting two bowls of lentils in the ashes and giving her half the time to complete it.  But with the help of the birds, she again is able to complete the task on time.  Once she finished this the stepmother went back on her word and took the two stepsisters to the dance without her.

Cinderella went to her mother’s grave and wished for proper clothing to attend the dance.  Once at the dance, the story looks much like the version we more commonly hear.  The prince is smitten with her and wants to know who she is, etc.  However, unlike the version we know, there is no time limit on the spell (home before midnight or the coach turns into a pumpkin). And the slippers are gold instead of glass.

Who fits the shoe?

This is where the Grimm version takes a dramatic turn away from the version we know.  This is a brutal world in which choices have consequences, either good or bad.  In their effort to trick the prince into thinking they were the woman he was searching for, the stepsisters cut off parts of their own feet.  The first one cuts off her big toe:

She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, “Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot.”

The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. However, they had to ride past the grave, and there, on the hazel tree, sat the two pigeons, crying out:

Rook di goo, rook di goo!
There’s blood in the shoe.
The shoe is too tight,
This bride is not right!

The same scene is played out with the younger sister, but she has to cut off her heel instead.  Both times the prince is fooled and then warned by the birds at Cinderella’s mother’s grave.  Eventually of course Cinderella is able to prove that she is the one who left the shoe behind at the dance, and the prince takes her home to marry her.

At this point many of my female readers are probably saying, finally we get to the wedding scene, where the two stepsisters marry dukes after Cinderella forgives them.  Not in Brothers Grimm.  This is a world of consequences, and the step sisters were evil.

When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.

Don’t you just love happy endings?

See Also:
Brothers Grimm Marry Him
Brothers Grimm:  Man up!

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32 Responses to Old School Cinderella

  1. Gorbachev says:

    Consequences.

    Very German.

  2. Mormon Man says:

    If Disney made their movies follow the original fairy tales, it would have helped curtail an entire generation of entitlement.

  3. sdaedalus says:

    The idea of fairy tales as being tests, where women have to prove themselves, is very true. The whole point of these stories, is that beauty is necessary, but not sufficient. Real-life tells you either that looks don’t matter or that they are all that matter. Neither is true. Of course, there is one big problem with all fairytales, and that is that they end too early (probably because the teller got bored). There is no such thing as happily ever after.

  4. OneSTDV says:

    Well I can see why Disney altered some of the details.

  5. OneSTDV says:

    Question: why no Sailer or HalfSigma on the blogroll?

  6. dalrock says:

    I very rarely read Sailer any more, and I’m not familiar with HalfSigmas blog. I pretty much get my dose of HBD from your blog.

  7. Great post!

    I really like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, precisely because they are a lot more brutal and less-PC than most modern unicorn and butterflies fairy tales. Real life isn’t a candyland. Actions have consequences, and sometimes bad things happen for no apparent reasons.

  8. Hah! says:

    The “Brothers Grim” were thieves…. of the typical middle class sort. Not content to just steal other peoples work, they also rewrote the stories however they wanted to.

    I’m ever so glad they tacked on their trashy “codes of conduct” onto SOMEONE ELSES WORK.

    Maybe their mama didn’t teach them not to steal. It would have been better if she had.

  9. AUM says:

    Karma’s a bitch!

  10. dalrock says:

    Are you saying they tricked the Germans into being… German?

    And they never claimed to be the original authors. How is compiling oral tales in written form stealing?

    At any rate, this really is the story as my wife learned it, and her mother before her. And it is how my children will learn the story as well (once old enough).

    Do you have any links on your assertion that they changed the stories as they wrote them down? Ideally something other than a communist party paper.

  11. Al Defunt says:

    dalrock said:
    “Do you have any links on your assertion that they changed the stories as they wrote them down? Ideally something other than a communist party paper.”

    What was the reason of involving communist party?
    Grimm brothers were respected under communist regimes (as they were examples of folk culture artists, not bourgeois) and widely published.

    I read a Grimm version of Cinderella and got to know capitalist Disney version after change.
    Now the capitalist Disney version became a dominant one.

  12. Susan Walsh says:

    What I like about Grimm’s is that it scares the crap out of kids. That is thrilling, but also teaches some important lessons about standing up to the truly terrifying things in this world. It’s also realistic about how things work out sometimes. I’ve read a lot of criticism of the sanitized fairy tales that Disney produces – they create a set of expectations that is quite harmful to young women. The original Cinderella, for example, told the truth about female intrasexual competition in a way that Disney just glosses over.
    When I was a kid, my father, a natural storyteller, had an ongoing series of stories he called “The Tree That Walks By Night.” I cannot tell you how my brothers and I begged him for new installments of this scary tale, for years on end. Every episode ended with a cliffhanger – no catharsis. We loved every minute of it.

  13. J says:

    Hi All,

    Ever read Bruno Bettelheim’s “Uses of Enchantment”? It’s a study of the psychological benefits of non-bowlderized fairy tales in the characterological development of children. Here are some reviews from Amazon:

    “Bettelheim argues convincingly that fairy tales provide a unique way for children to come to terms with the dilemmas of their inner lives.” —The Atlantic

    “A charming book about enchantment, a profound book about fairy tales.” —John Updike, The New York Times Book Review

    “A splendid achievement, brimming with useful ideas, with insights into how young children read and understand, and most of all overflowing with a realistic optimism and with an experienced and therapeutic good will.” —Harold Bloom, The New York Review of Books

    Product Description
    The great child psychologist gives us a moving revelation of the enormous and irreplaceable value of fairy tales – how they educate, support and liberate the emotions of children.

    It’s a great book–a must for every parent. Susan, judging from your experience with your father’s stories, I think you’d enjoy the book.

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  17. Hope says:

    In the version of The Little Mermaid I read as a little Asian girl, the mermaid fails to win over the prince because she could not speak, and in the end he marries someone else. The mermaid turns into foam bubbles in the sea, while her father and sisters mourn her death.

    My interpretation is that she is basically a different “race,” a foreigner trying to get the affections of a (white) prince. However, she could not speak (the language). Thus no matter her beauty she could not form an emotional and personal connection with him. Due to her poor choice, she suffers the ultimate punishment.

    It’s probably also a cautionary tale about aiming too high. A very different story from the one girls nowadays hear — the girl always gets the prince and live happily ever after. Not so in this grim version: the girl doesn’t get the prince and dies.

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  19. MissAmeoba says:

    Hope, I believe the point of the Little Seamaid was that she sacraficed her voice to be with the prince, who she fell in love with when she saved from drowning. The prince had fallen in love with the woman who saved him but could only remember the sound of her voice. More of a Gift of the Magi vibe.

    Full story:
    http://www.bartleby.com/17/3/4.html

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  24. niku says:

    Wow! I will have to read the original! I always get enraged when in folk stories the evils ones are forgiven, for I am left wondering, “do you come from Mars”?

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  26. I’ve heard multiple claims on what the “original” version of Cinderella was. I’ve heard one that involved a Chinese girl, a Koi fish she tended, who her step-sisters ate, and magical golden shoes and a magical dress she made from his corpse.

    As far as the little Mer Maid, I’ve read one that was supposedly “the original” where she began to turn into sea foam at the end. But since she refused to slay the prince to end the spell, and become a living mer maid again, she was instead saved by a number of invisible women who lived on the winds, and had a chance to earn a soul for themselves… and became one of them herself.

    She made a redemptive choice to spurn harming a man who had done no wrong. Consequences. This time for the good.

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  29. Dohn Joe says:

    Now THAT sounds like an old-school fairy-tale! Not this watered-down, sanitized, sugar-coated Disney crap!

  30. Maggie says:

    Do you know the name and year of this version?!

  31. Ash Maiden says:

    You realize that the Disney version is based on the Charles Perrault version, right, not the Brothers Grimm version?

  32. Rae says:

    What is the name of this version?!? I’ve been looking for it! Please help me!

    [D: Welcome. See the link in the post for the full story. This is the Brothers Grimm version.]

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