Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cinderella stories around the world

Between the lines: the Cinderella story is common to many different cultures

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 11:01am

Kind-hearted girl, oppressed by step-family, encounters magical guardian who transforms girl into the only one worthy of marrying the king. Does this plot sound familiar? Here's the big hint: king finds a wife by way of lost slipper of uncommon shoe size.
Yes, I am describing Cinderella. The elements of the Cinderella story are so universally appealing that variations exist in almost every culture around the globe. Let's begin with the most familiar, the Disney version. It is based on Cendrillon, a fairy tale written by Charles Perrault in the 17th-century.
Perrault retold this existing folk tale, together with other oral stories, and published the collection as Tales of Mother Goose. Some of the stories, including Cinderella, were then rewritten by the Brothers Grimm for their collection of fairy tales.
One thousand years before Perrault put pen to paper, a strikingly similar tale was being shared among families in China. Retold by Ai-Ling Louie, Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China is illustrated by Caldecott medalist Ed Young.
Instead of a fairy godmother, Yeh-Shen's guardian is a fish. When the fish is eaten by the evil stepmother, Yeh-Shen saves the bones, which turn out to have wish-granting properties.
There are two variations of the Cinderella story that don't mention footwear.
In Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe retells the well-known African tale and lends his artful illustrations to recreate a jungle setting in Zimbabwe.
Mufaro has two beautiful daughters. One is selfish and conceited, while the other is kind and sensitive. Both travel to the city upon hearing that the king is seeking a wife, but their journeys and destiny diverge as a result of their character.
Steptoe is African-American, and all of his works deal with African history and culture. Yeh-Shen's illustrator Young is Chinese, and like Steptoe, is among a small group of ethnic minority artists who have made a career in children's literature.
The other variation tells of a disfigured Algonquin girl who beats out the competition - two beautiful but spoiled girls from the same village - to win the coveted role of new bride to the powerful Invisible Being.
Rafe Martin adapts this Native American folk tale in The Rough-Face Girl, with some remarkable portraiture by illustrator David Shannon.
For those who are interested in comparative studies, Judy Sierra'sCinderella presents 24 different versions in one anthology, complete with plot summary and cultural background for each story.
Marian Roalfe Cox collected even more versions in Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants of Cinderella, Catskin, and Cap 0' Rushes, Abstracted and Tabulated, with a Discussion of Mediaeval Analogues and Notes.
The interest in collecting Cinderella stories is not a recent phenomenon, as Cox's tome was first published in 1891 by The Folklore Society in London.
Two questions to ponder during a candle-lit Valentine's Day dinner: Is magical assistance the only way a nice girl can expect to make a good marriage? And, if Cinderella's shoe fitted so perfectly, why did it fall off in the first place?

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them. Visit bringmeabook.org.hk

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