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"Cinderella" is one of the oldest, best known, and most universal stories in the world. The oldest known version is the story of Rhodopis, a Greek slave who marries the Egyptian Pharaoh. The story was recorded in the first century B.C., and may have been based on the true story by Aesop of a Thracian courtesan who lived in the sixth century B.C.
The quintessential Rags to Royalty story, the best known versions in the western world are based on the one written by Charles Perrault in the 17th century. If, on hearing the name Cinderella, you think of fairy godmothers, glass slippers, and a pumpkin turned into a coach, you're thinking of Perrault. In 1950, Disney's Cinderella adapted Perrault's story into a movie, cementing it in people's minds as the story of Cinderella.
Seven years later Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it into a musical for a television broadcast, starring Broadway royalty Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney, Edie Adams, Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley (as the King and Queen, Fairy Godmother, and stepsisters, respectively) and Jon Cypher (of Hill Street Blues fame) as the Prince. One particular young lady took a week off from her starring role in the most popular play on Broadway at the time to play Cinderella - Julie Andrews in her on-camera debut.
The bare bones of the story are as follows: A young noblewoman's mother dies and her father remarries a woman with daughters of her own, then disappears. The girl's new step-family turns out to be cruel and vindictive, and mistreat her by making her work as a servant. This usually gives rise to a mocking nickname to do with her dirtyness (in English, Cinderella, or Cinder-girl, covered in fireplace cinders). When the local prince holds a kingdom-wide ball, they refuse to let her attend, but she calls on a spirit helper (usually representative of her dead mother) who takes pity on her and outfits her for the ball, allowing her to outshine everyone present and win the heart of the prince. There is, however, a limit to the spirit's help: Cinderella must return by midnight. On the third night of the ball, the prince contrives to keep her past her curfew, and in her rush to get away, she loses one of her slippers. The prince uses the lost slipper to track her down, and, once reunited, they marry. The vindictive step-family may or may not be punished, depending on the variation.
When people want to be a bit Darker and Edgier, they may refer to the Grimms' "Cinderella" instead, in which the stepsisters cut off pieces of their feet to fit into the slipper, and are later blinded by karmic birds.
Presumably, the Grimms' version fits many people's idea of the dark, dangerous world of pre-Disney fairy-tales better than Perrault's, and therefore is sometimes erroneously referred to as the "original 'Cinderella'", despite being written over a hundred years after Perrault's, and about a thousand years after "Yeh Shen". In general, because of many the long oral tradition behind most fairytales, referring to any version as the "original" is problematic and best avoided.
Gregory Maguire, best known for Wicked, also made a revisionist novel of the story called Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and Stephen Sondheim wove Grimm's version into the wider action of Into the Woods.
"Cinderella" and its variations contain the following tropes:
- Beauty Equals Goodness: The step-sisters may be beautiful or ugly, depending on the variation. Cinderella is always the most attractive, however. In some instances she has superior physical beauty and this is the reason for her mistreatment; in others she is ordinary-looking or even plain but glowing with kindness, and it's the beauty of her personality that wins the prince.
- Big Badass Bird of Prey: The oldest recorded version has the god Horus in his usual guise as a falcon. The Grimm's version has birds ripping off the step-sisters eyes, although their species is not specified.
- Bowdlerisation/Beam Me Up, Scotty: It's commonly believed that the Grimms' cleaned up their version of the story from the one told in France (the glass (French "verre") slipper was actually fur ("vair"). So women were offering the Prince their "fur slippers" to try on. The Grimms decided to change it to "glass." Even Stephen Fry was fooled by this one.
- Dance of Romance: This is the Trope Codifier, if not the Trope Maker itself.
- Dances and Balls: Not the only way that Cinderella gets to meet a prince, but one of the common ones.
- Disappeared Dad: Cinderella's father is nearly always dead or absent. If he lives, he never intervenes on his daughter's behalf.
- Either or Title: Perrault's title was "Cinderella, or the Glass Slipper".
- Family-Unfriendly Violence: the stepsisters' fate in the Grimms' version.
- Fairy Godmother: Perrault's version is the Trope Codifier.
- Fairy Tale
- Gender Flip: A traditional Irish version has Cinderellis, a boy with such enormous feet he steals a giant's shoes. The story plays out fairly similarly to the usual plot line, after he gets his shoes, except for this.
- The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Trope Maker
- Gorgeous Garment Generation: The shoes and dress that disappear at midnight.
- Happily Ever After
- Impossible Task: In many variants, the stepmother sets such a task either as the price to go to the ball (she's lying) or to do while they are at the ball.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes: Glass slippers. Or in the Egyptian version, her slippers are made of pure gold.
- The Grimms' version gives gold slippers as well. (Perrault went with glass.)
- Even the fur slippers are nice. Consider how expensive and frivolous a slipper of ermine or sable would have been - and pretty, too!
- The Yeh-Shen version had her wearing weightless shoes made of golden fish scales.
- Inter Class Romance
- Ladyella: The Trope Namer.
- Masquerade Ball: frequently used, but not ubiquitous. It does explain why the Prince is so insistent on using shoe size to find a girl.
- Missing Mom: The reason why Cinderella is stuck with the stepmother.
- Neck Snap: The old Roman variation of Cinderella. One day, the governess of Zeozolla (Cinderella) wanted to marry her student/care-getter's father. Zeozolla went to her governess as she considered her present stepmother to be a very unpleasant and mean lady. Next thing you know, the governess 'fucking instigated Zeozolla to kill her stepmother!
Cinderella: Mother, in this box is your clothes.
- Nice Shoes: Whether glass, or something else.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Usually a "Cinderella" girl has a normal life in her early years, so she presumably has a real name before people start calling her Cinder-girl. But many stories never mention the protagonist's birth name, and no one who hears the story remembers it anyway.
- Parental Favoritism: the step-mother's ill-treatment stems from her desire to elevate her daughters above Cinderella.
- Pimped-Out Dress: The dress, and the shoes.
- Pretty in Mink: That some incorrect translations note the shoes as fur-lined.
- Princess for a Day
- Rebel Prince: Many adaptations tend to give the Prince a bit of a defiant streak (usually in the form of him being AWOL from the kingdom for some time before the story, or by him simply refusing to get married despite his parent's protests), if only to give him some kind of character trait and keep him from being a Shallow Love Interest.
- She Cleans Up Nicely
- Spirit Advisor: Representing her dead mother, this might be a fairy godmother, a tree, or an animal (Yeh-Shen had a magic carp). Some are more closely to connect to the mother than others; the tree, for instance, is often planted on her mother's grave.
- There is a Czech movie made in the Seventies in which the spirit advisor is a simple owl called Rosalie. She does not a single thing except LOOKING at Cinderella every time she asks "Should I?" when she is about to get a new costume...
- Rags to Royalty
- Rule of Three: The festival often lasts three nights.
- Sibling Triangle: The stepsisters seriously try to get the prince.
- The Unfavorite: Possibly the Ur Example.
- When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Ur Example and trope codifier.
- Wicked Stepmother: If not the Ur Example, certainly the Trope Codifier and Trope Namer. In some pre-Grimm versions, they take out the "step" part.