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A Girl, A Shoe, A Prince: The Endlessly Evolving Cinderella

Disney’s new live-action movie Cinderella is in theaters now. The story of Cinderella is an old one, with many variants, found all over the world. The root of the story is that a downtrodden, mistreated woman finds love when she is disguised as someone of an upper class. When she goes back to her everyday world, it takes a twist of fate, like a lost shoe, for the prince to recognize the woman he loves among the unwashed masses. In other words, it’s a fairy tales about love overcoming class barriers. In 1893, Marian Roalfe Cox compiled 345 variants of the story in a book. Some of them went by different names, but you’d recognize the basic premise in any of them. One of the folktales, from Italy, would be hard to film.

In this version of the story, the heroine is born inside a gourd and accidentally abandoned in the forest — understandable, given that her mother has just brought forth a squash from within her person, and the last thought she's entertaining is probably, "Hey, I'll take that with me."

Our heroine is discovered by a prince, who finds the talking gourd and takes it home. If nothing else, perhaps it has a future in show business. At some point, she presumably emerges from it — the details offered in the book about this particular folk tale are limited — and she becomes a servant. The prince keeps her at the palace but mistreats her terribly, even beating her and kicking her to prevent her from attending his ball, but she gets there anyway without his knowing it's her (which is one reason it seems certain she's out of the squash by now). They meet and he gives her gifts and so on. Later, when she prepares his breakfast in the guise of his once-ensquashed servant, she slips into the breakfast the gifts he gave her at the ball when they danced. When he finds jewelry in his food, he realizes she is his beloved, and they get married. Ah, the classic "boy meets gourd."

The name of the heroines in that story is Zucchettina. Really. An article at NPR goes on to tease other odd versions of the old folktale, and then deconstructs the many modern versions of Cinderella (and there are more than you were aware of). The more modern adaptations try to inject a little more feminism (and less violence) into the story, but the impenetrable class divisions in the basic premise work best when the story is set in the past. You’ll learn more than you ever thought there was to know about the classic fairy tale at NPR.

(Image credit: Jonathan Olley/Disney)

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