With the pantomime season in full swing, the centuries-old story of Cinderella is centre stage across the country.
Poor Cinders, condemned to skivvy for a wicked stepmother and ugly sisters, dreaming of a better life.
With the wave of a fairy godmother’s wand she gets to go to the ball but in her haste to make it back before midnight, drops her shoe. But not before the handsome prince has fallen for her, tracks her down with the glass slipper and whisks her off to live happily every after. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
There’s a lot wrong with the story – cruelty, subjugation, characterisation based on physical attributes and a helpless female whose only hope of changing her circumstances is a dashing Prince Charming.
The story goes back long before the Brothers Grimm added it to their collection of folk tales and there are variations from as far afield as China, Asia and the Middle East.
There is no ignoring the dark undertones which allegorise the fate that could easily befall a young woman with no economic power or value and no parents to protect her – even in versions where her father is still alive, he turns a blind eye to her being treated like a slave – and how revenge could be wreaked on those perpetrating the wrongdoing (I’m quite partial to the telling where the ugly sisters have their eyes pecked out).
But is it still relevant today? It was a question I pondered when a friend found herself in a lost-slipper scenario but she is as far removed from our idea of a downtrodden Cinders as the chances of a fairy godmother appearing in a puff of smoke, though she probably wouldn’t say no to the waving of a magic wand to create a fancy night out at a ball – but only if she could bring her pals in the pumpkin coach. And it’s unlikely we’d make it home for midnight.
This 21st century Cinders is a strong independent woman who, if she needed rescued, would do it herself. Which is what she did when, after a night out at a party last week, she changed into sensible shoes for the walk home, only to discover the next morning – along with a memory of much merriment and the dropping of a bag halfway – that one of her party ‘slippers’ was missing.
A shout-out on Facebook resulted in much hilarity at her expense but also reports of a high-heeled shoe being spotted first, on the roadside, and second, high on a wall for all to see.
I would like to say Cinders and her errant slipper were reunited but alas, by the time she was able to check it out, the shoe was nowhere to be found and if a ‘Prince Charming’ was to turn up at her door now asking to see her feet, he’d better be able to run fast.
This time of year always brings our relatively safe lives into sharp contrast with millions suffering from the hardships of war, displacement and loss so it’s not hard to see the appeal of believing in fairy stories and even I, putting cynicism aside, can wish there really was a magic wand that could be waved to bring others the same peace we take for granted here.