The classic folk tale Cinderella, is about a young girl who is mistreated by her stepfamily, but is eventually freed when a handsome prince falls in love with her and rescues her from her terrible life. There are hundreds of versions of the story which have been told all over the world from as far back as the first century BC. The version that most of us are familiar with is the one written by Charles Perrault in 1697. He was the one who added the infamous glass slipper into the mix. The story was then retold by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century who gave the story a slightly darker feel.
The story of Cinderella has been the inspiration for a number of books, plays, TV shows, and movies, most famously the Disney feature films; the first one made in 1950 and the second in 2015. The Disney movies mainly follow Perrault’s version of Cinderella as the Brothers Grimm rendition was not considered to be family friendly (you’ll soon learn why).
Sure, Cinderella is a sweet story; a good girl who endures hardship and is ultimately rewarded for her efforts and kindheartedness. It reflects the way we wish the world really was. But the heartwarming tale actually has a dark side too, and that’s where we’re going today…
15 Tam Cam
There are different versions of the Cinderella story all over the world, but one of the strangest must surely be the Vietnamese tale known as Tam Cam. Tam is a young girl who is treated unfairly by her half-sister and one of her father’s wives. Together, these two women plot against Tam and steal her birthright by cheating in order to win a fishing wager against her.
The one fish that she is able to hold onto is taken and eaten by her stepfamily, but the fish's bones become her protection (almost like a fairy godmother) and lead her into marriage with a king. Although this only sounds a little strange so far it gets really freaky after that when Tam boils her stepsister alive and fools her stepmother into eating her. Okay then.
14 The Cinderella Effect
Why did Cinderella’s stepfamily treat her so badly when she was such a good and kind person? Modern psychology thinks they have an answer that could explain why this happened in the fictional story and why it often occurs in the real world as well. They’ve named this the Cinderella Effect.
In this theory, it is alleged that stepparents are more likely to abuse children than their biological parents are. Some believe that this may be because of the lack of parental bonding that occurs between young children and their parents or simply because of biology. In our primitive brains, we see other offspring as being in competition with our own. This is notable in the animal kingdom, for example, with lions, who will often kill off other male offspring.
13 Cinderella’s Father
In the Disney version of the tale, Cinderella’s mother and father have both died, leaving her under the care of her abusive stepmother and stepsisters, but in the Brothers Grimm and Perrault’s version, the father is alive and well. And he does nothing to help his poor daughter– why?
In his story, Perrault explains that the father is dominated by his second wife; meaning that he lacked the courage to stand up to her about the abuse. In fact, in this version he plays an active role in many of the scenes where she is being victimized. The Brothers Grimm alluded to the fact that Cinderella was not even her father’s biological daughter; rather, she is described as his “wife’s first child” and not his.
12 Ilene Woods
Ilene Woods was the voice of Disney’s first Cinderella in the 1950 feature film. A few of her friends recorded her singing and sent the demos to Disney without her knowledge. Walt Disney chose her voice over more than 300 other girls who were all desperate for the role. Disney then contacted Ilene who was obviously quite surprised to be offered the part.
Sadly, Ilene developed Alzheimer’s in the later part of her life and was confined to a care home. In its usual cruel nature, the disease robbed her of the memory that she had once been the voice of Cinderella, but nurses reported that she was always comforted by the song "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" from the movie.
11 No One Wore The Glass Slipper
Yup, that's right. At least, not in the 2015 Disney version that is.
The achingly beautiful slipper that you see in the film was actually created by the Swarovski Company who developed a specialized piece of machinery just to craft it. In fact, they made eight copies of the shoe, but none were ever worn in the film.
Lily James, the actress who plays the leading role in the film, revealed this during an interview explaining that the slipper didn’t really fit her, but they were never designed to actually be worn. The shoes were mainly used as props and added into the film at a later stage using CGI. The slipper didn’t fit Cinderella’s foot; now isn’t that ironic?
10 The Price of Beauty
Production on Cinderella (2015) hit a bit of a snag when Richard Madden got into costume as Prince Kit for the first time. The problem was with his “package”; the pants of the outfit were so tight that that they caused a distinct bulge in front. Because the film had to be family friendly, he was made to wear several jockstraps to flatten out the front of his trousers. Not very comfortable as you can imagine.
Then there was all the controversy about Lily James’ waist, which looked impossibly thin in the movie, so much so that many suspected that CGI had been used. It was later revealed that she had worn a corset with every dress (despite her waist already being very small; 17 inches), even during the dancing scenes. This, coupled with the poof of the dress, caused her to look unnaturally thin and it could not have been very comfy either.
9 Was Cinderella a Killer?
We're all used to seeing Cinderella as an innocent, sweet girl treated cruelly by her family. So it may shock you to know that there are some versions of the classic tale that reveal Cinderella to be far more cruel and unusual.
In one of the versions of the story, the young girl is responsible for her stepmother's death. The governess provokes her and she breaks her stepmother’s neck by shutting it in the lid of a heavy chest. (She may have deserved it, but that’s still quite gruesome). In a Tibetan version of Cinderella, the lead character kills her own mother by cutting off her breasts, then burns and decapitates the next woman who takes the place of the Queen. Quite the bad girl.
8 Cinderella Could Have Ended Walt Disney
Walt Disney took a massive risk when he decided to make Cinderella in 1948. The studio's last big hit had been with Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (1937) and Disney was $4 million in debt. They were not doing well at all.
The movie cost $3 million to make and if it had failed at the box office, Walt Disney could have been forced to shut down Disney Animation. Thankfully the film was a massive hit and the revenue allowed Walt to set up his own distribution company and get into television production, as well to start building Disneyland. But the movie was the 'make it or break it' factor and things could easily have turned out very differently; maybe even resulting in a world without Disney as we know it today.
7 An Ancient Greek Cinderella
It’s believed that stories following the outline of Cinderella can be traced all the way back to the 1st century BC, making it one of the oldest in the world.
One of the earliest versions, believed to be the oldest, was written by an ancient Greek geographer, Strabo, in the 1st century BC. This was the story of Rhodopis (Rosy-Cheeks), a Greek slave girl who has her sandal stolen by an eagle. The sandal is found by the King of Egypt, who admires the shape of the shoe and vows to find the woman who wore it and make her his wife and Queen. He searches far and wide, and eventually finds Rhodopis and marries her. And they live happily ever after (of course).
6 No Fairy Godmother
The Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella is called Aschenputtel, and in their story, Cinderella does not have a fairy godmother at all.
In Aschenputtel, Cinderella’s mother dies early in the story from the plague. Cinderella takes a hazel twig and plants it in the ground surrounding her mother’s grave and waters it with her tears of suffering and sorrow over the years. It grows into a big tree that she prays under three times a day. When she prays for something, a white bird appears and throws down whatever it is she wishes for from within the tree's branches. This is where her silver and gold dress and pretty shoes for the ball come from. She is helped many times by birds, a part of the story that was maintained for the Disney version.
5 The Bloody Glass Slipper
Charles Perrault was the first person to introduce the glass slipper and the fairy godmother to the Cinderella story. In earlier versions, the heroine’s totem was sandals, fur slippers, gold or silver slippers, and sometimes a magic ring.
The Brothers Grimm added a gruesome element into the story using these glass slippers. In their version, the stepmother, desperate to secure a royal wedding, urges her own daughters to mutilate their feet in order to fit them into the tiny slippers. They obey, and as a result, one stepsister cuts off her own toes while the other slices off her heel. This doesn’t help them much in the end because little birds (again the birds) alert the Prince to the fact that there is blood on the shoe.
4 Don’t Go
In many versions of the story, there is one ball that Cinderella attends and this is where she loses her slipper as she rushes to leave. Because no one wants their ride turning into a pumpkin, now do they?
In the Brothers Grimm Aschenputtel, there are three different events and Cinderella is given three different gowns to wear. After meeting her at the first ball, the Prince is smitten, but she is ashamed of her home life and runs away from him after they dance all night. At the next ball, he commands his servants to cover the steps in pitch (tar) in order to make Cinderella stick to them and stop her from running away again. She does get stuck, but manages to run off with one shoe. Kinda creepy, but anyway...
3 Incest In Cinderella?
Well, we’ve already covered murder and cannibalism so is it really that hard to believe that some versions of the Cinderella story have an element of incest?
There are many versions that see the main character fleeing from her father after he seeks a romantic relationship or marriage with her. One of these is a story by Anne Darroch entitled The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter. In this tale, the king refuses to marry anyone who doesn’t fit into his deceased wife’s dresses. His daughter tries them on and, lo and behold, she fits, which prompts the king to ask for her hand in marriage.
Then, there's The Story of Hanchi, a Cinderella-type tale that originates from India and tells the story of a brother who falls in love with his sister after seeing her beautifully soft and shiny blonde hair and demands that she marry him.
2 Not So Happy Ending For The Stepsisters
In the movie version of the story, the sisters don’t really get any punishment for what they did to Cinderella— except that they have to watch her become Queen. But in the Grimm version they have it much, much worse.
Firstly, let’s not forget that the whole glass slipper incident has left their feet horribly disfigured, leaving them probably not even able to walk properly. Then they are made to attend the beautiful royal wedding where the Prince marries Aschenputtel. You can imagine they were so jealous at this point... and that’s when doves (birds, yet again) descended on them and attacked– pecking their eyes out. Easy to see why that didn’t make it into the Disney movie, but it is a rather satisfying ending for the wicked stepsisters, don't you agree?
1 What’s In A Name?
In the stories, the name 'Cinderella' refers to cinders or ash, hence why she is sometimes known as the little ash/cinder girl by her stepsisters. It has to do with the fact that servants were usually dirty and soiled with ash due to their cleaning work. They didn’t have access to daily baths and they lived in cold basement rooms where they sat close to the fireplaces in order to keep warm, getting full of ash in the process. In the movies, we see her cleaning up after her messy family, but never really see her character in the terrible state alluded to in the early versions of the tale.
Today, though, the word 'Cinderella' has come to mean someone who goes unrecognized or someone who finds success after being overlooked or neglected for some time beforehand.