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Multi-Cultural Cinderella Tales: Equals, but not the Same””

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    “They are equals, but not the same, because when you lose the tension of polarities you lose the tension of life.”
    ― Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine

    Nota: This post might just as easily go under the forum topics of quotes and also on practical application of mythology to daily life.

    The universality of the folktale/fairy tale is shown in part in that a fairy tale from the ‘olden days’ such as “Cinderella” appears cross-culturally, each with their own variations reflecting their own culture. I like the application of this quote by Campbell here, because it embraces how all the different Cinderellas from various cultures are the same (equals) yet not quite the same. They have similar themes and motifs, yet differ in accordance to their cultural differences.

    For instance, most of us are familiar with Disney’s “Cinderella,” which was adapted from the French version written down by Charles Perrault and many people are familiar with the German version entitled “Ashenputtle” (German for Cinder-ella or “Cinder-elf”) as recorded by the Brothers Grimm; yet, many people are surprised by the Chinese, Egyptian, and Native American versions of the Cinderella tale, and children are often particularly delighted and intrigued by them. Most children love to explore the wonders of “other lands” or “other worlds,” and tales from other cultures increase not only their knowledge of the world and world culture but their sense of wonder and adventure–which in turn can open furthered curiosity. It is like going “Around the World in 180 Days,” only this time making a quicker trip around the world in a few sittings in a few days.

    Sharing multi-cultural Cinderella stories is a wonderful way to introduce or teach multi-cultural awareness for children. It is also a good study for adults who are in the field of early child education and is an enriching story-time for parents to share with their children. Descriptions and illustrations of the Cinderella gown and the shoes in each cultural tale is a fun detail for children to encounter. We see different material, styles, and decor: glass (Disney), golden fabric, or leather sandals.

    Most these tales come with an age-appropriate notice in mind, as some contain not only mean stepmothers an stepsisters but extreme violence. In one of the African versions of Cinderella, “The Maiden and the Frog Prince,” a woman posing falsely as the new bride is punished by the groom’s family by being mutilated into pieces. In the Grimm version, the stepsisters are ordered by their own mother to mutilate (cut off) chunks of their feet to fit into the slippers to thus be made queen. In the Native American version, the sisters burn the Cinderella character with sticks at the fires and she is scarred; they then laugh at her that the prince will never want to marry her. In the Chinese tale, Cinderella’s magic helper is a goldfish, then the stepmother kills it, but then Cinderella finds the bones and finds they are still magical.

    In all the Cinderella tales mentioned here, a motif of this tale is, in one way or another, the cruelty that Cinderella has experienced within her step-family situation, whether violent physically or emotionally. Again, “equals, but not the same” can apply to the many types of hurt or pain. Some children might feel like they are not treated the same as in sometimes feeling left out in step-family situations and tales such as this helps children identify and deal with/face their feelings. When doing discussions on these tales with children, it is not unusual for some children to share their tales about how they but not their brothers or sisters have to do most all the worst chores like helping take out the trash. Hearing and comparing theirs stories help children see they are not alone and that in most cases the terrible things they have to do like making their bed or taking out the trash are not really much different from everyone else (“equals, but no the same”). However, there could sometimes be the exception of possible actual unfairness/inequality treatment or even abuse).

    Many children will see their own culture represented in the tales and feel an excitement of identification with the Cinderella character. Children learn then that Cinderella does not have to always be French, German, or of any particular culture or race; it shows them that any child can be a princess or a Cinderella, and that the universality of the tale includes their own culture too. There are many other cultural tales of the Cinderella theme/motif, from all over the world. Here I have discussed only a few–and there is much more that could be discussed about each of these tales.

    In some ways, Cinderella is “divine” as she is magical in the sense that in the Disney version she has magical bird helpers, seems to call her fairy godmother to appear as magical or divine intervention; in the Grimm version, she has the ability to communicate with a magical tree (which is her dear deceased mother’s spirit); in the Native American version (The Rough Face Girl), she is the only one who has the right spirit or magic ability to see the Invisible One who is the mighty prince; in the Chinese version (Yeh-Shen), she is the one who can communicate with the magic fish–no one else. She is then seen to have kindness, intuition, a natural grace, and a spirit to make things work out, come true, to make things happen, and despite a lot of criticism on Cinderella perhaps being too passive as a female character, it yet shows some powers and gives some empowerment to young girls that there is some “magic” of making things happen in the world and that they too could have this “magic” or at least have hope–not necessarily just to win the prince (which the Cinderella tale is also often criticized for) but also to obtain one’s hopes and wishes and dreams for whatever lifestyle or vocation they would like. This makes for another excellent discussion to celebrate oneself and one another in a children’s group to discuss their dreams and see how different people have different career goals yet are all the same in their hopes.

    Boys do not have to left out of these discussions as they can identify with the prince or even Cinderella in feeling mistreated at times or having hopes for a happily ever after, too. Another Cinderella tale that can be brought up are those in which the boy is a main character in a Cinderella-like tale. There are many in older folktales in which a son or brother or boy living within a step-family is mistreated also; one such male Cinderella tale of contemporary times is Harry Potter who has to live under the stairs at his Uncle and Aunt’s house, yet he goes from rags-to-riches in a way not the same as Cinderella, but in the magical world of wizardry. His wealth manifests as magic knowledge and powers, and esteem as a hero via his journey.

    I have not attempted to include photos of the book covers or any illustration here, but info and ISBN #’s are below for search. Grimm fairy tales and the Disney/French versions are easily found online or in collections of fairy tales.

    Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China. Retold by Ai-Ling-Louie and illustrated by Ed Young. ISBN: 0-698-11388-8.
    The Egyptian Cinderella. By Shirley Climo and illustrated by Ruth Heller. ISBN: 978-0-06-443279-5.
    The Rough-Face Girl. Told by Rafe Martin and illustrated by David Shannon. ISBN: 978-0-698-11626-9.


    One of my favorite units in the seventh-grade literature text I used with my students twenty years ago was titled “900 Cinderellas” – a compilation of several versions of the Cinderella motif from multiple cultures – a lovely way to introduce my students to myth and fairy tale (I think that was Houghton-Mifflin, or maybe Prentic Hall, but I’m not sure now; there were so many textbook adoptions over the years, and I’m at the age where I have senior moments).

    The same textbook publisher is the first where I ran across references to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Ironically, that lesson wasn’t about myth, but Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.


    Cinderella tales and other fairy tales were also one of my favorite units to teach. I also loved The Call of the Wild. I haven’t seen the new film yet, but I hope to soon!


    I thought I would post a link here that Richard Sumpter (or pilgrim1) posted in The Air We Breathe thread in the MythBlast forum. To quote Richard, “This article was in my Alumni Bulletin and seems relevant for this group. It is Maria Tatar’s collected versions of the tale Snow White from around the world and explains how they give us a way to think about what we prefer not to.”

    Seems fitting for this thread, and worth the read:

    The tale of Snow White and what the various versions mean to us


    Thank you Pilgrim1 and Stephen for posting the quote and referring to it here. I am going to go search for the quote now.



      For me The Cinderella trope springs to life when I associate it with , the from the Cinders ashes Phoenix motif along with fires of creation and destruction funeral pyre motif the ashened White grey corpse also the Divine Black feminine comes into play for me . All tentative but lots of fun to play with these allusion. From burnt destroyed vegetation new life buds. The growth of the kingdom depends on the union of the opposites. The Princess 0f darkness (Persephone) united with the Prince of Light.
      They All lived happily ever after and all the people said Amen …

      Always good to remember from ashes we arise and to ashes we return …
      All we are is Dust in the Wind …
      We all travel through life in a six sided coach created from the Harvest a changing sphere of consciousness … our temporal vessel shall Lose its magic return to its inanimate state of being When done.


        Lots of fun to make the Glass Slipper transparent to the transcendent;

        I do enjoy seeking unpacking understanding meaning ;
        This is a lot for one name , lots of fodder before exploring the narrative …

        “cinder (n.)
        Old English sinder “dross of iron, slag,” from Proto-Germanic *sendra- “slag” (source also of Old Saxon sinder “slag, dross,” Old Norse sindr, Middle Low German and Middle Dutch sinder, Dutch sintel, Old High German sintar, German Sinter), from PIE root *sendhro- “coagulating fluid” (source also of Old Church Slavonic sedra “cinder”).
        Initial s- changed to c- under influence of unrelated French cendre “ashes,” from Latin cinerem (nominative cinis) “ashes,” from or related to Greek konis “dust” (see incinerate). The Latin word was contracted to *cin’rem and the -d- inserted for ease of pronunciation (compare peindre from pingere). The French word also apparently shifted the sense of the English one to “small piece of burnt coal after a fire has gone out” (16c.).
        Geological sense “coarse ash thrown out by volcanoes” is from 1774; cinder cone, formed around a volcano by successive eruptions of ash, is recorded from 1849. Related: Cinders.“

        Ella (name)
        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

        Pronunciation /ˈɛlə/ EL-ə
        Gender Female
        Word/name Greek, Norman, Hebrew
        Meaning ‘beautiful, fairy Maiden, Goddess
        Other names
        Related names Elah, Eleanor, Elizabeth, Elle, Ellen, Ellie, Alla, Ellika, Ellit, Illy, Elat, Illa, Elia, Aelia
        girls named Ella, should let guys named Toby take them on a date.
        In Greek mythology, Ella (Greek: Ἕλλα) was the daughter of Athamas and Nephele.[1] The name may be a cognate with Hellas (Greek: Ἑλλάς), the Greek name for Greece, which said to have been originally the name of the region round Dodona.[2]
        Another source indicates the name is a Norman version of the Germanic short name Alia, which was short for a variety of German names with the element ali-, meaning “other.”[3] It is also a common short name for names starting with El-, such as Eleanor, Elizabeth, Elle, Ellen, Ellie, or Eloise.
        The Hebrew word Ella (אלה) has two meanings:
        1) A tree indigenous to the middle east from the pistachio family (Pistacia terebinthus). As written in Isaiah 6-13: “And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
        2) Ella means “goddess” in modern Hebrew.
        Ella became used again during the Victorian era in English-speaking countries, and has been revived in the last decade, becoming a popular given name for baby girls born in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and other English-speaking countries[4] , as well as in Israel.[5]“

        Cin = Sin , El = God , sin and God , oldest Mythic morality tale in the book …
        Der & a = the stuttering procrastination of the foolish …

        Aarne-Thompson-Uther folktale type 510 and related stories … Cinderella;

        There is a Bloom in Orlando !!!


        I enjoy your comments here, Robert, from the roots of the names to your associations with glass and transparent to transcendent to the association with the phoenix rising from the ashes. “Ella” as “fairy maiden” is quite appropriate because in some ways the Fairy Godmother is not the only magical fairy in the tale. Cinderella is also a fairy maiden. In the French Cinderella magical animal helpers (birds, e.g.) come to her aid, so she is magical enough to appeal to the birds for help. When animal helpers come to call, there is most always an unusual human at hand to lend a hand to. In the German version, “Ashputtle,” she practices magic when she asks her father to bring home a hazel branch from his trip and plants it and it grows into a tree which she then speaks charms/prayers/magical chants (spells) upon to do her will; the tree in the German version holds the soul of her mother who watches out for her. In the Chinese version “Yeh Shien,” she has a magical fish that speaks to her. There is so much magic in Cinderella from the folk magic of the old world.

        I like your association with the phoenix to this,  and even more directly feel that same association of the phoenix more with the “Sleeping Beauty” or “Snow White” motif tales–or what are called “The Coffin Tales” (and there are so many others!); that is where I would really like to quote you and to place the quote here: “funeral pyre motif the ashened White grey corpse also the Divine Black feminine comes into play for me,” you wrote. Some cultural Cinderella motif tales have no fireplace or “cinders” per say, yet all contain the death of the old self and troubles and the resurrection so to speak, and all do contain that transcendent element where the character bridges over to the new “side” of her life that was, to her, once “way over yonder.” (Here I think of the Carole King song by that title.) The Jewish name “Asher” also means “bearer of salvation” (among other things possibly). Ashputtle/Cinder Bottom means sitting by/among/in the ashes. Sometimes the German Ashputtle is called Ashenputtle, implying perhaps what you are saying about the ashened color of the corpse, or one’s skin that is ashened.

        This simple tale is so rich with associations and amplifications from other myths we could go on about it throughout the ages here!

        The moral at the end of these tales when justice/retribution is served, as you mention at the end of your post response, brings the happily ever after after the battle of Cin/Sin as you included, and I would put the quote from Campbell here–as found on this jcf website, so here is the link:



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