On Cinderella and a History of Fairy tales
In this first week of Fairy Tales we take the time to read about the history of the genre while also delving into the reasons for the prevalence of Cinderella stories especially. And while the idea that an abundance of step families and subsequent abuse are contributing factors is… interesting (my own step father is pretty swell?). I would imagine it’s also because all children at some point in their lives, while beginning to come into independence, will feel at odds with their family, justified or not. They’ll feel that their mother is just so mean or find the treatment of their siblings incredibly unfair. Mainstream Cinderella, innocently forced to do chores while her step siblings laze about, feels to me like an extreme projection of those feelings and a safe escape to sort them out. There’s no need to run away if a fairy godmother can help whisk you away instead. I acknowledge that this idea takes a pretty dark turn though when you consider the fates that often befall evil stepmothers and cruel children
As a comparison we can look at Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful.
Vasilisa is a Cinderella who isn’t quite saved from her bad situation through the grace of a fairy godmother and brings about the changes in her life by surmounting her own hardships. After her father leaves on a journey, Vasilisa’s cruel stepmother sends her to Baba Yaga’s hut in the woods to ask for fire. Baba Yaga known as a witch who eats people, finds her terrified and claims that if she cannot complete a certain amount of tasks in order to earn the fire, she will be killed. With nothing but the help of a doll from her dead mother to offer her guidance, Vasilisa appears to do all that is asked of her and is sent away from Baba Yaga’s hut with a skull lantern for her family. Upon returning home, this lantern sets her stepmother and stepsisters ablaze and turns them to ash. Vasilisa buries the skull in the garden, so as to not harm anyone else, and goes on to make a beautiful cloth that gains the attention of the tsar who later marries her.
Vasilisa’s doll is very much a reflection of her mother’s love and in some ways takes the place of fairy godmother intervention but I found it notable that Vasilisa isn’t completely helpless. She goes forward to face her trials and unlike many other versions of Cinderella, escaping through means of marriage isn’t even her goal. She is a survivor.
It was touched upon in the reading that the disappearance of the father speaks to the idea of child neglect, but I still always wonder where they disappear to and in this situation, the father returns and lives with his daughter and the tsar. Does he not have questions about his incinerated wife? or the mistreatment that happened while he was away? Maybe Vasilisa just doesn’t mention it…