9 Cinderella Stories You Might Not Know

Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
Cinderella has come a long way from its origins as a tale about persecution and the dangers of systemic oppression. Dating back to the first century, what was once a story about a Greek slave girl becoming an Egyptian queen has evolved into something much more magical, romantic, and ultimately supernatural. (If there's another word to describe talking mice, I'd like to hear it.) In fact, the versions we know now are based on pieces of a story that is relatively recent in the grand scheme of literature. Charles Perrault's late 17th-century tale Cendrillon (or The Little Glass Slipper) laid the groundwork for Disney's 1950 animated film, with both plots revolving around a young girl who, after being forced into servitude at the hands of her stepfamily, is ultimately rescued by a prince. (Thanks to a lost glass slipper and godmother, too.)
But, the thousand years that fall between the first version of Cinderella and 2015's live-action film have allowed for countless stories that have many striking similarities. In almost all versions, our heroine is stripped of power by her stepmother and escapes only by marriage to a royal (minus the version where Cinderella kills her stepmother, straight up). Said royal also has a flair for finding and fitting footwear, and to meet him in the first place, Cinderella relies on magic.  Men, magic, and mayhem: the three constants. (Including the version in which Cinderella is forced to eat her own toe.) Of course, there are reportedly 345 to 1500 versions of Cinderella in rotation, so we've only had the chance to explore a small part of the fairy tale's legacy. That being said, we stepped out of our pumpkin-coach confines to bring you some of the most famous versions that you might not be familiar with. Just a word of warning: Some of the fairy tales ahead are fairly emotionally scarring. And, not all have a happy ending.

This is where it all began (as we know it). Written by Charles Perrault in 1697, Histoires ou contes du temps passé, Cendrillon is the tale Disney and friends initially drew from. Revolving around a young girl whose abusive stepmother and stepsisters force her into servitude, this version saw the introduction of the pumpkin, the fairy godmother, and the glass slipper. (Which still seems like a nightmare to wear.)
The "cinder" element essentially came from Perrault, too. Since our heroine awoke every morning covered in ash from the fire, she was given the nickname by her terrible family. And, the similarities don't stop there since Disney's 1950 classic adopted almost every aspect of the story. The only differences? The songs, the cat named Lucifer (seriously: why?), and Cinderella's DIY dress being ripped apart by her stepsisters — who, in Perrault's world, go on to marry lords after apologizing for being the worst.
Forget everything you've ever known about fairy tales: Rhodopis, the first version of Cinderella, actually originated in first century BC/AD (and, is also believed to be loosely based on a real person). Written by Herodotus and adapted by Greek historian Strabo, it went on to appear in Aelian's Varia Historia in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, then showed up again in the 1800s in various fairy tale books. However, unlike the stepmother storyline we all know and tolerate, Rhodopis is a young Greek girl who's been kidnapped by pirates and sold into Egyptian slavery. And, while her master is kind, the fellow slaves are not, so she befriends animals before finding herself in fancy shoes in the Pharaoh's court. (Who, of course, she ends up with — but this time, by decree of the gods.)
Written between 618-907 AD, Yeh-Shen first appeared in the T'ang Dynasty, and preceded the European Cinderella by a millennium. It's also dark: In addition to the stepmother killing Yeh-Shen's only friend (a fish), said stepmother — and her daughter — are crushed to death in a shower of stones. (Yikes.) On the bright side? Yeh-Shen goes on to meet and marry the King, thanks to the spirit of the fish, and the magic of fish bones (the fish is a symbol of prosperity).
In a posthumous 1634 edition of Il Pentamerone, Giambattista Basile's La Gatta Cenerentola (or The Cat Cinderella) came to light and redefined "not appropriate for children." In this tale, a governess encourages Zezolla to kill her stepmother, which backfires when the governess becomes stepmother #2 and brings her own six daughters into the home. Zezolla is banished to the kitchen and loses her given name, becoming Cenerentola. That is, until magic prevails and she charms the prince at the traditional soiree, and they're reunited afterward thanks to footwear.

In 1812, the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published Kinder-und Hausmarchen, which is where Cinderella first made her appearance in Germany. This time she was Aschenputtel (translation: "Ash Fool"), a girl who loses her mother, braves the abuse of her stepfamily, then cries so much at her mother's grave that a magical trees grows there. Fortunately, that tree helps outfit Aschenputtel for the ball, where she meets her prince and loses her shoe. When the prince comes to their home, the stepsisters each try to fool him — one cuts off her toe to make her foot fit in the shoe, the other cuts off her heel. The prince notices all the excess blood, and eventually Cinderella is found. (And, then birds peck out the stepsisters' eyes at the wedding, and they go blind forever.)

Similar to Germany's dramatic version, Russia's folktale of Baba Yaga and Vasilisa (written down in the mid-1800s) is a little more adult. Centered around a girl named Vasilisa, it sees its protagonist sent to a witch (Baba Yaga) by an evil stepmother (who assumes Vasilisa will die). Surprise! She thrives instead, despite the witch's hut made of human bones. Vasilisa survives her brush with death and reunites with her dad with the help of a magic doll. (But, not before Baba Yaga severely abuses the cat whose only job was to kill Vasilisa and — you guessed it — scratch out her eyes.)
United States
True, the 1950 movie borrowed heavily from the French story, but Disney's animated Cinderella was actually an answer to post-war culture and fashion, by acting as a guide to the New Look. Ultimately, on top of making the film more kid-friendly by piggybacking on the magic animals found in Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, it was ultimately a marketing tool, dictating the merits of consumerism since Cinderella's dress was based on designs by Dior. Who would've thought Disney had an agenda?
Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
Native American
Taken from 1884's The Algonquin Legends of New England and 1894's Legends of the Micmacs, The Hidden One is a folktale that arguably varies the most from Cinderella — especially since there's more of an emphasis on morals than on revenge. In this story, a warrior named Strong Wind can make himself invisible, which he does to test the truthfulness of the women who'd like to marry him. This time, he meets three sisters, two of which lie and say they can see him (when they can't). However, the youngest — who they've abused out of jealousy — tells the truth, so she and Strong Wind end up together.
West Africa
Chinye: A West African Folktale (written in 1994 by Obi Onyefulu and illustrated by Evie Safarewicz) offers a reprieve from the dude-on-a-marriage-mandate by revolving around a young girl named Chinye, whose stepmother sends her to fetch water in a dark, scary forest. Fortunately, Chinye's patience and good heart prevail, leading her to treasure in the woods (and through that, financial freedom from her greedy stepmother and sisters). Chinye then goes on to live a great life and help others with her newfound riches — which totally beats a glass shoe and prince, right?

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