Fairytale and Image

>> Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fairytales & Image

For centuries fairy tales have been at the foundation of what children’s literature is. Over time fairy tales have become increasingly outdated, these changes are directly linked to differences in culture. “Ashputtel”, a story over 500 years old, has come under the microscope as modern day writers take the same story and weave it into a more culturally receptive form. Babette Cole is one such undertaker, the author of Prince Cinders, where Cinderella is replaced with a skinny male and magic goes awry. By having modifications to gender image and the use of magic, Cinderella transcends the ages with modifications to fit modern American cultural needs.

Today, equal rights have become a strong foothold in what is culturally correct. After the Equal Rights’ Movements, it is important to begin teaching children that gender no longer has such a restrictive hold on what a person can and cannot do, this includes the classic fairytale. Women and men are now able to be married to whoever they wish, there are no longer serious stipulations where marriage is more of a contract with the father in law and the husband, it is now strictly the union of a man and a woman to whoever they please. This belief is found in Cole’s story as she has the Princess rescue the Prince from his family situation. The original Grimm’s version instead has the Prince rescue Ashputtel. It is interesting to note why it is an important change as it stabilizes the belief that a child can be anyone they wish to be.

The hero in Cole’s story is not the ideal man; he wishes to be “big and hairy” like his older brothers. This shows a sense of insecurity in our character and perhaps makes it easier for children, who are young and small, to identify with Cinders. The element of sibling rivalry reinforces the inadequacy and ultimately puts the entire story into action by having this as the initial conflict and the reason Cinders wants to be “big and hairy”. Contrasting this is Grimm’s “Ashputtel” where the heroine is beautiful, children may not be able to identify with the graceful heroine as she is much more mature than they are and so this distances children from the story. Children benefit from a story where the hero is not always the ideal figure; Cole’s story reinforces this as it is Cinders inadequacies that bring him to the princess.

Children who are bombarded with magic as an attainable use can become very disillusioned. This has to be modified from Grimm’s where a bird acts as the fairy god mother figure. Cole makes the magic in her story the comic relief. It is the magic that puts Cinders in a position to meet the Princess and win her heart; however, this is accomplished by the fairy messing up the magic spells, whilst Cinders is unaware. His image change frightens the princess, but when he turns into his normal self, she believes that he has frightened away the big hairy monster. This clever use of magic is far from serious and helps show children that magic does not solve your problems, rather, the child is ultimately responsible for his own position in life.

By modifying the original “Ashputtel” with these image issues it becomes clear that the American culture wants the child to know it is responsible for its status in life. The family, or position the child is born into, is no longer holding the child back. Magic that was originally thought to be a simple way to fix problems is instead the cause of the biggest conflict in the story. In the current American culture today these are all valuable traits to teach a child, as we are the little engines that could, indeed it is up to us to change our lives. Cole’s story is a remarkable example of how the modern modifications are so beneficial to a young child. By taking responsibility there will be fewer disillusioned children waiting for their Prince or Princess to come.
Works Cited
Cole, Babette. Prince Cinders. New York: Paper Star Book, 1997
Grimms, Wilhelm and Jacob. “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” Ashputtel. p 193-201. New York:
Penguin Group, 1994


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