Department header
Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

Cinderellas, Then and Now

by Carmen Ruggero

Challenge 300: How does P. I. Barrington”s “The Faiery Ball” differ from that of Cinderella?

“Rhodopis” is considered the oldest version of the Cinderella theme. It dates back to the 1st century B.C and was recorded by the Greek historian Strabo. Rhodopis — “red-cheeked girl” — was the story of a young girl abused by her co-workers.

That theme eventually became a fairy tale. There have been Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Philippine versions of the story, and the first modern European version appeared in 1634. The most popular version was written by the French author Charles Perrault, in 1697.

Some details have varied. In earlier versions, Cinderella is visited by the spirit of her dead mother; it was later that the spirit was changed to that of a fairy godmother. But one thing has stayed consistent: the story is that of an abused young girl. It speaks of her suffering, her perseverance and survival. Consistently, the moral has been that endurance, kindness, and faith are well rewarded.

It is very difficult to write a variation on such a well-known story. Had Barrington deliberately tried to present an anti-Cinderella, that would have been a challenge. But she doesn’t; instead, we see in Aithley Daray a kind of shadow Cinderella, one with modern-day preoccupations.

The traditional Cinderella is submissive and gentle and yet spiritually strong. Aithley is far from that; in fact, she reminds me of Cinderella’s stepsisters from the traditional story. True, Aithley is by no means an evil person, but she seems childish and self-indulgent. She focuses so much on her own needs and wants — and what her nameless “boyfriend” doesn’t give her — that I find it hard to empathize with her.

What do we know about “boyfriend” besides that he’s nerdy and likes fantasy magazines? Is he miserly or is he justifiably worried about finances? We don’t get to know him through his actions, and Aithley is so self-absorbed that it’s hard to trust her perceptions.

In fact, we see and hear so little from “boyfriend” that in the end I’ve become curious: I want to get to know him. I want to make up my own mind whether he’s good or bad. I don’t care for Aithley, and I have the feeling that “boyfriend” may be glad that prince charming shows up at the ball to take Aithley away.

Copyright © 2008 by Carmen Ruggero

Home Page