I’ve said it before: it’s so hard to write a freewrite inspired by the most well-known tales. There’s so much already in people’s minds when they think of these stories, and you worry that you won’t tap into something that feels right without it already having been done. Well, we’ve reached the juggernaut — Cinderella.
What’s tempting is to expound on all the things that people “forget” about the Grimms’ version of the tale, thanks to more popular retellings and films. For example, the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit into the shoe, that’s one that folks like to point out a lot. Or the fact that it’s the ghost of Cinderella’s mother, housed in a hazel tree, who is responsible for her attending the ball in finery, and not a fairy godmother. Any of these things that were left out of more salient versions of the tale would clearly be good places to begin a freewrite — a paragraph from the point of view of the dead mother, for instance, or the stepsister as she foolishly (though somewhat bravely) chops off her big toe.
That’s not even to mention all that remains essential in every version, which is evocative enough: the suffering child in an abusive home, the pair of sisters so warped by their mother’s obsessions that they are as cruel and vain as she is. The prince, and why exactly it is that he can’t forget the one woman at the ball who was afraid to tell him her name. There’s so much, see? And though it might seem, from the way some people describe their weddings or their travels through life, that what makes “Cinderella” such an enduring and relatable tale is the romance, or even the rags to riches narrative, I suspect — I hope, anyway — that it’s something else. I like to think that for all the “Cinderella” weddings out there, what keeps people coming back to this story is actually how much of a portrait of suffering and perseverance it is. The lesson is not about finding true love, but about being able to see wonder in a twig, a mouse, or your own self, and allowing that wonder to carry you to a safer place.