“Fairy tales and folk tales are for children and childlike people, not because they are little and inconsequential, but because they are as enormous as life itself.”
― Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
While sitting in the theater marveling at the exquisite costumes and rich sets of the new Cinderella film, I relaxed into this familiar story without fear of a plot twist. Going to see movies in a theater is not high on my list of fun, especially when I don’t know the ending, but after reading these two reviews, I knew this would be one well worth watching on the big screen.
With my normal barriers against the unexpected lowered, I felt the loss of Cinderella’s parents and consequently her insecurity for the first time. As I child I loved the Disney version with Gus, the fairy godmother, pumpkin coach, and of course the transformation of Cinderella’s rags into the shimmering ball gown. This time around, having just read this report about the exploitation and abuse of children in orphanages in Ukraine, my internal dialogue split into two narratives.
One sat back and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was beautiful.
To begin with, it was rather a shock to realize that Cinderella was an orphan. How had that fact slipped my noticed all these years? Maybe because in this film both her parents are still alive at the beginning, and in the book at least her father is still around, so when they both die and the stepmother assumes absolute control of the household I never paused to mourn the loss. She had a stepmother, so was she truly an orphan? I suppose she was.
The two step sisters remained fairly one-dimensional, but the stepmother, played by Cate Blanchett, was fantastic in a terrifying way.
Through Blanchett’s words and actions you watch how a once cherished child’s life is twisted into absolute servitude. When Blanchett’s malicious actions finally are too much, Cinderella speaks up asking “How can you be so cruel?” It is a question I often find myself asking when I hear stories of abuse and neglect in orphanages. Lady Tremaine’s response is sadly too believable. She is cruel because Cinderella is vulnerable.
When Cinderella first meets the prince, he asks if they are good to her and she stoically replies that other people have it worse.
How right she is. With a golden childhood and memories of loving parents who instilled strength, she has a foundation which most orphans couldn’t even begin to imagine.
She has courage and is kind because during those formative years, when so many orphans are fading into shadows with haunted hollow eyes, she was engulfed in love. Love is a power that should never be underestimated.
But even though she had parents who loved her and in the end she was able to leave the life of servitude enforced by her stepmother, there will always be lasting effects of that cruel time. After all, do you or I know Cinderella’s real name? Even the movie title is her servant name, the name given in mockery, not her true name given by her parents. Just now I flipped through our tattered Golden Book copy of Disney’s Cinderella but she is never once called by name. Only Cinderella.
There is power in names, names intertwine with your identity, and that lingers. It has been 381 years since this fairy tale was written, 381 years since the stepmother and stepsisters got what was coming to them, and 381 years since that little girl was first called Cinderella.
We have forgotten the spirit of meanness in which the name was given, but that doesn’t change the fact that we don’t seem to ever call her by her true name.
Where was I going with all this? Nowhere in particular, I warned you it was mostly ramblings. Maybe to keep in mind that the effects of time spent as orphans and the names given to undermine a child’s confidence do not disappear overnight even when there is a fairy tale too-good-to-be-true ending.