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Fairytale Princes Discover the Cinderella Life

2012 March 21

I was very excited to hear of the five hundred ‘new’ German fairytales from the 1800s which had been found in an archive in Regensburg. Team BadRep love this stuff – we’ve previously had a Fairy Tale Fest series of posts on how awesome folk tales can be through a feminist lens.

New sources are always interesting, because they show just how different some of the versions were back then. This article in the New Yorker gives some examples:

Schönwerth’s Cinderella is a woodcutter’s daughter who uses golden slippers to recover her beloved from beyond the moon and the sun. His miller’s daughter wields an ax and uses it to disenchant a prince by chopping off the tail of a gigantic black cat.

Even better, that linked article suggests the collection might go farther than just focussing on princesses:

Just as girls became domestic drudges and suffered under the curse of evil mothers and stepmothers, boys, too, served out terms as gardeners and servants, sometimes banished into the woods by hostile fathers. Like Snow White, they had to plead with a hunter for their lives. And they are as good as they are beautiful – Schönwerth uses the German term “schön,” or beautiful, for both male and female protagonists.

Photo of a hand holding in its palm a small figurine. It is an enamelled jewelled frog prince wearing a crown. Free image from commented previously on how fairy tales were often warnings to young women that they should be passive and dutiful. In a society where girls had the power to cause chaos if they ever stepped outside the extreme social restrictions, families wanted children to see these dangers on a mythic level. We still do it – even in Star Wars, those who seek personal power are bad and will fall to evil. (It has also been pointed out that Governments, the Church and other authorities all promoted this mindset throughout history, and that it’s an incredibly good form of population control. The idea that niceness and power are incompatible has been socially useful, but remains untrue at least on a small scale.) Star Wars champions those rebels who seek agency for themselves against a dark Authority, but many of its other messages would fit right in with the warnings in folk tales.

While the GOOD = PHYSICALLY BEAUTIFUL trope is still ironclad across most tales, it looks as though this latest find of stories will show the rules about behaviour and the tales of young people needing rescue being applied to men just as much as women, which could be VERY badass.

One hundred of the new stories were published in German in 2010, but there’s no news on when any will be translated into English. We’ll keep an eye on this, and keep the good readers of BadRep updated! (If there’s a version where a princess kills a dragon with a sword, radio stations scanning the outer galaxy will be confused by how loud my cheering must have been to have reached them).

And if you think that we’re hoping for too much, that the tales might not be that different from the sanitised Victorian versions, read that first quote again. Cinderella – in so many versions a figure so passive that she doesn’t announce herself even when the Prince enters her house, right up to when he puts the slipper on her foot – is here the heroine who uses magic items and travels impossibly far, taking action to rescue her beloved.

Imagine if Disney had sold us that version in 1950.

One Response leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    March 22, 2012

    On the good=beautiful, evil=ugly trope, I am reminded of a fairytale I was told at school, where the Queen was visited by a chaotic neutral fairy upon giving birth to her daughter, who made it so the baby was the most beautiful ever born, but also the most stupid. She then visited a poor woman, and made it so her newborn son was the cleverest child ever born, but also the ugliest. Where the story goes is relatively obvious (I don’t recall the exact details), but I do remember the ending having a twist where the Princess hadn’t actually wished the ugly kid handsome, but had – by wishing herself cleverer – discovered the ability to see beauty in him. I always though that was nice. Though it kinda cemented a childish ideal of female=pretty and male=ugly for me.

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