Cinder Ella, A Twisted Fairy Tale
I know you think you’ve heard the real story of Cinderella. But the story you hear today features the Hollywood-style ending. The true story went like this:
Once upon a time, in a distant kingdom, a man and wife learned that they would soon have a child. Excitedly, the couple prepared their house for the new arrival. The man was a nobleman with good title, little land and even less money. He lovingly crafted a baby bed while his wife worked on baby clothes.
When the time came, the woman gave birth to a perfect little girl. As the thankful new mother and father looked at the beautiful baby, they decided to call her Eleanor, meaning “light” for she was fast becoming the light of their lives.
Eleanor was raised surrounded by the loving embrace of a devoted mother and father who loved each other very much and found their brown-eyed girl with chestnut hair to be the center of their own little universe, but times were hard and this happiness was not to last.
Just before Eleanor’s seventh birthday, her mother got a cough that didn’t go away. Two months before her eighth birthday, Eleanor and her father were on their own.
It was hard on both of them, but in time Eleanor and her father adjusted to their new life. Years passed and Eleanor’s father became concerned that he could not raise his daughter to be a proper lady without assistance. This was especially true as affairs of state called and he found himself away from home in service to the king with increasing frequency.
When Eleanor was 12, her father courted and married a widow of obvious charm and subtle cruelty. She moved into the house with her two daughters, Gretchen, who was a few months younger than Eleanor and Ursula who was two years younger. The three should have been fast friends, but where Eleanor was kind and compassionate, her stepsisters were vain and self-centered. In time the two came to be more and more spiteful with “Ella” as they called her.
Years pass and an uneasy truce developed between Eleanor, her stepmother and stepsisters. While life was unpleasant with them, her father’s loving presence in the house mostly made up for the cruelty she received from the three.
Five years after they came into the house, Eleanor’s father was called away indefinitely in service to the king who was waging a war along the distant border at the north end of the kingdom.
The stepmother’s cruel side showed itself openly in her second husband’s absence. Within days Eleanor was turned from beloved daughter into a kitchen servant who cooked and cared for the house all day. She lost her room to Gretchen with Ursula getting the room the stepsisters had shared.
Without even a blanket, Eleanor was forced to sleep on the floor huddled by the coals in the hearth for warmth. The stepsisters taunted Eleanor calling her “Cinder Ella” as her clothes became perpetually covered with soot.
Meanwhile, her stepsisters were given every advantage of a noble upbringing. They learned to read and write. They were taught music and dancing, as well as social graces. Eleanor was constantly beleaguered with complaints urging her to work harder. She had become a slave in her own house.
Another year passed. The next marked the second decade of the king’s reign. Though the battles still raged to the north, the crown prince needed to be wed. The anniversary celebration gave an excuse for a formal ball with all the young ladies of noble birth invited to come meet the Prince.
As one would expect, the stepmother threw herself into preparations for her two daughters, sparing no expense on their outfits. Unknown to the three, Eleanor worked late each night by the light of the fire to freshen up her mother’s finest gown, which fit her perfectly.
On the day of the ball, Eleanor finished her chores in plenty of time to prepare. But with an eye toward keeping her step-daughter busy, the stepmother made more and more work. Yet, even still as the carriage arrived to take the other three to the ball, Eleanor appeared by the door, stunningly beautiful in her mother’s dress, her deep brown hair plaited just so.
The stepsisters stared disbelievingly at Cinder Ella, then in a jealousy-fueled frenzy, tore the fragile dress to rags. The stepmother cackled with laughter, enjoying the pitiless treatment of her husband’s beloved child.
As soon as the attack had started, it ended. There was a flurry of dresses swishing through the door and the three were off to the ball. Eleanor was left in a puddle of tears.
The dust from the carriage had not settled on the doorstep when a strange light appeared. Eleanor looked up to see a round little woman holding high a wand, from whose tip came the dazzling light that had caught her eye.
“Now, now Eleanor, I’ve been sent to put things right,” the fairy Godmother said soothingly.
“I don’t understand,” said Eleanor.
“No need to. Just believe in yourself and I’ll take care of the rest,” the fairy Godmother added.
A wave of the wand, and Eleanor was back in her mother’s gown, whose classical lines were all the more fetching as the dress was now as new as when her mother had first worn it. The only change in her attire being that Eleanor was now chicly shod with a pair of glass slippers. She didn’t have time to see herself in a mirror. She heard the pawing of hooves on the doorstep and could see the corner of a coach through the window.
“No time for talking now sweet child,” the fairy Godmother said, “You’ve got a ball to get too. My magic will hold out until midnight. Make sure you are back home by then and all will be well. Just believe in yourself.”
In what seemed like moments, Eleanor was at the castle, being introduced formally at the ball. The Prince caught sight of her at the top of the steps. Eleanor’s face was even more dazzling than the setting sun glistening behind her through the open doorway.
It was love at first sight. The Prince strode across the ballroom purposefully, signaling the band to start playing. Eleanor descended the long staircase and was immediately whisked away by the Prince waltzing her around the great ballroom. Eleanor was entranced. The Prince was less than charmed.
Sure, this was the prettiest of all the young ladies at the ball, the Prince thought, but she couldn’t dance to save her life, her hands were the coarsest he had ever touched. She had no more social graces than a scullery maid. The Prince politely waited through the first song, which seemed to him to last an eternity. He thanked Eleanor for the dance and shuttled off to meet the other girls.
After having danced with more than half the eligible daughters of noble birth in the kingdom, the Prince met Gretchen. The eldest stepsister was not the prettiest girl at the ball the Prince knew, but my how she could dance! What a sparkling wit! She was an entertaining conversationalist who kept him laughing. Long before midnight, the Prince announced that he and Gretchen were to marry.
A girl sobbing cry rang out, but none of the parents and guardians noticed anyone missing. The next morning, a glass slipper left on the stone steps of the palace was the only clue that Cinder Ella had ever been to the palace. In disgrace, she never returned home. You can still see her today in the shadows of the castle panhandling for money. Her mother’s lovely dress is once more in tatters. The remaining glass slipper is carefully placed in front of her to collect what few coins are tossed her way. The End.
How did that version sound to you? It’s hard to hear isn’t it? The reason is not just because you are accustomed to the other version, or that you prefer a Hollywood-style happy ending. It’s because, though both stories are works of fiction, the story I just told is false. The version you already know is true.
Cinderella at its heart is a reversal of fortune. The girl no one looks at twice becomes the queen of the nation. Cinderella’s story is not unlike the story of Jesus’ mother Mary—the young girl with a pure heart from a little village on the backside of no where, who God selected to be the mother of his only begotten son.
The story of Cinderella is also your story. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:15-17a).
That is the essential truth of the more traditional telling of Cinderella. Yet people go around not understanding the real value of who they are because they don’t know that they are the beloved children of the creator of all that is. We could avoid the tremendous emotional and physical damage we humans do to each other, and to ourselves, if we could truly see ourselves as God sees us, then see those around us as God sees them.
Hold on to the truth of Cinderella. You are not some nobody in God’s eyes. You are princesses and princes, joint heirs to the kingdom. And the King of Heaven and Earth wants you to know that you are well loved.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526