I recently stumbled across two GREAT versions of the Cinderella story that made me think about it in a completely new way. The first was The Rough-Face Girl,
an Algonquin Indian version of the tale, retold by Rafe Martin: absolute gorgeous. The girl's two older sisters set out, decked out in their finest, to 'marry the Invisible Being,' only to be exposed as being ignorant of his appearance (true nature). The rough-face girl goes next, piecing together her bridal attire out of simple, broken things, but when challenged, she speaks clearly of the Invisible Being for, she says, she sees him everywhere in the natural world. He and his sister (the guardian) see her immediately as she is inside, and not the outside, and accept her joyfully. It's pretty amazing. No fairy godmother needed to help Cinderella get to or catch the prince's eye.
The second thing was the Cantonese movie "Jump" (2009), in which a country girl moves to Shanghai and works in a factory and as a custodian at a dance school in order to pursue her dream of becoming a hip-hop/street dancer, attracting the notice of a 'prince' along the way. Sounds like standard stuff on the surface, doesn't it? But for one thing, this Cinderella works WAY
harder than any other I've come across. Half the movie is montages of her singing, dancing, laughing as she cleans toilets, mops floors, hauls garbage, irons, sews, etc. What is really amazing about this version, though, is that the film doesn't feel sorry for her. They don't present her circumstances as miserable or depressing. There is a fantastic moment in which she curiously asks the prince on their first 'date' what's the happiest day he can remember. Surprised, he comes up with something involving money. Equally surprised, she tells him the happiest day she can remember was one morning, working in the fields, and seeing a rainbow after a rainstorm.
What I realized is that I've always thought of the transformation in the Cinderella story as a reward for all her previous, miserable, hard work. She's earned that tiara. What these two versions made me realize is that you can 'read' Cinderella as the kind of sage Joseph Campbell refers to as 'Master of the Two Worlds': someone who has seen through the world of maya
to the underlying beauty, and that
is what makes her worthy of her final ascension (Campbell talks about 'Marriage to the Goddess' because most of the stories he looks at feature male heroes). The story takes on a gnostic quality and becomes about values, contrasting those who cannot see and are stuck in the world of appearance with the one who sees 'underneath,' whose true beauty can be recognized 'within.'