s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: The Algonquin Cinderella

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Algonquin Cinderella

Last week I read a picture book called The Rough-Face Girl. (Whenever a group of children's books comes through our department, I generally read a few of them for fun.) In a nutshell, the story is about a girl with a scarred face (from having to sit too close to the fire) who triumphs over her vain older sisters to marry a mysterious Invisible Being.

The dustjacket blurb called it a "powerful Cinderella story" and there are definitely a lot of Cinderella-esque elements in it (i.e., a protagonist who sits by the fire and competes with two sisters for an eligible bachelor). Some obvious Cinderella elements are also missing: glass slippers (or any kind of special shoes or clothing), a bride-finding ball (or any special gathering), and supernatural intervention in getting to the ball (although the groom, himself, has supernatural elements).

I've seen and read many variations on the Cinderella story. We counted once that my mother had no fewer than ten different versions on VHS when I was growing up: two ballets, one opera, three musicals, one cartoon, one version with Muppets, etc. (My mother was insistent that we would not grow up thinking that the Disney version was the only one out there.) However, this Algonquin story raised questions that the other Cinderella versions never had. If this tale predated European contact, was it merely a coincidence that it resembled the tale made famous by the Grimms and Perrault? Was it reflective of some sort of Jungian collective subconscious? Or had the folktale been shaped to fit a story more familiar to Americans?

Closer reading of a note in the front indicated that the original tale is longer and more complex. Maybe I'll see if I can track it down, for comparison.

12 Comments:

At September 21, 2009 10:43 PM, Blogger Heather said...

I'm always on the lookout for unusual and wonderful kid's books. This one is really unusual sounding. I'm going to see if I can get my hands on a copy. If you ever come across something amazing, let me know!

 
At September 21, 2009 10:48 PM, Blogger Heather said...

So, after looking it up, it looks like David Shannon did the illustrations. He is by far one of my favorites when it comes to kid's books. If he's written it, illustrated it, or recommended it - I get it. Thanks for this!

 
At September 22, 2009 10:21 AM, Blogger Cinderella said...

I'd definitely be interested if you can track down the 'original' Cinderella story. :)

 
At September 24, 2009 12:05 AM, Blogger Confuzzled said...

I'm delighted you included the term a "bride-finding ball."

Not so delighted that said song from The Slipper and the Rose is now stuck in my head and it probably won't leave for a couple of days...

 
At September 30, 2009 12:48 PM, Blogger Newt said...

We had one called Mufaro's Beautiful Daugters or something like that and another Native American one, but not the same one you described. I wouldn't be surprised if this story were some sort of archetype.

Or maybe I just love archetypes.

 
At September 30, 2009 2:16 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Oh, I've heard of Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters! I'd be interested to know if that one is based on a traditional tale (i.e., one that predates European contact) or if it's a modern retelling, set in Africa.

 
At September 30, 2009 2:24 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Aaand because I work in a library, I went downstairs and grabbed the book to check. :)

From the dust jacket: "John Steptoe has created a memorable modern fable of pride going before a fall, in keeping with the moral of the folktale that was his inspiration."

So it sounds like Mufaro's Beautiful Daugthers is a modern retelling (i.e., one written by someone who would have been familiar with the European Cinderella story), whereas The Rough-Face Girl is supposedly a traditional folk tale.

 
At September 30, 2009 2:26 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Or maybe I spoke too soon!

The first page mentions a collection of folktales from Zimbabwe, so maybe this story has an older history, as well.

 
At September 30, 2009 2:37 PM, Blogger Newt said...

When I read the quote, "John Steptoe has created a memorable modern fable of pride going before a fall, in keeping with the moral of the folktale that was his inspiration," I guess I thought the memorable modern fable was the version that was published, while the folktale that was his inspiration was the original story from Zimbabwe...

If anyone can find out, it is you. :)

 
At October 03, 2009 11:43 AM, Blogger Katya said...

Right. I just skimmed the blurb and assumed it was referring to Cinderella.

 
At October 27, 2009 3:20 PM, Blogger Rebecca Haden said...

Cinderella stories are found in Ancient Egypt, China, a variety of European traditions and, as you found, among the Northeastern Native American cultural groups.
Some have tried to trace the path by which the stories traveled around the world simply by being told and retold, but I don't think they've succeeded.
Perhaps,like agriculture and weaving, Cinderella stories are just among the ideas that are so good that everyone comes up with one eventually.
As far as the "original" goes, I think there's general agreement that Egypt gets the prize for earliest surviving story, and China for earliest written version.

 
At November 01, 2009 7:22 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Thanks for your comment, Rebecca. I should clarify that, with regard to this particular story, I'm not really trying to track down the "original" Cinderella story so much as I'm trying to determine whether the original version of this folk tale would really qualify as a Cinderella story, or if it's just been adapted to be more like the story we're familiar with.

 

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