Saturday 21 March 2015

"Every time someone retells this story, they make another million dollars"

It's still true after all these years:

(Although the amount of money has been subject to inflation)

I'm not going to see the new film. I've seen the story before. Many times. I doubt it comes anywhere close to the best movie adaptation of that story, and I find it a little depressing that Disney is now so out of ideas that they have to resort to regurgitating their own back catalogue in live action. 

Nonetheless, I found myself pondering this story today. It is perhaps the most-frequently adapted tale of them all. Every possible reimagination and twist on this tale appears to have already been done, and yet it still manages to make gazillions at the box office when it is done again. The same is of course true for other stories - the Hero With a Thousand Faces and the generic Rom-Com (mentioned as "Boy Meets Girl" in the video above). But where those other tales tend to hide their commonality by adopting different settings, worlds and titles, the Cinderella story is so recognisable that many of its adaptations draw attention to their retelling of the same old tale. There is something about that template that continues to sell even if you don't bother to change anything at all...

One of my ponderations is that it doesn't actually feel like a story about one girl. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what real events would have to be like to become, over many retellings, the cinderella story. And the premise I arrived at was quite different.

Imagine a small tribe somewhere. The "king" does not live in a fairy tale palace or a huge castle, but is simply the alpha male / head honcho of the tribe.This is the old times, long before the Arabs invented romantic love, and long before romantic love became fashionable in Europe. Marriages were couplings of convenience, arranged more often than not. So the son of the head man has come of age, and it is time to select a bride. This is before Christianity, before empires, somewhere in the really old times, and society has a boss but not quite so many levels of hierarchy, no obsession with noble blood. All the girls of the tribe have to come to a shindig, so that the King's son can choose.

Imagine the girl who is kept locked away by her parents. Perhaps she is deformed in some way. Perhaps there really is an evil stepmother. Perhaps she was born as the result of a rape, and is resented for that reason. Perhaps she is simply a slave, captured or traded from another tribe. This is the girl who wants to go to the ball, not necessarily because she wants to marry the prince, but because she yearns to be like the other girls, to have the same value as them. This is the girl who defies her oppressors and makes it to the shindig, knowing full well that later, there will be a price to pay.

Imagine the girl who is chosen by the prince. She's pretty and curvy and he definitely wants to bed her most of all the ones at the shindig. But lo and behold, after he picks her, she disappears and runs away. Perhaps she leaves after people have gone to sleep, or perhaps she waits until people are drunk and no longer pay full attention. Perhaps she goes out to the bushes and never returns. Perhaps she really does leave a shoe behind when sneaking out of the clearing where the shindig takes place. This is the girl who runs, not because of some magic or some special hour, but because she does not want to become the bride / property of the prince. A (wo)manhunt ensued and eventually she is caught, with all the consequences that entails.

Perhaps the two girls live at the same time, perhaps they live generations apart. Over time, their tales are joined, and some reason for her escape gets added, and some reason for being locked away despite being pretty, and a happy ending, and so we arrive at Cinderella, which somehow resonates and clicks and has become the most addictive story of them all.

I do believe that some folk tales and myths grew from the seeds of real events. Bluebeard, after all, is suspected of being based on a real serial killer. Of course, over time and many retellings, the events would be distorted and reshaped and more often than not, the original seed is so long forgotten that it is invisible in the story. When I look at Cinderella, there is no sensible way it could have been a single tale of a single girl. It takes the fairy godmother and her magic to glue the events together and create some internal logic. But cut it in two, and suddenly there are believable tales in there, only neither is a happy one...

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