Cinderella's Tree

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

Last week's topic of Beauty in Life brought out great posts from both of my sparring partners. Masha wrote a few poignant and poetic thoughts, with pictures. Mr. Pond wrote a hilarious little piece of meta-flash fiction. I highly recommend both.

This week's topic: beauty in fairy tale.

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The thing about beauty in fairy tale as a topic is that, though it was Masha's idea, it's pretty much the center of Mr. Pond's blog's existence. So, theoretically I could just tell you, well, go read Paradoxes.

But for the sake of contributing something to the discussion, let me start by suggesting that what most North Americans think of when they hear the words "fairy tale" involves a guy named Walt and a lot of colorful little animated stories stamped with a very recognizable pair of black mouse ears.

Aladdin was my favorite.

Unbelievable sights, indescribable feeling
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky
A whole new woooooooooooooooorld (Don't you dare close your eyes)
A hundred thousand things to see (Hold your breath, it gets better)
I'm like a shooting star
I've come so far
I can't go back to where I used to be...

Of course, fairy tale may be more usually associated with Cinderella or Snow White or Beauty and the Beast. Aladdin should qualify after a fashion, though, as it's one of the One Thousand and One Nights tales. Of course, the original is only half recognizable in Disney's jolly adventure-musical version, but I suppose the name Badroulbadour would have been a lot to throw at small English-speaking children. And allowing the couple to marry halfway through the story would have been rather unusual in the happy-ending tradition. And apparently Disney thought it a bad idea to treat free wish fulfillment as a totally, shamelessly good thing.

I've heard it said that fairy tales are bad for young girls, and perhaps where de-horrified and commercialized stories are concerned that may be true, though for myself I can't think of any problem I've had that I can blame on Cinderella or Snow White. I know my mother kept me from some of the stories when I was very young, but I don't remember not knowing them.

But—and here we get to the point—Disney is a fairly recent invention, and fairy tales are not. I wonder what difference it makes in the thought processes of small girls when, instead of a catchy little story involving mice and pumpkins and songs and Fairy Godmothers, the Cinderella they hear of receives her dresses and help from a white bird living in the tree planted over her mother's grave, and her stepsisters mutilate their own feet to try on the slipper. That's the Grimm version.

And, you know, it is kind of beautiful. Well, except for the knife—and the part where the pigeons peck out the stepsisters' eyes. Gross.

The white bird and the tree outshine every last frame in the movie, though. If there's a single poignant moment in that particular Princess flick, I don't remember. But the haunting little ache, so well placed by the existence and nature of Cinderella's tree, is the very breath of beauty.

Ain't gonna lie, as it were—I like Disney movies. Especially the music. But while I think there is beauty in some of the oversanitized and übermarketed, it's something I take in limited doses. Like McDonald's cheeseburgers. I like those, too, dang it. Once in a while.

And I don't always love the Grimms. I won't lie about that, either. Some of the tales leave me shaking my head and tsking like an old biddy and muttering "Was there a point to that?"

When I think of fairy tales, though, I think of a pale young girl in a peasant's dress, walking through a dark wood, eyes bright in the moonlight. She's out to leave behind the horror she's always known, face the monsters of the night, do the impossible, and find bliss. Or at least peace. And somewhere in the same wood, a youngest son prepares to meet three times with Death, courage and wit and goodness his only weapons.

Will the two wind up married to the royal offspring of nearby realms? Or will they meet in the dark wood under the moon? Or will they simply wend their separate ways and search out their own resolutions?

Either way, it could be beautiful.


  1. Jenna said, "Will the two wind up married to the royal offspring of nearby realms? Or will they meet in the dark wood under the moon? Or will they simply wend their separate ways and search out their own resolutions?

    Either way, it could be beautiful."

    Amen. Very moving last two paragraphs. And that's the power of fairy tales. Or faerie as Tolkien would say. :)

  2. On a dark night, the right way lost...

    What is that story in the last few paragraphs? It's not one I recognize but (a-HEM) would be very keen to read. It strikes somewhere between Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and "The Day Boy and the Night Girl," whilst being utterly neither.

    About Disney, Jack Zipes is of the opinion that there's only one Disney movie, regurgitated endlessly in various colourful permutations, and that it's boring. In the right weather I have to agree, but that doesn't stop me liking Robin Hood. (I have, like, a bazillion sources on this if you're interested. OK, five.)

    I also have an article I'm planning to write on the white bird in the tree. Love that image.

    More thoughts to come when I'm less scattered...Great post, Jenna. Again. :)

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cx_4C1cyUZA

  4. Thanks, George! Can't believe I made it through a whole post about fairy tales without mentioning Tolkien.

    Also, I love Robin Hood.

    Mr. Pond, I just sent you an email about the story... but for the benefit of other readers, I made it up. :) As for your article on the white bird, I'll look forward to reading it.

  5. Haha, thought so. I just replied to your email, so it's all good.

    I wonder if the grotesquerie of the old tales goes hand-in-hand with their beauty? In that they drive imagery and imagination to extremes, the punch in the eye, as it were. Of course, the Grimms did add some of the harsher details themselves, but there is certainly an element of the uncanny and cruel in many folktales. Contrary to many modern theories of writing, they're not all sweetness and light, anymore than they're all badness and dark. Both elements seem to coalesce into each other.


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