Friday, June 09, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 19, 1444 H
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Cinderella, the fairy tale, and the real glass slipper


What about that Cinderella story? Though we mostly know it as that, in fact the English language version is of a Brothers Grimm written tale of the ‘Little Ash Girl,’ or ‘Aschenputtel’ in their native German language, which translates to ‘Cinderella’ in English.

Tell the truth... How many of you knew that? And I’ll tell you something more, that amazing, romantic, feel good fairy tale is all of that, but its beginnings lie even further back in history. In fact, all the way back to 2,800 years ago, to when the Greek, Herodotus, who wrote a story about a slave girl who achieved freedom in the Egypt of the Pharaohs.

The story was rehashed 500 years later by Strabo, whose version was that while ‘Rhodopis’ was swimming, an eagle took her sandal and dropped it in the lap of a King. He, being entranced by its petite elegance, couldn’t get the thought of its wearer out of his head, and searched until he found and married the girl, making her his Queen.

Soon after, Aeolian’s ‘Varia Storia’ featured ‘Aspasia of Phocaea,’ who was beautiful, but poor, with an unsightly birthmark. She dreamed of meeting a handsome man, and how to remove the blemish, awoke and found herself invited to a feast where she met, and fell for the King, ‘Cyrus the Younger,’ who married her... and they lived happily ever after!

The 12th Century Maltese version is ‘Cicklemfusa,’ who turned from a poor, homely girl, into a beautiful princess for a Royal Ball, she entranced the King, but when the spell was broken she ran away. She was revealed for whom she truly was, but the King fell for her anyway, and married her. Across Asia, versions emerged in Korea, ‘Tam and Cam,’ Cambodia had ‘Neang Kantoc,’ and other South East Asian versions featured ‘Hulek et Kjong,’ and the Japanese ‘Ubagawa.’

In literature, the first real ‘Cinderella,’ was ‘Cenerentola,’ by Gianbattista Basile, published posthumously in 1634 and featuring the original wicked stepmother, a missing slipper, and a frantic search by a handsome prince, while Perault, thirty years later, added a pumpkin, mice, glass slippers, and the now ubiquitous Fairy Godmother, and ‘Cinders was never the same again, especially when the Brothers Grimm got a hold of it!

Of course, Omanis will know the tale as one of several iterations from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Maybe ‘The Second Shaykh’s Story,’ ‘The Anklet,’ ‘The Eldest Lady’s Tale,’ ‘Judar and His Brethren,’ or Abdullah Ibn Fadil and His Brothers.’ These range from romance to intrigue, to murder, to redemption, beauty to ugliness, transformations and everything in between. But I did find my glass slipper... in this beautiful poetry by Laila al Awa, from 2013... reproduced here as a text: “I always felt as though my life, my being, my very self were forevermore saddled with the very expectations of generations before me, dusty individuals, their fervent whispers carrying, moving, travelling, across centuries of near-still air, air rippled only with the occasional revolution, scented softly with rosewater and hot Arabic coffee, that their unfulfilled wishes, needs and every desire, were now mine, like a sort of modern-day Cinderella wish. Upon turning sixteen years of age, a welcome to the world of a dissatisfied life, one in which you try your very hardest but never get anywhere, where you put your very best in, but only the worst comes out, a tired life. It was one bestowed upon me, and one I tried to shake off, a cloak of heavy, dull satin, pinned tight about my neck, a stranglehold. Countless attempts. So much of my being put in to making that cloak shine, making it glow, failed efforts heavy with the stench of mis-intention, a slew of sins. Dissatisfaction. I began to feel uncomfortable, tears springing to my eyes as I contemplated the heavy, deep fastenings of the cloak, only unfastened through true lawlessness or truthful intention. I stumbled about with the heavy cloak until one day one morning, fresh, calm and cool, the birds alight with their trills, I faced towards the Kaabah and felt the true cool of the deen surrounding me and transforming the cloak of dull expectations into one of shining possibilities, open and airy and effervescent, a garb of intentions, open worlds, a refuge of Islam.”

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