Updated: Feb 1, 2022
Often, when something is so far-fetched or unbelievably perfect, we accuse it of being a fairy tale. But, what if fairy tales were all rooted in truth?
You'd be surprised how many fairytales are based on historical figures: Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid... So, when I began research for my historical Cinderella retelling, imagine how excited I was to discover the story of Cinderella is another tale "inspired by real events". There are over 500 versions of the Cinderella fairy tale and the oldest goes as far back as Ancient Egypt. (Prince charming as a Pharaoh? Yes, please!) Here’s a bit of the surprising research I gathered before writing my novella, Sculpting Fables.
Variations of Cinderella
The story of Cinderella has become so popular that it’s basically an archetype these days. How many times have you heard of an underappreciated character who discovers success referred to as "a Cinderella story".
There are over 500 different versions of this fairy tale from all around the world, including "Ye Xian" from ninth-century China, Cenerentola from Italy, and Le Fresne from France. The most popular edition is "Cendrillon" by Charles Perrault, who is known for creating the version with fairy godmothers and pumpkins that we are most familiar with today. When the Brother’s Grimm got a hold of it, however, they made a few changes that spun a bit of a darker tale: Exhibit A: cutting off step sisters' feet to make the glass slipper fit and birds pecking out their eyes at Cinderella’s wedding. Classic Grimm.
The earliest version of Cinderella is believed to be the tale of Rhodopis from ancient Greece. The Greek historian Strabo in the first century wrote about her life as a slave and about how, as she bathed in the river, an eagle stole one of her sandals from the bank. The bird carried it to Memphis, dropping it in the lap of the Pharaoh. The king took it as a sign from the gods and sent men searching his kingdom for the owner of the sandal. Once Rhodopis was found, the pharaoh married her.
Another Greek historian, Herodotus, also recorded information about a slave named Rhodopis that very well could be the same person. He described Rhodopis as a stunning Thracian courtesan. She was captured in Thrace and sold to a Greek man named Ladmon who lived in a Greek Colony in Egypt, called Naucratis. Ladmon owned a number of slaves, including a disfigured yet cunning storyteller named Aesop. Yup, like the famous fable crafter.
When I heard about Rhodopis and dove deep into the research on her life, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. History is full of injustices, and though her story may have had a happily ever after, there were accounts of how heartbroken she was to leave Aesop. There are even a few accounts of how they had a deep and abiding love for each other.
I wished I could reach back and rewrite history and give her the exact happy ending she would have wanted. That's how my time travel fairytale retelling series, The Mirror Chronicles, was born. All of my retellings are alternate histories, based on the historic figures who inspired the fairytales. I have covered Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and now, Cinderella with historically based characters.
If you’d like a free copy of my Cinderella retelling (it’s a novella), I’m giving copies away here. I’d love to know what you think!
Here's a little bit about the book:
Rhodopis is a Greek kitchen slave who longs for freedom. Persecuted by her master's conceited and beautiful daughters, Rho vows to ease others' burdens, never add to them. When the gods hear her prayer and send a mysterious woman to purchase her freedom, Rho believes the fates are finally smiling on her. But holding on to everything she's ever wanted isn't as easy as it seems. Rho will have to do everything possible to keep fate from slipping through her fingers.