Monday, February 15, 2016

The Truth About Cinderella

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a fairy godmother.

Not where you thought this story was going to start, was it? Of course not. No one cares about the fairy godmother. Everyone cares about the poor princess and her plight. All they ever want to hear is how the princess in peril was saved by a prince.

It’s never the prince who saves the princess. That’s a myth.

And the story is never really about true love.

Let me tell you the story behind Cinderella. My story.

Here’s what you’ve heard. A lovely young lady who is treated poorly by her stepmother and stepsisters wins the eye and hand of the kingdom’s prince and lives happily ever after. That barely begins to skim the surface. It doesn’t even touch the important part of the story.

I’m the fairy godmother that was assigned to Cinderella. I was assigned to her because I saw her fate. I went to the fairy council and asked to be allowed to help her. To protect and guide her the way her dead mother would have.

Her fate wasn’t the only thing I saw. I saw my own. I saw her stepmother’s. I saw how they intertwined. I couldn’t let that witch of a woman kill me. So I interfered.

Some of you might say that I lied to the council. I just think of it as selective truth-telling. I told them the part of the truth they needed to hear. A girl. In trouble. I just focused on the human girl in trouble and didn’t mention the fairy girl.

I suppose I can tell you, though. That’s the point of this, right? To tell you the rest of the story.

I saw the fate of Cinderella. Ignored and abused until she died, alone and dirty on the hearth. The stepmother continuing to manipulate her husband and the prince. She would maneuver her daughters into positions of influence. Gain the ear of important royalty. Convince them that fairies were the cause of all the kingdom’s problems. Start a war. A war I would be forced to fight in. I am a fairy godmother. I wouldn’t stand a chance.

This is the part the fairy tale doesn’t tell you. Cinderella’s evil stepmother was more than evil. She was a troll.

I’m not talking about those creeps on the Internet that stalk and harass you. An actual, authentic troll. Lumpy, bumpy, hair in unfortunate places.

Humans couldn’t see it. Not even Cinderella. The mask she wore was amazing, crafted by hand, in the fires of hell, I presume. To any humans looking at Lady Tremaine, she appeared to be a beautiful lady. Curvy, coiffed, polished.

Even fairies had trouble seeing through the mask. I only saw what lied beneath because I saw her fate. I watched her slip out of the carefully constructed shell, watched her troll daughters do the same. They were insulting Cinderella the whole time, discussing her filth and unappealing looks, as if they weren’t responsible for them. As if they looked better. I guess maybe beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Once I saw Lady Tremaine for what she was, and saw what her plan was, how easy it would really be for her to succeed, I went straight to the council.

The issue was that they hadn’t seen her fate. They saw the face she presented to the world. Not the troll and the plans she had made. Anyone could see that she was far from kind to Cinderella, but no one would suspect the danger she was actually in. So this was the fate that I shared with the council. Cinderella’s sad story. Her eventual death.

Once I had been assigned to help Cinderella, I encountered another problem. She was resigned to her fate. She was content to sit in the ashes, clean and polish for her stepmother and sisters. She didn’t even bother to complain to her father, tell him the horrible things Lady Tremaine did and said to her.

How could I help someone who didn’t want to help herself?

I had to make her believe in magic.

When she stuck that branch in the soil of her mother’s grave and cried a million tears onto it, I seized the opportunity. I made that branch sprout and grow before her eyes into a beautiful silver birch. I landed at the top, presenting myself to her as a delicate white dove.

She asked me if I was the spirit of her mother, asked for a sign. I dropped a handkerchief from my perch. A simple white square of cloth, edged with delicate lace, the initials E.T. embroidered in blue in one corner.

As soon as her blue eyes took in the monogram, they welled with tears. She babbled for a bit about how the current Lady Tremaine had burned all of her mother’s things. That she never thought she would see one of her mother’s handkerchiefs again. Blah, blah, blah. If they really meant that much to her, why did she let her stepmother destroy them in the first place?

This was my problem with humans. Some of them seemed to drift through life, taking whatever was dished out to them instead of fighting for the things they wanted, the life they wanted. It was hard for me to invest myself in changing their fate when I wasn’t sure they cared about it themselves.

So there I sat. Perched on the top of a magical silver birch. Looking down on a whining, crying human. I took off. I couldn’t take any more of her simpering. And I didn’t think there was any more I could do that day, anyway.

A few days later, I was needed. The festival. The part of the story where you are probably ready to yell at me. You probably want to tell me that Cinderella did know what she wanted, that she asked for help, found a way to get herself to the festival.

That’s not how it went.

Her stepsisters were goading her, taunting her as they dressed and Cinderella did their hair. Jokes flew about what a stir her appearance would cause at the festival, dressed in rags and ashes. Her stepmother joined in, inviting Cinderella to change, clean up, and come along. But first, sort the beans from the ashes.

A stronger woman would have said “Screw you, sort your own damn beans. I’m taking a shower.” Cinderella collapsed in tears, forming rivers of soot and snot down her cheeks.

I appeared, with a flock of fairy friends in the form of doves. We sorted the beans, dressed her in a gorgeous gown, and placed golden glass slippers upon her feet. She was still so reluctant to go to the festival, that I had to give her a nudge, a command. I pushed her into the pumpkin carriage, giving her an order to return by midnight. It worked. She was so used to being bossed around, that she couldn’t resist my command. She went to the festival. She danced when the prince said “Dance with me.” She stayed when he said “Stay.”

Until the stroke of midnight. She panicked, convinced that something horrible would happen to her if she disobeyed the request of the fairy godmother who had been helping her all along. Such a whipped little puppy.

She ran. The prince followed. All he was able to catch was a shoe.

I was on edge. Would he be smart enough to find the owner of the shoe? Find the woman he believed to be his one true love?

I was there watching when he turned up at the cottage the next day. I expected Cinderella to finally stand up and claim what she wanted. But no, she remained nestled in the ashes, watching as her stepsisters fluttered around the prince. She watched the flirting, the touches, even the lick of an ear. I found it disgusting.

When the first sister cut off a toe to cram her troll foot into the slipper, the prince didn’t notice. Perhaps he and Cinderella were meant to be together, they were both clueless.

I was forced to chirp from the birch tree, get the prince to look back and see the trail of blood.

He turned back. And repeated the same dance with the second stepsister. This one cut off a chunk of her heel. Oblivious again, the prince left with his new true love. Again I chirped. Again he returned to the cottage.

He asked if there were any other ladies in the house. Lady Tremaine stepped up, offering herself. He declined, at least realizing that this was not the lovely young lady he had danced with.

He would have left, never seen Cinderella if I had not intervened yet again. I flew through the open door, brushing the prince’s hair as I passed. I circled the room, making sure all eyes were on me before swooping to the fireplace and up the chimney. That was when the ever observant prince noticed the huddled girl on the hearth.

He had to convince her to try on the shoe.

Reluctant until the end, that one. I expected her to bolt on her wedding day. To my relief, she did not. She and the prince live together, ever after. I can’t say if they are happy or not. Frankly, I don’t care.

They are together. The prince did not marry one of the troll sisters. The troll mother did not gain the ear of royalty. The war has been averted. For now.

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