From the Archives
I’m thinking about Cinderella today, oh I know there’ve been lots of face-lifts to the story to make it more modern, and I know the original fairy tale had some seriously dark stuff in it. The old Russian version has the evil step sisters cutting off their toes to try and fit their enormous feet into the dainty glass slipper! And the evil toe-cutters are exactly my point.
I’m thinking about how often women are portrayed in pop-culture as either wanting to or NEEDING to be willing to cut off their toes to spite their feet in order to be worthy of a Prince Charming to come and rescue them. I’m also thinking about how often that perfect beauty of tiny feet, tiny waists, big tits and gorgeous face are the main characteristics of the damsel Prince Charming rescues. In fact, they’re quite often the ONLY characteristics of the damsel in need of a romantic rescue. Sadly, we’re encouraged not only to read about that vacuous blank canvas of a damsel, but we’re expected, likewise, to want to BE her. That dream of being rescued by the prince on the white horse will surely become our reality if we can only cut off out toes and be Cinderella!
Okay, if I’m honest, at every single one of the difficult points in my life I would have been more than willing to be rescued from the struggles, or even at times I would love to be rescued from my ordinary life and brought into something more exciting. (That’s always a very dangerous thing to wish for!) And who hasn’t spent serious time ‘looking for a hero,’ even if it’s just in a really juicy fantasy.
Most of the time, though, we don’t get rescued. We have to do that ourselves, and we’re all the better for it. In the best situations, and in the best stories I’ve read, the hero and the heroine rescue each other, and they’re both worthy of the rescue.
I suppose the need to be rescued is archetypal, just as is the need to go on a quest, which is often only an elaborate way of rescuing ourselves. But the makings of a fictional hero and a heroine these days seem to have more to do with fat bank accounts and chaining virgins to the bed in an expensive dungeon and less about the journey that risks everything.
Oh, did I mention the journey? Right! The rescue, the quest, they always go hand in hand with the journey. And this is why, for me, Cinderella is one of the weakest tales. The journey is the leaving of our comfort zone – quite often screaming and kicking every step of the way. In that respect, no doubt Cinderella was outside her comfort zone at the ball, but in most journeys, there’s no glass slipper, no prince charming, and no fairy godmother dashing to the rescue. There’s much fear and trembling and digging deep. THAT’S what makes a book nail-biting and un-put-downable (there! A new word) It’s when chaos springs from the mundanity of order that heroes are made. And the resulting quest, the resulting journey is usually at least as painful as having toes severed to fit into glass slippers.
We rescue ourselves on a daily basis. We find within ourselves the makings of the hero, and we push forward. That little seed of the hero’s journey exists in all of us, and it’s never a matter of sitting in the ashes by the fireplace and waiting to be rescued. It’s a matter of getting muddy and mucky and taking risks and moving into the places inside us that terrify us, but that pull us like magnates, nonetheless. We are our own heroes, and our stories – those of us who write stories, come from the deeper places in our selves – or at least they should if they’re ever to matter much.
Am I being judgmental? Quite possibly. I never claimed not to be. But I know my own journey, and I know when I sit in front of the computer and break into a cold sweat because I fear the place I see myself heading, because I know I have no choice but to go there if this story is to be born, then I know that no one will rescue me but me, and I have to go deep into chaos to come out the other side as my own hero.