• Nadia Ross


Updated: Mar 30, 2020

Image: Cinderella by A.H. Watson

I researched the structure of old stories. Studying how old fairy tales work taught me a lot.

A story like Cinderella, for example, carries so much information, not only about stories, but about how stories get changed as the world changes.

In the original tale, she has to ‘sort the peas’, good from bad, as she sits by the fire: a tedious job that never seems to end. Her step-sisters get ready to go to the ball as Cinderella sorts. This is a key part of the story. But…

“In modern-day adaptations, Cinderella has a to-do list a mile long. Her nasty stepmother and stepsisters have no limit to the demands they pile onto the poor girl, and so Cinderella finds herself facing an impossible number of tasks to complete if she’s to have any hope of going to the ball. In Grimms’ version, however, she’s prohibited from attending the ball by one monumentally weird task instead: Her stepsisters hand her a huge sack of lentils to “sort.”

Apparently, the sisters think it is hilarious to dump bags of lentils in Cinderella’s lap, or in the fireplace, or on the hearth, and make Cinderella sort the good from the bad. They employ this tactic on night one of the ball, and then mix it up a bit on night two by handing her a sack of peas instead. I can totally understand why Disney changed this — no one, and I mean no one, wants to watch someone sort beans for hours.” www.sheknows.com

Disney, one of the 20th century’s most influential storytellers, changes the story in order to make it more entertaining. Sorting the peas is the most mundane and humiliating part of the story, but it is also the most important. It’s the ‘key’ action that unlocks Cinderella’s fate. This mundane, diligent task – discerning what is good and bad – something that takes discipline and diligence. Without that piece of information, then Cinderella has no hope, she becomes pure victim that can only be rescued by a male prince.

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