Not every Cinderella fairy tale involves a glass slipper and singing mice.
There have been several variations of the tale, born either from the original or simply because someone thought of a similar Cinderella fairy tale story idea at the same time. The Brothers Grimm and other fairy tale collectors came across many stories where the heroine was persecuted or forced to do horrible things by their family. Even my novel The Violet Fox draws inspiration from Cinderella as a fairy tale. Since young adult fiction is full of fairy tale retellings, here are some of the lesser-known Cinderella fairy tale-like stories for your own enjoyment or to get your creative juices flowing.
This Cinderella fairy tale, collected by the Brothers Grimm, is sometimes translated from the German Allerleirauh as All-Kinds-Of-Fur. And while I class it as a Cinderella fairy tale, it doesn’t exactly start out that way.
There once was a king who loved his wife and daughter very much. Unfortunately, his wife was dying. His wife made him promise that when she died, he would re-marry, but he could only re-marry a woman whose beauty was equal to her own.
After his wife died, the king searched his kingdom high and low for a woman just as beautiful as his deceased wife, but no one matched this description. Only one woman was just as beautiful as the dead queen, and that was the king’s daughter. And so, the king fell in love with his own daughter, and was determined to marry her.
Obviously the daughter was not cool with this. She came up with a plan to delay the wedding: she asked her father to make her three impossible dresses: one as brilliant as the sun, one with the silvery illuminance of the moon, and one as glittery as the stars. She also asked for a cloak made from the furs of a thousand different animals.
Well, the king was determined to marry his daughter so he hired the best dress-makers and managed to craft the impossible dresses, and the cloak of a thousand furs. The princess then had no choice but to run away. She took her impossible dresses, slipped on her cloak, and took three treasures from the castle to remember her home by: a gold ring, a tiny golden spinning wheel, and a golden spindle.
She ran away from her own kingdom and into another kingdom, where a prince ruled. She decided that it would be best to hide in the prince’s castle because it was well guarded, in case her father ever tried to come after her. But because she had spent a lot of time in the woods, wearing her coat of a thousand furs, she didn’t look anything like a princess. She was filthy, like a wild animal, and everyone took to calling her Thousandfurs. Despite this, however, she got a job in the royal kitchen and proved to be a diligent worker.
One evening, the prince had a ball and all of the lords, ladies, and princesses in the realm were invited. Thousandfurs wanted to attend, so she cleaned herself up, and put on the first impossible dress, the golden one, and strided into the ballroom. Of course, the prince was enraptured by her beauty, and her dress, and danced the night away with her. But at the end of the night, she escaped the ball and returned to the kitchen, and tended to the prince’s soup. At the bottom of the prince’s soup bowl, she placed her golden ring. The prince received his soup from the kitchen, ate it, and found it, wondering where the golden ring came from. The prince even questioned the royal chef and Thousandfurs herself, but the royal chef didn’t know anything about a golden ring, and Thousandfurs remained quiet about her true identity.
On another occasion, the prince threw another ball, and again Thousandfurs wanted to attend. This time she wore the second dress, which glowed silver like the moon. Just like before, the prince was dazzled by her beauty and danced the night away with her, and just before the ball ended, she escaped his grasp once again. Back in the kitchen, Thousandfurs slipped the tiny golden spinning wheel into the prince’s soup after the ball, and the prince was baffled at who was sending him tiny golden objects.
Weeks go by, and the prince held another ball for the realm, but this time he had got a plan. Thousandfurs showed up in her third impossible dress: the dress that sparkled like the stars. While she and the prince danced, he slipped the golden ring on her finger, the same golden ring she had given him in the soup after the first ball.
Thousandfurs managed to slip away from the ball, but she didn’t have time to change out of her dress and dirty herself up again before throwing on her cloak of a thousand furs, and cooking the prince’s soup. She also didn’t notice the golden ring on her finger.
When the prince ate his bowl of soup, and found the golden spindle at the bottom, he summoned the chef who had made the soup, and Thousandfurs went to the throne room. He noticed that she had a golden ring on her finger, and tears off the cloak, revealing the princess and her impossible, dazzling dress. She confessed her true identity and how she had come to be at the castle, and the prince asked if she would marry him. She said yes, and they lived happily ever after.
I guess hiding stuff in the soup is pretty clever, but what would happen if the prince didn’t want his soup that day? Or what if he didn’t eat everything in his bowl? Then he would’ve missed the trinkets all together. Also, it’s weird that Thousandfurs’ father doesn’t actively pursue her in the versions I’ve read, though I suppose I could’ve woven that thread into the fairy tale.
There was once a merchant who had a wife and a beautiful daughter named Vasilisa. Unfortunately, when Vasilisa was young, her mother got very sick. On her deathbed, Vasilisa’s mother gave Vasilisa a doll, and told her to feed and take care of the doll, and it would help her when she was in need. After her mother died, Vasilisa fed the doll and it came to life, and it comforted her as she dealt with her grief.
Soon, Vasilisa’s father re-married an awful woman who had two daughters of her own. The stepmother and the stepsisters got Vasilisa to do all sorts of chores and dirty work, but the doll helped Vasilisa get through her day.
Vasilisa’s father had to leave to go on a long merchant-related trip, and when he was gone, the stepmother sold their house and moved to a cottage beside a large forest. It was cold and gloomy there, and they had very little means to make a fire, so they sent Vasilisa out into the forest, to Baba Yaga, to fetch some fire.
Now Baba Yaga was a fearsome creature who lived in the forest. She had chicken legs and looked like a witch, and the journey would probably be extremely dangerous. But Vasilisa’s doll advised her to go, so she ventured into the forest.
Baba Yaga’s house was made of human bones, and at night, the eye sockets in the skulls lit up. Vasilisa was scared to steal fire from a house that was made of human bones and couldn’t run away when Baba Yaga caught her trespassing.
The mysterious creature gave Vasilisa a choice: complete Baba Yaga’s housework and other tasks to receive the fire, or die. Each day, Baba Yaga would leave her house and tell Vasilisa to clean everything inside and out, and cook Baba Yaga’s supper. But when Baba Yaga was gone, the little doll came out and did all of the chores, while Vasilisa cooked.
This continued on for a few days until Baba Yaga asked how Vasilisa was able to accomplish so much in a day. Vasilisa told her that it was because of her mother’s blessing, and Baba Yaga gave her a skull-lantern to take home to her stepmother and stepsisters.
When Vasilisa arrived home, there was no light in the house, as the stepmother and stepsisters had discovered that whenever they tried to bring fire or light into the house, it would get snuffed out. Vasilisa brought the skull lantern into the cottage, but it lit the everything on fire–including the stepmother and the stepsisters. The cottage burned down, and the stepmother and the stepsisters burned to death, but Vasilisa escaped unharmed.
Later, Vasilisa buried the skull in the yard. When Vasilisa’s father returned from his trip, they bought a house back in the village where they’d lived before. Vasilisa and her father grew her business and became extremely successful, so much so that Vasilisa attracted the attention of the czar. He married her and they lived happily ever after.
Vasilisa the Beautiful is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev (who was kind of like the Russian version of the Brothers Grimm), and is sometimes called Vasilisa’s Doll. It’s definitely a darker than your typical Cinderella-esque tale, and this one doesn’t have a prince rolling in to save the day or lend a helping hand.
Once there was a woman who had three daughters, and their names were One Eye, Two Eyes, and Three Eyes. As you can probably guess, One Eye was a cyclops, Two Eyes had two eyes just like you and me, and Three Eyes had a third eye in the middle of her forehead.
Unfortunately, Two Eyes was considered the freak in the family because she wasn’t “special”, and was treated like your regular Cinderella. She was only allowed to eat the scraps that the other two sisters left for her after meals.
One day Two Eyes was told to go look after the goat up on the hilly meadow, away from their house. She started crying because no one loved her, but then she saw an old woman with a kind face standing before her. The old woman told her that if she was ever hungry, to repeat this rhyme to the goat: Little Goat, If you’re able, Please spread out my table. Then, when Two Eyes was done eating, the kind woman told her to say to the goat: Little Goat, When you are able, Please remove my table.
Two Eyes, intrigued, tried the rhyme. A picnic of hot and cold foods lay spread out before her. She was so hungry, she ate and ate, and still there was more. When she was full, she repeated the rhyme, and the food disappeared.
Eventually the two sisters and the mother noticed that Two Eyes was not eating their scraps. One day, One Eye says that she is going with Two Eyes to look after the goat to make sure she was not causing mischief. Two Eyes knew that she couldn’t let her family know about the goat, because take it away from her. So once they were up on the meadow, Two Eyes sang a pretty song for her one-eyed sister, and soon One Eye was asleep. Two Eyes ate to her heart’s content, and woke her sister at the end of the day.
The next day, Three Eyes declared she was going to accompany Two Eyes to the meadow to look after the goat. Two Eyes tried the same trick on Three Eyes as she had on One Eye, and almost succeeded. Three Eyes allowed two of her eyes to close, but kept her third eye part-way open so she could see what Two Eyes was up to.
When Three Eyes told their mother about the magical goat, the mother ordered that the goat be killed. Two Eyes cried and cried, but she couldn’t do anything about it, the goat was killed. The kind woman appeared to Two Eyes and told her to bury the goat’s remains in the backyard. Two Eyes, heartbroken, does just that.
The following morning, a giant golden tree had sprouted from where Two Eyes had buried the goat. Luscious apples were hanging on every branch, just out of reach. First, One Eye tried to climb the tree to get the apples, but the branches pulled themselves away from her grasp. Then, Three Eyes tried, but she also had no luck. When Two Eyes tried, she was able to gather the apples. Unfortunately, as soon as she was back on the ground, the mother took away all of the apples Two Eyes had gathered and shared them just with One Eye and Three Eyes, and so she was no better off than before.
One day a prince came riding by their house, and he noticed the tree. The mother quickly hid Two Eyes because she considered Two Eyes to be hideous, and didn’t want to scare away the prince. The prince told One Eye, Three Eyes and their mother that if they could give him a golden branch from the golden tree, he would give them anything they wanted.
Excited, both One Eye and Three Eye tried to break a branch from the tree, but as before, the branches moved out of the sisters’ grasps. It was only when Two Eyes–stepping out of her hiding place and revealing herself–climbed the tree and took a branch with apples dangling from it, that she won the prince’s attention.
She asked the prince, for her reward, to take her far away from her awful family. He did just that, and ended up falling in love and marrying her.
Years later, two poor women came to the castle where Two Eyes and her prince lived. Two Eyes let the poor women inside and gave them food, water, and beds to sleep in. Eventually, she recognized them as her two sisters, One Eye and Three Eyes. After living in poverty for most of their lives, One Eye and Three Eyes came to understand what Two Eyes had gone through, and all was forgiven.
Even though it’s super silly, I like this Cinderella fairy tale variant from the Brothers Grimm because the two “ugly stepsisters” are forgiven at the end.
And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that The Violet Fox draws from Cinderella at its core: Kiera, the protagonist, disguises herself as a woman of noble blood from another province and infiltrates the castle on a secret mission. She also gets dressed up and goes to the ball, and dances with the prince! So she’s kind of like a super-spy Cinderella.
So what’s your favourite fairy tale of the three? I think I like Thousandfurs the best, but I appreciate the darkness of Vasilisa the Beautiful.
Will she be loyal to her people - or her heart?
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