Tuesday, 16 April 2013

104 - Lazy Cinderella

If there are no original ideas then pastiche and adaptation have to be considered legitimate forms. Certainly box office trends indicate there's a huge appetite for remakes. Sequels and reboots also gross hundreds of millions. Most recently updating legends has become popular, as is the case with countless Greek myths, Hansel and Gretel, and Jack with his Giant Beanstalk, which is surely a silly basis for an action movie.

In any case, enforced by centuries of currency, the gruesome tales we tell children are ripe for retelling. Angela Carter famously took stories like Beauty and the Beast and reworked them in her anthology The Bloody Chamber. In fact, masterful as her fresh imaginings were, she could have reprinted the uncensored originals and still caused a shock: Rapunzel's saviour is horribly blinded in an incident involving thorn bushes; Cinderella's sisters mutilate themselves while trying to fit into the glass slipper; Bluebeard keeps the bodies of his many ex-wives locked away in a crimson room, or bloody chamber or whathaveyou.

Last week I had the good fortune to be paid to listen to a group of university students rehearse their own theatrical versions of some classic folktales. We had frog princes finding true love; wolves eating grandmothers and a radically different version of Cinderella. Correcting pronunciation and giving tips as best as I could, it was far from a gruelling couple of hours' work.

The version I liked the most, since it surprised me, was the one that portrayed Cinderella as a work-shy adolescent who ignores the impact her selfishness has on her family, prefering instead to lead the life of a narcoleptic. She shows few signs of life until the royal ball rolls around, when she declares herself fit to go out and snare herself a rich man. Fortunately her mother, who's already denounced Cinderella for being far too slovenly to have any prospect of finding a husband, puts her foot down and orders the girl to stay home. Our sympathies are with Cinderella's sisters, who have spent the first half of the play cleaning up.

On the night of the ball, Cindy, napping again, gets woken up by her fairy godmother, whom she proceeds to trick into pitying her. She pretends to cry and, saying she has no pretty outfit to wear to the ball, is given a pair of glass slippers and a nice dress.

Finally, having secured the prince's infatuation and become his wife, Cinderella ends the play revealing how lazy she is to her new husband, who, in a forehead slapping moment, realises all too late what he's got himself in for. He's only gone and married a woman who doesn't do housework!

What does this mean? I'm not sure. Perhaps it's more feminist than any version Carter could have written. Women can be lazy. In an egalitarian society, we're free to say that. Perhaps that's the message. Or perhaps it's that Cinderella's best quality is her cunning and that she is able to identify and exploit her best feature is to be applauded. She wins no sympathy by being so lazy, but why should she do housework anyway? Why shouldn't the prince scrub his own floors? I mean what kind of country even has princes these days? She doesn't have to please us, the male audience. She got what she wanted. The real fools are probably her sisters, who've spent their lives obeying the rules of an unfair society, only to wind up alone. I could of course be reading too much into it. Perhaps I should keep my mouth shut.

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