- Amy MacKinnon
Cinderella: A Christian Fairy Tale
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Of course we have to start the Fairy Tale Summaries with Cinderella!
According to folklorists like Jack Zipes and Maria Tatar, every culture has a version of Cinderella that’s been passed on for generations back to time immemorial...
And of course learning about that is interesting, but we’re focusing on the Christianity that’s hidden in plain sight in the story.
Since there are so many versions of Cinderella, I’m not going to summarize them all in this post, just the one by Charles Perrault (better known as the author of the “Mother Goose” fairy tales).
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be summarizing other fairy tales in the same way for “Fairy Tale Fridays” (check the bottom of the page to see the list of posts on fairy tales).
Here’s my summary of:
Cinderella: A Christian Fairy Tale
The story of Cinderella can be seen as a metaphor for how we become children of God.
The mini version of the summary is that no matter what her family puts her through, she perseveres in virtue. It’s not just that she’s nice to everyone, because anyone can be polite for short periods of time, even towards people that we really don’t like.
Cinderella doesn’t behave the way that we would though; she refuses to give in to the temptation to get back at—or even sabotage—her family members. No matter how cruel they are to her—and they really can be very cruel!—she never once gives in to the temptation to copy their behavior and attitudes, and treat them as they have treated her.
In the beginning—before the story by Charles Perrault starts—Cinderella and her parents live in perfect happiness together.
This is the Garden of Eden, before the Fall
So of course, we should expect to see a serpent enter that garden setting… and when that serpent enters, it will bring death to the world.
And that’s exactly what happens:
Cinderella is separated from the love of her father
She becomes a slave to the serpent and that serpent’s offspring
She’s reduced to dwelling among the ashes
She is constantly ridiculed by those around her
Those who don’t ridicule her ignore her, as though she no longer exists
This is Her Descent into Hell
She has lost everything that people value:
Her value as a human being (or seems to)
No one even notices her, or sees her as a human being anymore, including her father
She has literally been reduced to nothing, to ashes…or cinders. This is what she’s named for in the story.
Why the ashes or cinders? That’s the result of something that has been destroyed by fire.
But fires don’t just destroy, they also purify. And this “death” of Cinderella is where she imitates Christ in His Descent into Hell, or the place of the dead.
So How Does She Respond to This?
Every single time, she chooses virtue over vice
And who is it who saves her?
Her fairy GODmother
Just as Jesus died but then rose again from the dead, Cinderella undergoes her own transformation from death (ashes) into new life.
When she is finally able to go to the ball, her appearance also indicates she’s transformed (literally: changed in form), but her substance (who she is) has not changed.
Her outside appearance is now a reflection of her soul: she is truly beautiful—not merely pretty—and everyone else is finally able to see that.
Cinderella's Glass Slippers
Why “glass” for her slippers? They sound really uncomfortable!
This is not the only place in the story where Perrault mentions glass; he also mentions a looking glass that the step-sisters often use to gaze in, and admire their own reflections.
Whenever windows, eyes, sight, mirrors, or anything that’s related to sight or seeing are mentioned in a story, the first thought should be that this is a symbol for “wisdom.”
Symbols in stories can be used to either show a particular quality, or to show the absence of that quality. Perrault uses references to glass in that way throughout the story, but he gives it a special emphasis both while the sisters are preparing for, and then when they’re leaving for the first ball.
Cinderella's stepsisters should be looking at Cinderella, and seeing the suffering of their step-sister for what it is, but instead they’re admiring themselves, and ignoring the situation that’s right in front of them and that they themselves are helping to create.
The sisters gaze at their reflections in the mirror in admiration, and that's an example of their lack of wisdom. When they leave for the ball, Cinderella’s gaze is looking into the distance, and that's when her godmother appears.
So why would she have glass on her feet?
Because she's walking in the path of wisdom. The glass slippers are the only gift from her Godmother that lasts after midnight because they symbolize true wisdom, and wisdom is a gift from God. Cinderella continues to be truly good in her practice of virtue, so she grows in wisdom and charity.
When she leaves one of the glass slippers behind, the prince discovers it and recognizes it.
That symbol of wisdom is also what the prince, who has been drawn to her because of her goodness and beauty, will use to find her, and it becomes the means by which he brings her back to live in union with him and his father, the King.
This Is Why the Prince Can’t Stop Staring at Her In Wonder
There are many beautiful women who are also dressed beautifully at the ball, but it’s Cinderella who captivates him, and this is why he marries her.
When they marry, she becomes a princess because she marries the son of the king.
Why is That So Important?
Marriages are often part of the “happily ever after” in fairy tales because they are a symbol of the relation between the people of God, and God—this is what Paul is really talking about in Ephesians 5.
We’re not children of God by nature because we’re human beings, not divine beings. But we become children of God through Christ (the Son of the King), so we become children of God through adoption.
The happily ever after ending that's found in fairy tales, is symbolic of being in Heaven. No sin can enter Heaven, and it’s always because of sin (both our own, and the sins of others) that we’re at odds with others.
So if there’s no sin in Heaven, then there’s no division between anyone, and everyone is happy. That perfect happiness lasts for eternity.
I hope you enjoyed this short summary of the Christianity in Cinderella.
Next week’s summary is: Snow White: A Christian Fairy Tale
Why Am I Writing These Summaries?
There are a lot of different ways to dig into the deeper meanings of stories—and those can all be very interesting—but I know many Christian parents and teachers who are concerned about what their kids are learning.
There are serious and valid concerns about many of the stories that are told in movies and books, and the effects those stories have on us, especially on young children.
So I’m writing these summaries (and pretty much everything on this blog) to help you discover where God “hides in plain sight” in stories, and to be able use that knowledge to confidently make more informed choices about educating your children.
List of Posts in the "Fairy Tale Fridays" Series:
Women in Fairy Tales: Good or Bad?
Fairy Tales, Cautionary Tales, and Myths
How Are Fairy Tales Christian?
Cinderella: A Christian Fairy Tale (this post)
Snow White: A Christian Fairy Tale
Hansel and Gretel: A Christian Fairy Tale
Sleeping Beauty: A Christian Fairy Tale
Beauty and the Beast: A Christian Fairy Tale
Little Mermaid: A Christian Fairy Tale
Velveteen Rabbit: A Christian Fairy Tale
Why Are There So Few Fairies in Fairy Tales?
Fairy Tales and Multiculturalism