Nov 22, 2021

Cinderella: A Collection Highlight

Emily Chan (Class of 2024) discusses her Fall 2021 internship project for the Robbins Library and Koller-Collins Center: the creation of digital and physical collection highlights exploring the evolution of popular fairy tales.

I’ve been reading about Cinderella for more than a month now, but, as a kid, I thought Cinderella was the most boring Disney Princess. She didn’t say very much and seemed to lack the drive and ambition I admired in other princesses. It wasn’t until middle school and early high school that I began to appreciate the fairy tale for what it was both in 1950, when Disney first released its classic movie adaptation, and 2014, when I would spend countless nights reading YA retellings. Much of this appreciation stems from my love for the literary retellings popular during my middle and high school years, many of which have proved highly influential to my understanding of the world.

    When I was thinking about what I wanted to do more of this semester, reading immediately came to mind. I love to read and explore stories, but it’s often hard to know where to start or whether I even have enough time. I also struggled to find a good introduction for myself into academic and nonfiction literature until I learned to appreciate short stories and fairy tales. Short and sweet, they’re a snack-size treat after a day of homework. The academic work around the tales is also highly approachable and simply “readable” as these are stories so many are already familiar with. At the same time, I can immerse myself in a full-length novel retelling the story, an avenue I had already gone towards before. The possibilities are as numerous as the tales themselves. 

What I was most excited about when starting this project was rereading the popular retellings I read over half a decade ago. I was particularly excited about Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. It never fails to strike me how drastically similar and different my readings of books can be during different parts of life. Until I picked it up again, I had forgotten how diverse the cast of characters was, especially since Cinder is set in a fantastical version of Beijing. I had also forgotten about how much I adored Cinder, our titular character, expanding upon what it meant to be Cinderella. Of course, there’s a lot of similarity to the original characters/fairy tales, but from being self-reliant and independent to being self-centered and sarcastic (in comparison to being traditionally kind and feminine), it’s incredible to see how much of these striking contrasts in Cinder’s character and Cinderella (as we know her) had stuck with me. In just existing as an Asian Cinderella and being relatable in ways as similar to having a crush on her Prince Charming figure, Cinder was serving to help me form an identity and recognize what things I valued in myself. It was characters like Cinder who taught me about standing up for myself, going against what people expect of you, and taking control of my own fairy tale. 

This type of impact and influence has been the main inspiration in my study of fairy tales. These tales and their retellings taught me about what it meant to take what you’re given and expand on and grow with it. It’s been my pleasure to look at how different people interpret these same tales, starting with Cinderella. I’ve explored her growth from a feeble young maiden written for kids to an independent businesswoman in the 2021 remake starring Camilla Cabello to a child looking for liberation and friendship in Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator. I’ve also explored characters such as our legendary Prince Charming and Cinderella’s infamous stepsisters. From the tales, to the scholars, and to the artists, it’s hard to definitively tell who any of these characters are as they’ve become so personal to me and everyone else who’s ever heard of a glass slipper. 

In looking into the tales and being guided by the Robbins Library (and their Cinderella Bibliography), I’ve compiled a list of twelve books found from the Rush Rhees Stacks, Koller-Collins Center bookshelves, and everywhere in between. These books are children's stories, new translations, academic essays, retellings, and so much more. They serve to highlight just the tip of the iceberg on library resources and the subject matter. Furthermore, this website accompanying them presents common arguments, further readings, and guidance on further fairy tale research. I hope that it can prove a useful tool in your journey to happily ever after, whatever that may look like for you. 


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