February 18, 2010

True Love and Fairy Tales

True Love and Fairy Tales
by Gypsy Thornton

(Part One of Two)

When most people think of love and fairy tales it tends to get boiled down to something like this:

Love-at-first-sight = true love = happily ever after (with maybe a task in the middle in which the hero proves just how far BEYOND the ends of the earth he’s willing to go for this true-love-at-first-sight-girl.)

The thing is, fairy tales are rarely like that at all, particularly if they’re about love.

Cinderella is the classic fairy tale referenced when women are ‘looking for their prince’. But think about it, even with a fairy godmother’s magical help, what we’re really being told about here is a business transaction that works out well for both parties at best and a meat market/beauty pageant complete with foot-fetish at worst.

  • Please note, I’m not saying Cinderella and the Prince didn’t fall in love, just that if they did, it probably didn’t happen when most people think. I’ll come back to this at the end, when I’ve taken you through the story to show you what I mean.

The Prince sets up a ball/red carpet event (or is told to by his parents) for all the ‘notable’ young ladies in the land with the purpose of finding a suitable bride. (Yes: ‘Notable’ is the word Perrault used but bear with me. Even if ALL the young ladies in the land were invited, the story is the same.) Romantic? No. More like a chance for a girl’s ‘big break’.

  • Side note: What? No princesses calling from distant lands for alliances? That’s a little odd and doesn’t show the royalty of that country to be in the best light but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and just say all the other royal children available were either princes themselves or had already been married off to other princes so there were none left.
All the young ladies (and their ambitious Mamas) pounce on the opportunity and turn up decked in the best their finances (or new debts) can afford, to be presented to the Prince, the hope being that one of them will catch his eye with their beauty, elegance or possibly wit or (gulp!) personality.
  • Another note: Great for local businesses, the hullabaloo instigated by all the eligible ladies (and their pushy, stage-mothers) as they compete to be presented at their best causes a brief economic upsurge in everything from carriage construction to stockings, making the Royal Family very popular at this juncture, so that any choice of the Prince’s will be looked upon kindly, reported as continued generosity to ‘the peoples’ rather than noted for the grievous political goof this is likely to be. But I digress…

Our poor Cindy, whose fortunes have fallen considerably since the arrival of her stepmother and sisters, finally pulls out her secret weapon: her very fashionable fairy godmother. She arrives under the guise of an unknown princess so that the Prince makes a point of going out to meet her.

  • Note the next: Yup. Look it up. She arrives as a princess among the already assembled non-princesses BUT even if we decide there were other princesses there, she’s not known, can’t be properly announced and royal etiquette (and smart politics) requires the Prince not cause her (or her possibly-powerful father) offence. Rather than royally-goof the Prince goes out to meet her in person… carry on:

A Princess? Score! She’s a looker too – and everyone notices that. Double score! Cindy smartly leaves when she should the first night with no one learning who she is. Smart and crafty. Now there’s a mystery and a whole lot of gossip surrounding her entrance and that creates power. Clever girl. (And clever godmother for giving her the tip in the first place!)

Night two, Cindy returns looking even better than ever (the fairy godmother is obviously designer-connected) and this time the Prince knows he better pin her down if he wants to end up looking good at the end of this bride-ball business. This is the night he gets possessive, never letting her out of his sight and wooing her with everything he’s got. Cindy’s actually enjoying herself now. So much so, she forgets the time, then ‘Bong!’ Midnight! She bounds out the door (gracefully of course) keeping her mystery intact but losing a glass slipper on the way. By the time the paparazzi get it together there’s no princess in sight and no one notices a dirty, raggedy girl in the vicinity.

The Prince, by now convinced the princess-without-a-name is the one he should marry (Why? 1: Gorgeous 2: Politically savvy/excellent game-player 3: Is charming while playing at #2), sends the precious shoe out to find the princess-foot it fits and so claim his bride. Yes. Princess-feet. When that fails, he tries the duchesses, then all the court ladies. Nothing. Finally the slipper goes out with some gentlemen around the country and they try it on all the pretty girl’s feet.

  • Note the fourth: Does it sound like meat-market-phase-2? Because that’s essentially what it is at this point. Not a search for THE one anymore, but for a someone that will fit. I’m sure the Prince’s PR people knew exactly what they were doing. And, no, he didn’t go himself. Even when he did in older tales, he ends up leaving with the wrong girl – twice! – before their deception is discovered and he returns to try out/on the next girl. The prince obviously spent waaay more time looking at the shoes than the face of the girl whom he had decided was the one to help him continue the royal lineage… ew.

Cindy watches when her sisters finally get a visit from the official foot inspectors and ‘recognizes’ her shoe. Cindy, with a little humorous dig at her sisters, asks to try it on to see if it will fit her. The gentlemen with the shoe - and I quote – ‘look intently at Cinderella and, finding she was very beautiful, said it was acceptable..’ etcetera and have her try on the shoe. It fits. Cindy pulls out the matching slipper, fairy godmother appears and poofs her into designer dress number three, the gentlemen wipe their brows and congratulate themselves on their bonuses while the stepsisters instantly grovel (no fools they). Cindy looks good, just like a princess. The Prince agrees and decides that yep, he’ll marry her. A royal wedding, a second economic boom, end of story.

  • Note the last: There’s no mention of happily ever after, but then there’s no mention of love either, except by the papers and the gossips. Does the new princess, chosen for beauty live happily with the shoe-conscious prince? There’s no part two in this telling. I think the Royals may have checked the history books to make sure all quotes and typos were’ corrected’ then burned all the paparazzi’s notebooks ever after.

Is this the story modern day women should be modeling their matchmaking on? Maybe. It does, after all, make good economic sense. Mama always told you, you should marry a doctor (or a lawyer, or a celebrity) for a reason. The end of money and status troubles does remove a whole lot of obstacles in life but it has nothing to do with love. If Cindy and the Prince did fall in love it didn’t get noted by the storytellers. True love is rarely as glamorous. (Note the lack of ‘Charming’ by the way – that was a Disney addition. In Perrault’s text it’s Cinderella who’s said to be charming, a player-with-panache if you will. Something, which is, very clearly, part of why she’s chosen in the end. Check the moral at the end of the story if you don’t believe me. Beauty gets attention; charm helps keep it, according to Perrault.)

If you’re looking for examples of True Love (note the capital letters) as opposed to an advantageous match, which is what romantics and, let’s face it, most people are really looking for, we’re going to need some different tales. But don’t worry. Glamorous or not, True Love in fairy tales is really quite wonderful. Stay tuned for the details!

Part two will be posted March 4th!

Be sure and visit Gypsy's blog: Once Upon a Blog to get all the latest fairy tale news!


Sheryl said...

"No princesses calling from distant lands for alliances?"
Once I learned about marriage alliances and such, I found this aspect of the story quite strange, too... and that extends to many of the tales where the prince or princess gets to marry the partner that he or she meets in the story.

Gary Denton said...

Hillarious. Producers of the "Bachelor" should take note. Or maybe they already did. I'm astounded at the similiarities here. That show is not realy about love either, as much as it is about economics, and savy players who try to make the cut or "fit."
Can't wait for part two!

The Ink Gypsy said...

Sheryl: It is odd, isn't it? I decided to stick with the Perrault version as that's the best known one and the tale most referred to when people start citing 'princes' and 'fits'. I always get the feeling there's a whole lot more happening behind-the-scenes in some of these stories than we're allowed to see though. A comparison of the Cinderella's from around the world re the love vs business angle would be interesting to take a look at.

Gary: Thank you for the nice comments! Glad you enjoyed. I find it ironic that while I love fairy tales (including the ones that aren't about love) I have no patience for The Bachelor. But then the news about the Chinese ball (? - I think it was Chinese, not Korean) in which they literally had millionaires lined up (the guys had to earn over a certain amount per year) and screened thousands of girls to go to a ball to meet them just last year gave me the creeps. Not the idea so much as the hysteria that took place among the females (and their mothers) at the possibility of catching a millionaire. *shudder* I guess we never learn... great photo ops though! ;D

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