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The Cinder-Tree: Origins Of The World’s Most Famous Fairy Tale Cinderella

The Cinder-Tree: Origins Of The World’s Most Famous Fairy Tale Cinderella

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The Cinderella tale common in most households is one of the most pervasive narratives in human culture and across global geography. Types of this story exist as far back as 2000 BC in the Sumerian Inanna texts. Classic Greek historians, such as Sappho and Herodotus, recount historical legends with all the elements of the Cinderella tale. In 1893, Marian Roalfe Cox published a 600-page volume recounting 345 different variants of the Cinderella narration across the globe and throughout history. This work provides the foundation for Cinderella categorization and research.

Charles Perrault’s Cinderella

The common rendering of the Cinderella tale in popular culture descends from a 1697 French version written by Charles Perrault. Perrault wrote an anthology of vernacular folktales, and in many instances, as in his version of Cinderella, modernized them by adding elements (the glass slipper is a Perrault invention) and moral themes (his tale makes Cinderella the pinnacle of grace – Cinderella forgives her cruel sisters and marries them off to lords of the court). This version of Cinderella has become mainstream in modern times, and subsequent versions (such as the films Slipper and the Rose, Ever After, Disney’s Cinderella, Maid in Manhattan, and so forth) are based on Perrault’s own adaptations.

 Charles Perrault by Philippe Lallemand, (1672) (Public Domain)

 Charles Perrault by Philippe Lallemand, (1672) (Public Domain)

Perrault’s version of Cinderella, however, omits a host of images, symbols, and themes found in earlier variants. While the scope of this essay cannot address most of these omissions, it will focus on one central image common in worldwide renditions of the story: the Cosmic Tree. Different versions of the story are examined, but for the purposes of space the Cinderella-like events which occur in these stories are often left out. Nevertheless, each of these tales share the essential Cinderella elements: a poor yet beautiful girl is inflicted with trials, oft times by a stepmother and cruel sisters, and/or sometimes with a descent into the underworld, and through a divine boon, usually given by a tree or representative of the tree (such as a bird), the girl is transformed into a princess, is given a new identity, and marries a royal figure. This marriage takes place oft times after a further trial, such as the fitting of a garment or shoe. As stated, the fulcrum of these versions spins around the image of a tree.


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John Lundwall holds a doctorate in comparative myth and religion from the Joseph Campbell school of myth studies, Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is a founding board member of the Utah Valley Astronomy Club investigating the cultural astronomy of the ancient Fremont Indian, a Native American culture group associated with the American Southwest that inhabited the land of present-day Utah between 300 and 1300 AD. He is the author of Mythos and Cosmos: Mind and Meaning in the Oral Age

Top Image: Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, Thomas Sully, 1843 (Public Domain)

By John Knight Lundwall



Hi All,

Some year's ago I watched an episode of Criminal Mind's (now when it got too crazy I quit watching), an theme of the storyline was about Cinderella accept this World's Cinderella kept running into false Prince's and Killing Them.

The youngest Agent with a gifted mind an a more seasoned Agent a Woman discuss Cinderella an other Fairytale Stories this was the stand point of The Grimm Brother's Fairytale's, what the young intellect shared is that these stories remind us of the darker side of Human Nature.

Like for example, in Cinderella one step-sister cut off her toes so her foot would fit in the shoe, the other sister had birds come along an pluck out her eyes, in Snow White the Queen wanted too eat the Heart and Lungs of the step daughter, in Sleeping Beauty The King Raped the Princess (I knew there was a reason as too why I hated Disney's Sleeping Beauty), in Hansel & Gretel the Step-Mother was abusive & the stranger in The Woods was an Cannibal, in The Little Mermaid She Lost her Soul for unrequited Love.

The list could go on and on but for me The Best Cinderella Story of all time is in the Bible The Book of Esther. Instead of the King being disguised it was Queen Esther who was
Jewish ✡ raised by an Cousin because her parent's had died.

Later in time as the King whose name is Xerxes (not sure if He's Xerxes I or Xerxes II) searching for A New Queen that cousin warns Esther to tell No one not even the King Himself that She's Jewish.

This could be perceived as denying one's own identity but, what came down in Queen Esther's story proved Esther's Cousin's wisdom behind telling her not too reveal herself a Jew.

This is what I think of with regards to Cinderella Stories and better yet she had No step-siblings too give her pain only Cousin Mordecai to guide Esther on her journey into becoming a young woman.

Okay, so until next time, Everyone, Goodbye!


John Lundwall holds a doctorate in comparative myth and religion from the Joseph Campbell school of myth studies, Pacifica Graduate Institute, out of California. He is a researcher, lecturer, a published author, and has served as an editor on several... Read More

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