Cinderella. Cinder-soot. Ash-girl.
A poor waif who, by no fault of her own, has a few cosmetic hygiene issues. She is merely the unfortunate receiver of brutal abuse and/or neglect by her stepmother and stepsisters. She is the Innocent Ragamuffin.
To which I say: no such thing.
I’m a fan of realism in my stories. People are flawed, layered individuals. Every Sunny Sally has a day when she snaps at her kids, treats the store clerk poorly, or ignores her Bible in favor of a romance novel. And every Debbie Downer has her moments of friendliness to a new neighbor or heartfelt devotion in prayer.
And ultimately, every single one of us is a sinner in need of salvation. All have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and all bear the curse of Adam’s original sin (Romans 5:12-21).
This is one of my main issues with Cinderella. I can’t take is the idea of a person being genuinely good from birth. Other than Jesus Christ.
Well, Cinderella is an archetypal figure. She’s not meant to be a real person. However, archetypal fictional characters can still have powerful impacts on the real world. Cinderella is one of the most popular fairy tale characters in existence. She’s featured on everything from lunchboxes to movies to computer games to clothing. She has her own castle in both Disney theme parks. All of this promotes the story of one little orphan’s journey to royalty on the merits of her own righteousness and her incredible beauty.
Allow me to humbly spin the story another way:
Cinderella stank. She, her stepmother, and her stepsisters were all born into a filthy existence. The difference was, her family allowed themselves the luxury of fine perfumes, fancy clothes, and the best accommodations to disguise their true hideous nature. Cinderella was forced to remain in her filth, and then mocked for it. Bitterness grew in her heart.
One day, news came of a Prince in town. Rumor had it that this Prince was perfect: handsome, intelligent, charming, and compassionate. Everyone in the kingdom were invited to a grand ball, as the Prince sought members to fill his royal court. The stepsisters and stepmother dressed in their best finery to attend the glorious event. Cinderella was left in the squalor, her tears turning the greyish ash into a muddy slurry. A great winged Helper came to her, and beckoned her to the feast as she was. Cinderella shook her ratty head, and insisted she could only go if she was dressed as finely as everyone else. She couldn’t face the ridicule of her sisters. The Helper relented, but told her it was only an illusion that would disappear at the stroke of midnight.
She went to the ball, dressed to the nines. Outwardly, Cinderella fit in with every other person there; inwardly, she was still painfully conscious of her stench and the ashes that covered her skin. Whispers circulated throughout the room. The Prince was overrated. He wasn’t that great-looking. His clever tongue spoke in discomforting riddles. His heart seemed to be focused more on the wretched than the esteemed party guests. The words chilled Cinderella’s heart. She had come hoping the Prince could rescue her.
When it came her turn to dance with him, Cinderella froze in fear. The guests were wrong. He was more than perfect. Pure holiness streamed from him like a beacon. And she was unworthy. The bitterness broke from her heart, to be replaced by despair. He couldn’t rescue her–she’d be ashamed if he even touched her. Before the song could begin, the ash maiden turned and ran from the grand ballroom. With every step, her fine clothing faded. By the time she reached home, all that was left were rags and ashes.
The next day, news came that the Prince had found one to bring into his royal court. Every member of every household made themselves ready to receive him, soaking themselves in scented oils and wearing their best robes to hide the filth. Except for Cinderella. She was shut in the cellar. As always.
As the ash maiden sat on the cellar steps, she heard the sound of knocking. Joyful squeals erupted from her stepsisters–then Cinderella heard hisses of revulsion. A moment later, the cellar door opened, and a man, unkempt and shabbily dressed, was shoved down into the cellar. She walked hesitantly towards the figure, then gasped. It was the Prince. Even through the old clothes, his holiness shone like the noonday sun. Cinderella fell to the ground, hiding her face. Surely this had to be a mistake.
How could they have rejected him?
How could he here, when she was so foul?
Oh, she desperately needed him.
“Rise, my sister. Your sins have been forgiven. Rise, my bride.”
A hand gently nudged her chin off the ground, and lifted her head. As she stared into the Prince’s eyes, Cinderella felt an incredible peace and joy fill her spirit. The despair faded, and an overwhelming love took its place. Her skin became soft and white as snow. The smell of death was replaced by the fragrance of spring. She could hardly notice though. Her eyes were only filled with the Prince, as he led her out of the cellar, and into his royal court.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is the best kind of Cinderella story.
Next Up: a first glimpse into City of Refuge