Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cindy and the Hung and Pransome Yince

Ok, summer vacation is over.


The word conjures up visions of pumpkin coaches, rodent footmen, and Aarne-Thompson's type 510A, the persecuted heroine.

The story boasts an impressive antiquity, the first variants appearing in China in the Tang Dynasty, and has been retold numerous times. Modern variants range from Disney's classic 1950 animated feature to Archie Campbell's marvellously dyslexic Rindercella (who lived with her sticked wetmother and two sad blisters: she went to the bancy fall, where she met the hung and pransome yince, and lell in fove. At the moke of stridnight, she stan down the rairs and slopped her dripper. So sad; it was a drass glipper...). The glass slipper was apparently a French addition (Charles Perrault, 1697). The French have always been so verre haute couture...

The heroine has been criticized by modern feminists as too submissive and helpless, satisfied to aquiesce to her miserable lot. Only because she has the phenomenal luck to have a Gairy Fodmother, um, Fairy Godmother, and the unlikely double blessing of unearthly beauty, does she manage to end up with the Prince, whom it is assumed she will accept.

But any story that has lasted so long must have some intrinsic appeal, something that moves the heart and satisfies the intellect, and must therefore be altered. So in modern versions, both Cindy and the Prince have been made to undergo character makeovers to suit someone's sensibilities, either the author's, or the author's perception of the public's.

Now I like the story in most variants. Some I like more than others, and I think I have found out why. Yes, you are about to be inflicted with an Opinion.

Let's take a look at three modern takes on the tale:


Ever After
Drew Barrymore as Cindy, Dougray Scott as Charming.

A Cinderella Story
Hilary Duff as Rella, Chad Michael Murray as Hung and Pransome.

The Prince and Me
Julia Styles is Cinders, Luke Mably is Prince of Denmark.

Each of these have a Cinderella who has something other than beauty to commend her to modern sensibilities: Barrymore's c. 1500's Cindy is remarkably well-read, quick-witted, handles both dirk and rapier with aplomb (Though we sadly do not get to see her swordfight with her captor, M. Le Peu, alas), and deserves the Prince, according to Leonardo Da Vinci, that bastard son of a peasant. Meritocracy trumps Autocracy. Whether Leo would have actually voiced such opinions is of course irrelevant to our concerns in such a lighthearted piece, but putting opinions into Da Vinci's mouth which he cannnot be said to have espoused seems to be quite the popular thing nowadays. She also rescues the Prince from gypsies, and herself from captivity. Scott's Prince only overcomes his prejudices after Leo chastises him, but does end up Charming.

In Duff's modern-day portrayal, Cinderella is actually rich but doesn't know it, because her Mugly Other has hidden her father's Will, and Murray's football hero Prince harbors hidden yearnings to be a writer, something I'm sure many football players secretly aspire to. This 'You've Got Mail' version also has Cindy and the Prince text-messaging each other without either knowing the other's real identity, and at the Bancy Fall she drops her cell phone instead of a glass slipper, which are no doubt difficult to find at Payless. Murray's Prince also has to be told off because he refuses at first to acknowledge Cindy when she is revealed; this time by the heroine herself, Leonardo not being available, having assumed room temperature soon after helping his fellow peasant Barrymore in the 1500's.

Also set in today's Cinderella-jaded times, Ms. Styles' rendition presents us with a tightly-focused med school Cinders,with a cute mom and two passable brothers, and who needs no rescue at all, except perhaps from the drudgery of all-work-and-no-play. Turning the tables, this version has the Prince disguise himself as an exchange student, with no nobler ambition than to ask co-eds to flash him, and sow his royal oats; somewhat of a let-down from Dougray Scott, who wanted to start a University. Forced into the obligatory revelation scene by Danish papparazzi, the couple have the obligatory (and transient) argument and break-up scene. The Prince returns to Denmark after the semester is finished, whereupon Cinders' heart smites her up side her head, and she flies there to see him again. The proposal scene is classy, and original. Cinders accepts (of course) but changes her mind later, because her head recovers from the wound given by her heart in time. She returns to med school to finish her dream of working with Doctors Without Borders, a noble ambition, far superior to getting co-eds to flash their boobs. At least Denmark (now King, did we mention?) returns at her commencement, and vows to wait for her.

The three are listed in the order I prefer.

This has nothing to do with the relative acting skills of the Misses Cindys, or even the Hung and Pransome Yinces.

Nor does it have anything to do with the 'feminist' re-telling; all of them have heroines (and Princes) that have been re-written from a more 'feminist' standpoint.

It has to do with whether or not the story delivers what it seems to promise. If you set me up to expect a 'fairy-tale' ending, then you ought to give it me; if you don't, I'll be disappointed, sometimes without even knowing why. If you want to make me cry, give me a tragedy. If you want to make me laugh, give me a comedy. If you want me to die, give me poison; but don't give me every expectation of one and give me another.

Now it may be that the last story in my trio is an attempt by the author/producer/director/whoever to make a statement about the Cinderella story in general, a sort of deconstructive, or revisionist play. If so, then I think it fails for the reason most deconstuctive and revisionist stories fail; the only satisfaction is political, and will satisfy only those, and perhaps not even those, who share the storytellers' political views.

Classic stories, those that have stood the test of time, have survived, I believe, because they touch something in all of us.

And of course I don't mean one cannot tell a story without a political point; the original Cinderella was political; Princes didn't marry commoners in those days. The original story made a point about meritocracy versus autocracy.

I think the last of our stories would have been much more satisfying had, since they decided to turn the tables, turned them all. It didn't go far enough either way. They could have done a nice update on the old story and left it there, or they could have gone whole hog with the Prince's transformation, and have him take up Cindy's Noble Cause. Either would have more satisfying, at least to me.

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