A Cinderella Story (from the Archives)

Imagine you’re in school again. You’re a teenager. For the sake of argument let’s assume you’re also a girl (bear with me :)) You are handed a copy of Cinderella (the text, not the movie!) and told this is what we’ll be studying this semester. There will be a final exam.
What do you do? Groan? Worry? Whine about how hard it is, how you don’t want to do it, how it’s not relevant to kids these days? I mean, really, what’s a “ball”? Sounds dirty. What exactly does “cinder” mean, anyway, and why is this one girl stuck cleaning them? Why doesn’t she call DSS if her stepmom is so bad? I don’t get this story, it makes no sense! Nobody would do the stuff these people do! If this girl is old enough to get married to the prince, why doesn’t she go live on her own? (And so on….)
Or do you laugh about it and then never look at the text until the day of the final, where you waltz through all the questions from memory? After all, it’s a story you grew up on. Everybody knows this story. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have to clean the chimney, you can still have days where you think your mom and your big sisters are being mean to you. And even though fairy godmothers don’t really show up and sing BibbidiBobbidiBoo in real life, it doesn’t stop you from daydreaming about somebody to come along and sweep you off your feet. It’s a *fairy tale*, after all. It’s not about the setting or the vocabulary or the specifics, it’s about the bigger picture. That’s why there’s a cliche about things being “a Cinderella story” and everybody knows what that means.
Now tell me why Shakespeare can’t be like that.    Why doesn’t Disney do a movie about The Tempest, and why don’t kids grow up learning the story of how Miranda avoids the monster Caliban, defeats the pirates who try to take the island from her father (with the help of Ariel), meets the prince and sails off to live happily ever after? The “original” text can come later, just like most children’s experience with Cinderella goes as far as the Disney movie, and only when they are older do they actually get to read “the original”. (If you want a different example try Wizard of Oz, lots more differences between the original and the movie there).
Here’s the big difference that I think is stopping everybody: Every parent out there who reads Cinderella to their kids, also had Cinderella read to them as a kid. It’s almost like a privilege, like a gift you can’t wait to share with them. Most every parent, however, hated Shakespeare in high school, and thus wouldn’t think of exposing their kid to it any sooner than they had to.
If I ever get off my butt and write my book (well, technically, to write a book I suppose I would have to in fact sit back down…), it’ll be to solve that problem, right there. Something to break that cycle. I could use a little help, Disney! Are you listening???
[ This post first appeared June 3, 2008. ]

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