Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cinderella #14 Cinder Maid, an old European tale

pictures by John D. Batten
Note: Contains violence. Once upon a time in what is now Germany, "though it was not in my time, or in your time, or in anybody else's time," lived a king, who decided to give a ball. So he sent his herald around to make the announcement, at "every four corners where two roads met."  So the herald took his trumpet and blew it and called out, " Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, know ye that His Grace, the King, will give on Monday..." a very fancy ball. And that's how Cinder Maid's family found out about the great event. Her father was noble of the court. His first wife had been Cinder Maid's mother. After her death he married again, to a woman with two girls of her own. But the woman and her daughters cared nothing for this motherless girl, and soon caused her sorrow beyond sorrow. The young girl "was set to do all the drudgery of the house, to attend the kitchen fire, and had naught to sleep on but the heap of cinders raked out in the scullery; and that is why they called her Cinder Maid. " When the child had a few minutes to herself she spent them in the garden, under the hazel tree at her mother's grave. Here she wept with misery and longing for the mother who had left her alone. So the years passed, and all three girls grew to young womanhood. On the day that the herald cried out the news, you may be sure that the nobleman's second wife and her daughter were beside themselves with excitement. But when Cinder Maid asked if she might go they scoffed and mocked her. Her father held his tongue. And so she was forced to help with preparations, only to be left behind on the first night of the ball. That's when she went out to her hazel tree, and cried out, " Tree o'mine, O tree o'mine, With my tears I've watered thee; Make me a lady fair to see, Dress me as splendid as can be!" The little bird who was perched high in the tree answered, " Cinder-Maid, Cinder-Maid, shake the tree. Open the first nut that you see. " One shake brought down a single nut which opened when it landed. Out came " a beautiful silk dress, blue as the heavens, all embroidered with stars and two little lovely shoon made of shining copper. " Cinder-Maid put these things on and then, " the hazel tree opened and from it came a coach all made of copper with four milk-white horses, with coachmen and footmen all complete. " So she hopped in, and was taken to the ball. She was such a sight that no one recognized her, not even her sisters.  But the king's son had eyes for no one else. Now, Cinder-Maid was a dutiful girl and she did heed the warning which the bird in the hazel tree had chirped. Be home before midnight, because riches return to rags at the stroke of 12:00. As the chiming began, she slipped away to her magical coach.  Seeing that the prince had run out to find her she chanted, " Mist behind, and light before. Guide me to my father's door." So a mist as thick as a wet blanket settled over all,and the girl sneaked home in darkness. Soon, her stepmother and sisters returned.  Waking Cinder-Maid with their noise they made her help them undress, bragging all the while about the fun they'd had. But  their little sister had a secret. The following night, all happened as before, for it was the second night of the ball. When Cinder-Maid called for help, this time the bird dropped down, " a dress all golden brown like the earth, embroidered with flowers. and her shoon were made of silver.  and when the carriage came from the tree, lo and behold, that was made of silver too. " It was drawn by four black horses. Again, she danced with the prince, again she fled, and again the prince tried to stop her. This time, he had asked a servant to pour honey on the stairs so her shoes would stick. But she " leaped from stair to stair and got away just in time. " Again she called for the mist, and once again, she slipped into bed just before her sisters got home. On the third night she helped them prepare and went to call her little bird. And this time, when she called the rhyme and the bird dropped the nut, out came, " a dress of silk green as the sea with waves upon it, and her shoes this time were made of gold; and when the coach came out of the tree it was also made of gold, with gold trappings for the horses and retainers . " Now then, we know how the party went. Even though the prince had black, sticky tar poured on the stairs, and even though it slowed Cinder-Maid down and caught one shoe fast, it didn't stop her from making her escape. And now the king's son was desperate to find her. He told his father that he simply must find the girl who wore the golden shoe, and begged him to help. So the king sent his herald around again, and again the herald blew it everywhere there were four corners where two streets met. He had brought along the shoe, upon a velvet cushion. Eventually, the herald stopped on the corner near Cinder-Maid's house, and her sisters ran for their turn. The first tried to squeeze her foot in, but when she could not, " she cut off one of her toes and part of her heel, and then fitted her foot into the shoe. " The trick almost worked! The prince saw the shoe on her foot and rejoiced. But when the two of them rode past the hazel tree, the little bird called, " Turn and peep, turn and peep, There's blood within the shoe. A bit is cut off from the heel and a bit off from the toe." And the prince looked down and saw the blood streaming from her shoe and then he knew that this was not his true bride. " So he took that sister back, and let the other have a turn.  And she too could not get her foot into that small golden shoe. But she wanted to, very badly. So she used the knife her sister had left, and chopped her flesh until she could squeeze the bloody stump into that pretty shoe. And the prince was fooled again, at least until they got near the bird. It chanted the bloody rhyme, and the prince was angry. "Have you no other daughter?" he demanded, back at the nobleman's home. And the step mother said, "No" but the nobleman said, "Yes!" and so Cinder-Maid was led out.  And she slipped the shoe on, which "fitted exactly; and then she took the other golden shoe from underneath the cinders where she had hidden it and put that on too." And this was how she passed the Shoe Test. The prince " took her behind him on his horse; and as they rode to the palace, the little bird from the hazel tree cried out: Some cut their heel and some cut their toe, But she sat by the fire who could wear the shoe. " Cinder-Maid and the prince lived happily ever after. 

Notes: This version has much in common with that which the  Grimm's collected. The bird, the first two lines of the rhyme, the hazel tree and the cutting off of part of the feet to make them fit into the shoe are identical. It is interesting to see that in this version, Cinder-Maid makes her own magic by calling forth a mist. She is able to outwit the prince three times. The device of a nut opening to contain items which it cannot possibly have within it is an ancient story element. This transformation, this unfathomable bounty from the invisible interior of a sealed nut is reminiscent of the symbolism of eggs. Eggs in turn symbolize rebirth. Perhaps the dresses and fine trappings coming from inside the nut show Cinder-Maid transforming from a little girl to a young woman, stepping out of her child's dirty rags and into the symbolic garments of her mother, as provided for her by the bird.
 As for the golden carriage for the final night of the ball, there is historic precedent for solid gold coaches. Visit and read about the real golden carriage.
color tablets arrayed around a yellow plate
Montessori Connection: 6-9 Fairy Tale Colors
1.Using the largest box of color tablets, array them in lines extending from a yellow plate or bowl, as from a sun. 2. Have the children read a version of Cinderella, looking for color words and phrases. In Cinder-Maid, find: Blue as the heavens; shoon of shining copper, milk white horses, golden brown like the earth, black horses, green as the sea, golden shoes. 3. Have the children make labels for the colors. Which one is "green as the sea"? Which shade of blue is "as the heavens"?
9-12 Earth Science/ history of metal/ fundamental needs
Notice that each of the three outfits brought for Cinder-Maid was matched to a precious metal. First came copper, then silver, then gold. Learn about the physical properties of metals and how they were developed as civilization grew. For wonderful historic novels set during the Bronze Age visit and learn about Rosemary Sutcliff, one of the world's greatest writers.
Adults: For the most wonderful description of the colors of metals and of chemistry, try reading Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood . It is beautiful and heartbreaking to read how six year old Oliver became fascinated with color by looking through his family's stained glass front door window. His sufferings during WWII, and his experiments with metals and elements is absolutely fascinating, and a wonderful example of a child learning by exploration.