The folk tale of an unfortunate young woman living under the clasps of her evil step-mother, and who finally finds happiness with her Prince Charming, has been a favorite for centuries.
Over this time, wonderful adaptations have manifested themselves in a variety of ways, spanning every corner of the globe — for example, did you know that the oldest documented version actually stems all the way from China?
Indeed, the true story of Cinderella goes back a long way, even though these days we are perhaps more familiar with Disney's animated take on the classic princess story. And most recently, we even witnessed Disney sprinkle its magic on a live-action adaptation, bringing together a myriad of Hollywood's finest faces to inject stunning visuals to the old-time fable:
We certainly fell in love with Kenneth Branagh's big-screen extravaganza, however we can't deny that this version wasn't telling us the true story behind Cinderella. This is why it's imperative to familiarize ourselves with the real tale, laid out in a much darker tone in the more widely-known original narrative penned by the Brothers Grimm. So here it is!
The True Story Behind Cinderella Is Much Darker Than You Think
A Young Child Neglected
In the German fairytale called "Aschenputtel," little Cinders loses her poor mother, but not before being encouraged by her to remain good and kind in the face of any unfortunate circumstances. Following the woman's death, the child goes out to weep her heart out at mom's grave every day, remaining "pious and good" while confronting her deep grief.
As in the story we know, the little girl's father remarries soon after, bringing a cruel woman and her two daughters into his household. Unlike both Disney versions though, they are described as the following:
Beautiful, with fair faces, but evil and dark hearts.
According to the true story, they take the little girl's beautiful clothes away from her, dressing her in an old gray smock and giving her painful wooden shoes to walk in. On top of that, they do everything they can to hurt her; they make fun of her, make her work hard from dawn until dusk and sleep in the ashes by the hearth. Dirty, down-trodden and deserted, they called her "Cinderella." All the while, her father looks the other way (he never dies in this version) and actually refers to her as "deformed" and as a "stunted kitchen-wench," so that's nice.
A Non-Existent Fairy Godmother
These days, Cinderella is synonymous with the appearance of a loving Fairy Godmother, yet the true story could not be further from that fiction. In actual fact, there is nothing even close to such a comforting presence in the original tale. Instead, in the Grimm version, the magic all lies in trees. Yes... trees.
After her father goes away for a while, he brings back lavish gifts for his greedy step-daughters. Cinderella, on the other hand, only asks for a branch of a tree that his hat knocks down on the way home. Having had her wish granted, she does the following:
Cinderella thanked him, went to her mother's grave, and planted the branch on it, and she wept so much that her tears fell upon it and watered it. It grew and became a beautiful tree.
Considering this tale is only 2,635 words once translated into the English language, it is pretty horrifying how much Cinders weeps in total.
Three Separate Outfits For Three Separate Balls
Yup, in the true story behind Cinderella, the little lady actually attends three balls. And to really throw a spanner in the works, the evil step-mother only allows the young girl to go if she manages to pick out a bunch of lentils from the ashes (yes, really!). Thankfully, just as in the big-screen version, Cinders get a little help from little birds to complete this terrible (and quite bizarre?) task.
As for the beautiful clothes, Cinders finds the gowns that she ends up wearing to the ball under her beloved tree. The little birds provide her with the garments.
The Step-Sisters Go To Excruciating Lengths To Fit Into That Glass Slipper
When the search for Cinderella following the ball begins, the step-sisters try to win over the Prince by forcing their big feet into that dainty, glass slipper. Alas, they fail and their mother does what all "good" mothers would and forces them to do the following:
Her mother gave her a knife and said, "Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot. The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her.
As the prince is clearly blind in the true story, he only realizes his error when he sees his "false bride" drenched with blood. Having been taken back, the other sister then attempts to force her foot into the slipper by slicing off her heel. That's certainly something you don't see in the Disney version!
Cinderella Does Get Her Happy Ending
Among all of these gruesome details, our little lady does in fact get her happy ending as the story concludes. However, this is not before we witness the step-sisters getting their eyeballs gouged out by the birds helping Cinderella, leaving them to spend the entirely of their days completely blind. Here's the closing paragraph of the Grimm story:
When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.
Are you shocked by the true story behind Cinderella?