The story of Cinderella, as known by most Disney fans these days, involves poor Cinderella being abused by her evil stepmother and stepsisters after her father has remarried and died. Her animal friends try to help, but it is not enough. She must rely on her Fairy Godmother to dress her to meet the prince. As the clock strikes midnight, and the spell is about to be broken, she runs away, leaving behind a glass slipper. The prince says he will marry the girl whose foot fits in the shoe. Cinderella is the only girl that can wear the tiny shoe, and she marries the prince and lives happily ever after, much to the dismay of her step family.
The story that the Disney version is based on is most directly related to the story of Aschenputtel, as collected by the Grimm Brothers. In the Grimm fairy tale, just before Aschenputtel’s mother dies, she tells Aschenputtel that she is to be good and pious so that the Lord will always help her, and the mother will always look down from heaven and take care of her.
The word “asch” is like the English word “ash” and refers to the girl of the ashes, or of the cinders. Aschenputtel is the girl of the ashes because her step family does not allow her to sleep in a bed. She must sleep next to the hearth in the ashes, and they only allow her ugly clothes and wooden shoes to wear.
One day, when Aschenputtel’s father goes to the fair, he asks all three of the daughters what they would like him to bring back. The step sisters ask for beautiful clothes and jewels; Aschenputtel asks only for the “first twig that brushes against your hat on the way home.” When he returns, he gives Aschenputtel the twig she requested. Aschenputtel plants the twig on her mother’s grave. Her tears cause it to grow to be a beautiful tree. Three times every day, Aschenputtel would visit the grave and tree to pray and weep, and a little white bird that also appeared would bring Aschenputtel things that she might ask for.
It comes about that the king sponsors a three day festival so that all the girls in the country could present themselves to the prince. Aschenputtel’s stepmother says that she may go only if she can pick out all the lentils that the stepmother emptied into the ashes. Cinderella calls on the bird from the tree to help her. The little bird appears with other birds, and they quickly sort out the lentils from the ashes. Three times the stepmother dumps lentils into the ashes and says that Aschenputtel can go if she can pick out the lentils. All three times the birds help her. All three times the stepmother changes her mind and finally denies Aschenputtel’s request to go to the festival.
Aschenputtel runs to her mother’s grave beneath the tree and cries out for “..gold and silver to fall all over me.” The bird from the tree throws down a beautiful gold and silver dress with beautiful silk slippers. Aschenputtel arrives at the festival and the prince dances only with her the whole evening. At the end of the night, Aschenputtel runs home. The prince follows her to the house, but Aschenputtel gets way from him and is next seen back in her ugly dress sitting by the hearth.
For three nights this happens, but on the third night, the prince is ready. He has had all the stairs covered in pitch, so that when Aschenputtel runs away, her shoes, this time of pure gold, are left behind.
The prince returns to the house with the slipper. The first stepsister takes the slipper to her room, but her big toe makes her unable to put on the shoe. Her mother hands her a knife and tells her to cut off her big toe. As the step sister leaves with the prince, a pigeon sitting on the tree on the grave calls out that this is not the right girl and that there is blood all over the shoe.
The prince returns to the house. This time, the second sister tries on the slipper in her bedroom, but her heel is too big. Her mother directs her to cut off her heel to make the slipper fit. As the prince rides away with the second stepsister, the pigeon again calls out that this is not the right girl and that there is blood all over the shoe.
The prince returns, and this time Aschenputtel is presented to him. The shoe fits and he recognizes her face. As the leave, the pigeon calls out that this is the right girl. They get married, but that is not all for the stepsisters. Not only have the mangled their feet, but birds pluck their eyes out during the wedding procession.