As is the way with most true fairy tales, I don’t even remember where I first heard it. I didn’t grow up with the 1950 film version and there wasn’t a particular picture book version that I read to bits. (Those all came much later. ;))
So what is it? Then about a week ago, it all clicked together.
With beauty of heart and hand, Cinderella is definitely the hardest working of any of the traditional princesses, which creates room for some amazing character development.
There’s her shining loyalty, her forgiveness -- her patience and kindness.
There’s her hope even in the direst of circumstances, a hope that doesn’t deny darkness and despair and heart-wrenching pain.
There’s her resilient fortitude and perseverance.
And there’s her courage. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions.”
Some of these qualities are fleshed out/developed much more in good retellings and/or films, but they’re all there at the heart of the original story.
And found in cultures all over the world, spanning the centuries, woven into the very fabric of creation itself -- pointing to and mirroring the Deepest Story of all -- Cinderella is the only fairy tale that (as in the original story itself) has ever actually made me cry.
For it brings a glimpse of joy. To tie together two more quotes from C.S. Lewis, “Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang… The experience is one of intense longing… This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth.”
Cinderella’s character is beautiful, but the second definitive element -- the golden nut at the heart of the fairy tale, making it different -- is her prince, her prince caring for and taking her for who she is.
This is unconditional love; love akin to Christ’s love for His people (which, of course, goes infinitely beyond, as He loved us when we were unlovely).
And -- since we’re dealing with deep story here -- it also runs multiple ways. It’s a picture of what He has done and what He’s still doing. This is an ongoing story and we’re right smack dab in the middle of it.
In Cinderella, there’s the ball, then there’s a separation, and then -- hunting the length and breadth of his kingdom -- the Prince comes seeking his bride. Meanwhile, she’s right back where she was, continuing to live faithfully in her wretched circumstances -- living out further good deeds done in good faith.
Cinderella is found shining in the dirt and grime necessarily associated with her calling and place. She’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty in faithful service.
And when her prince finds her, he isn’t frightened by any of it.
On an eschatological scale, this is the church awaiting the final consummation and marriage supper of her King. He has won our hearts -- holding them securely. Winning them, He has, too, our full allegiance and love, and we are now able and called to joyfully do or die in His service.
And… keen and passionate, our Prince loves the beauty of His bride.