The first stories we learn, hear and experience generally begin with “Once Upon a Time…” (Yes I’ll be talking about that most excellent show at some stage later – I can’t recommend it highly enough – although the effects can sometimes be a bit ropey.) Culturally these “fairy stories” have been with us for a long time, and they’re used by mothers, fathers, teachers, brothers, Grandparents to welcome us into the world of story, and to welcome us into the use of words and metaphors to understand our world. Most of all to understand ourselves as we struggles through growing up, and to understand the relationships we have with our parents – especially mothers – and the new found romantic feelings that are starting to manifest as we lurch through adolescence.
Take Cinderella. In an old version of the tale her name is Ashputtel (weird name I know). For a lot of us, our first cinematic/dvd experience of this story is Disney’s “Cinderella” – and that’s both good and bad. It still holds a high place in my affections, but now joined by the glorious “Ever After”.
For many girls – as with Cinderella – the central relationship of adolescence isn’t with potential future husbands but with their mothers. For many the relationship is ambiguous, as much for the mother as for the daughter – the sudden appearance of a sexual rival so close to home can put many women out of sorts – just the mere fact that they are starting to see their daughters as sexual rival is enough to push the mothers over the edge. Worse still it sometimes coincides with the mother experiencing the end of their own reproductive life – some of the worst mother daughter relationships arise when puberty and menopause collide, surely a strong argument in favour of young motherhood to avoid such a deathly clash. And yet, a mother still feels that bond with her daughter that almost nothing can break. Not only would a mother die for her child, but will sometimes even kill. (This is a theme that I can guarantee will come up again in future blogs)
For the daughter, just at the time when she most needs to spread her wings and explore, she finds what was once comforting attention from her mother to be stifling, and can sometimes feel like a prison.
And yet, she still feels that need of comfort and pure selfless love her mother can offers.
So in order to address this ambiguity, the Cinderella story splits the mother figure in two: The Stepmother and the Fairy Godmother, each one taking the negative and positive aspects of mothers to their “Nth” degree, becoming archetypes. (Snow White tackles it differently and goes wholeheartedly down the road of Mother as the threatened one who attempts to takes out her rival.) Ever After takes a slightly different tack and transmutes the Fairy Godmother Role into a role for a very historic Leonardo Da Vinci – although if there was going to be any historical male you could choose to be your Fairy Godmother, it would definitely be Da Vinci. Here the Stepmother is given opportunities to change her attitude to our heroine, but turns away. But one of the stepsisters does turn out to support “Cinderella” and repent of the way she had previously treated her – but there is a sense that it’s only because she had been badly treated in her turn by her older sister and mother.
Is the use of Da Vinci merely a way to make the plot a little different, is it a stunt – or is it something worse – perhaps that the maker of this film believes in our current cultural landscape, the relationship between mother and daughter becomes irreparably damaged once they are rivals? I don’t know – I hope not, because that’s a pretty pessimistic view.
I wasn’t going to talk about Mothers yet, was going to save it for “Brave” – but hey, sometimes with this writing malarkey, it just comes out. I’ll look at Ever After on its own again at a later date – but as far as Disney’s Cinderella is concerned, the biggest part of the Cinderella story (apart from the Mother stuff) is the fulfilment of dreams – in fact for a lot of us who as girls have watched many a “Disney Princess” movie, we’ve been subconsciously trained to hold on, be quiet, be good and our dreams will come – in the form of a Prince – and everything is gonna be ok. There are some out there who would argue this is giving girls unrealistic expectations in life – and maybe it is. But you know what, I’d rather have unrealistic expectations than NO expectations. I’d rather have a frustrated Dream than No dream. I’d rather have unfulfilled hopes than No Hope. There are those out there who advocate “expect nothing and you’ll never get let down or hurt”. Well that’s true, but it’s also a pretty empty life. It’s our passions, including hopes and dreams, hurts and pains, that give us that fullness of life that Jesus Promised.
So I’m encouraging you to have dreams, to have a wish that your heart makes, and to go for it, to seek it out. And never, ever give up. For Love always hopes, always holds on, is always faithful and never EVER gives up.