My daughter is almost two years old, and I’ve found myself watching a lot of old animated Disney movies. As usual, I’ve found myself dissecting them. I can’t help it – besides being a writer, I’m also a literature professor. Putting aside all the psychological and social interpretations of those films (which are numerous and often disturbing), I also find myself asking the question: What do the faries get out of all this?
In particular, I have to wonder about the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. The scene is wonderfully done (as is, ultimately, the whole movie; it’s practically the definition of movie magic), but the sheer kindness of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother makes me suspicious. For one thing, the faries of legend are not all butterflies and happiness. They are frequently fickle, cruel, selfish, and even monstrous, appearing kindly at first only to change at a moment’s notice and turn somebody’s lady love into stone for all eternity due to some minor oversight in etiquette. I sometimes, while watching Cinderella entertain the idea that the Fairy Godmother is cut from the same cloth. If so, then what’s her angle?
One theory I’ve entertained is that it is actually the wicked stepmother the Fairy Godmother is out to screw over. It does seem unlikely that such an odious woman could score the kind of man that Cinderella’s father apparently was, so perhaps there was some kind of deal struck between the stepmother and the fairy, and then the stepmother – selfish, megalomaniac that she is – broke the deal. Or maybe was just plain rude, who knows.
The more interesting story, though, I think is this one: Cinderella’s bill is in the mail, so to speak. The fairy godmother basically saves Cinderella from a lifetime of domestic slavery and, after granting her (say) twelve years of marital bliss with the Prince, she shows up again. Time to pay the piper, girlie, and with interest. What does she take, I wonder? Cinderella first born, perhaps (a bit cliche, but there is precedent, anyway, and mortal babies are clearly useful to faries). Maybe she comes to steal Cinderella’s beauty? Maybe her capacity to love? Maybe simply the Prince himself?
Ooh! What about this: the Stepmother did make a deal with the Fairy Godmother once upon a time – it was the same deal that Cinderella made. The Fairy Godmother scored her a husband, but then cursed her with widowhood and ungrateful children. Same for Cinderella; the Fairy Godmother kills off the Prince, makes her children terrible and spoiled (or perhaps Cinderella does that herself – who knows?) and then we’re stuck with a woman who finds herself sliding down the same pit her stepmother did. For the first time in her life, she gets some perspective on that awful woman who almost ruined her forever. Horrified, she realizes that she now understands; she might even think she owes the woman an apology.
Of course, she’s dead now, so it’s too late. Cinderella is all alone again, except this time she dreams of the past, not the future, and there is no fairy godmother waiting in the wings to make it all better. As Heinlein once said: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.