One of the most well-known stories ever written, Cinderella and its universal tale of the human heart has appealed to young and old for centuries. Variations on Cinderella's myth appear in folktales in almost every world culture: she's known as "Yeh-Shen" in China, "The Rough-Face Girl" to the Algonquin Indians of North America, "Chinye" and "Nyasha" to the people of Africa, "Tattercoats" in England, and "Cenerentola" to Rossini. While these versions vary in some degree, the general tale usually centers around a kind, but oppressed character persecuted by the step-family. Typically, the father is either neglectful or absent; consequently, Cinderella must rely on a magical guardian for assistance in achieving her deepest wish. Scholars disagree as to exactly how many versions of the popular tale exist, with numbers ranging from 340 to over 3,000 versions, including picture books and musical interpretations. Although the story doesn't have a singular author, there are several notable interpreters.


The earliest known version of Cinderella originated in China. Recorded on paper by Tuan Ch'eng-shih in the middle of the ninth century, this version centers around "Yeh-Shen," a beautiful young girl whose mother has died.

Raised by a spiteful stepmother, Yeh-Shen's only friend is a fish in the river near her home. After her stepmother kills her fish, Yeh-Shen is told by an old man to gather the fish bones and make a wish. She wishes to attend the spring festival, and she is granted a beautiful outfit complete with golden slippers. Yeh-Shen loses one of her slippers while running away from her stepmother at the festival; however, a villager discovers it and it eventually finds its way to the King. The King searches everywhere for the rightful owner of the slipper, and when Yeh-Shen puts the magic slipper on, her clothes are transformed into the beautiful attire from her night at the festival and the King proposes to her. Although the couple lives happily ever after, this version of the story punishes the stepmother and stepsister for their cruelty they are stoned to death by the villagers.

Native American

The Algonquin Indians of North America also created a Cinderella myth known as "The Rough-Face Girl."

The youngest sister is forced by her two older sisters to tend the village fire for hours, causing her hair and face to burn from the cinder sparks. The powerful and magical chieftain is seeking a wife, but he is invisible. Although both sisters claim to know what the chieftain looks like, he is visible only to Rough-Face Girl because her heart is pure and honest, she is able to see the his image in the forest and the sky. Dressing herself in a birch-bark dress and worn moccasins, she walks to meet the chieftain. Her beauty is restored after she bathes in a lake, and she is soon married to the chieftain.


A West-African interpretation of Cinderella, the story of "Chinye," does not focus on marrying a prince.

Chinye is sent by her stepmother into the forest at night to get water. Animals protect Chinye from the dangers of the forest. On her way home, Chinye meets an old woman who tells her to go into a hut where there are gourds on the floor, and she is to take the tiniest, quietest gourd home and break it. Chinye does as she is told and when she breaks the gourd, treasures spill out. In a jealous rage, her stepsister finds the house with the gourds and greedily selects the largest one. She eagerly runs home to split her gourd open, but instead of treasures, the broken gourd unleashes a terrible storm. Chinye's stepfamily loses everything. Because they are too proud to ask for help, the stepfamily moves. Chinye is left behind and chooses to use her wealth to help her village.

Inspired by a folktale from Zimbabwe, John Steptoe's book Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters tells the Cinderella story of "Nyasha" as told in African villages.

Mufaro loves both of his daughters, but Manyara is selfish and conceited while Nyasha is kind and sensitive. Nyasha befriends a magical snake named Nyoka while working in her garden. Soon the King of Zimbabwe announces that he is seeking a wife. Both Manyara and Nyasha make the difficult journey to his city. Along the way, the sisters encounter a hungry boy and an old woman. Nyasha happily shares her food and is kind to all she encounters while Manyara refuses to share and is disrespectful. When the sisters approach the King's room, Nyasha discovers that the king is her friend, the magical snake Nyoka. Nyoka asks for Nyasha's hand in marriage and her selfish sister is forced to be her servant.


The British put a slight twist on the traditional Cinderella story with "Tattercoats." This particular version of the Cinderella myth involves a grandfather instead of a stepmother, and a Prince who falls in love before the grand ball.

Tattercoats lives with her grandfather who doesn't care for her. He vows never to lay eyes on her because his favorite daughter died while in labor with Tattercoats, so she is forced to beg for food and wear rags. Her only friend is a boy who tends to the livestock. When the Prince announces that he will have a ball to choose a bride, Tattercoats and her friend walk to the palace to watch the procession. Along the way, a wealthy gentleman encounters them, falls in love with Tattercoats, and proposes to her. She refuses, but does agree to go to the palace at midnight in order that he may see her again. When she arrives at the palace in her tattered clothing, everyone laughs at her. The wealthy gentleman reveals that he is the Prince and selects her as his bride. Her clothes are transformed into beautiful garments and her friend becomes a squire.


Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm retell a less forgiving version of the Cinderella tale with "Aschenputtel" or "Ash Girl."

The Grimm version, published in 1812, does not include a fairy godmother. Instead, the heroine plants a tree on her mother's grave. Magical help appears to Cinderella in the form of a white dove. While some versions of the Cinderella tale include a happier ending for the stepsisters, in the Grimm interpretation they become permanently blind after their eyes are pecked out by birds from Cinderella's tree.


In 1697, French author Charles Perrault published Contes de ma Mere L'Oye (Tales of Mother Goose), a collection of folktales he interpreted such as "Sleeping Beauty," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Cinderella." It is this version which was immortalized by Walt Disney, complete with the fairy godmother, pumpkin carriage, and the glass slipper.

In the original story, Cinderella's slipper had been made of fur; however, scholars think Perrault may have confused vair (French for "fur") with the word verre (French for "glass"). Perrault recorded the story as it had been told by storytellers, but added the magical elements for literary effect. Perrault was also slightly more humane than many other interpreters he ends his version of the tale with Cinderella forgiving her sisters, offering them lodging in her palace, and finding them two men of the court to marry.

The Opera

Rossini's Cinderella Librettist Jacopo Ferretti was inspired by Charles Perrault's rendition of the popular tale. Knowing a fairy tale proved risky for an opera audience, Ferretti made several changes to Perrault's version, including the absence of the fairy godmother and the "wicked" stepmother.

Ferretti wrote a preface to the opera, explaining the changes he made to Perrault's tale: "This ought not to be considered as a crime of disrespect, but rather a necessity on the stage of the Teatro Valle, and an act of respect to the delicacy of Romans' taste, which does not tolerate on the stage what is diverting in a tale told by the fireside."

Regardless of the interpretation, the Cinderella stories examine the test of the human spirit. "Yeh-Shen," "Chinye," "Nyasha," "Rough-Face Girl," and "Cenerentola" all successfully move from victim to heroine because of their goodness and innocence. Jealousy and cruelty are repeatedly punished. Cinderella reminds us that compassion and sensitivity will be rewarded.


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"The Composition of LA CENERENTOLA." Dayton Opera.

"Gioacchino Rossini, a Very Brief Biography." from Opera World's website Opera Broadcast Booth. .

Heiner, Heidi Anne. "SurLaLune Annotated Fairy Tales: History of Cinderella." 2000.

Lucas, Jennisen. "If the Shoe Fits: An Annotated Bibliography on the Popular Tale of Cinderella."