Category Archives: Story insights

La Cenorientola

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Settled in my new place, Italy, I decided to look a little bit into some fairy tales from here.  I tried to find Roman folktales but to my surprise, I found this: La Cenorientola.

Many storytellers have already written lots of things about this story and one of the most interesting facts is that there are around 500 hundred versions of the same story in Europe alone: Cenicienta (Spain), Cinderella (France), Catskinella (African – American folktales), Sapsorrow (Germany), Billy Beg and the Bull (Ireland), and in other continents there are: Benizara and Kakezara (Japan), and many others.  It is known that Rhodopis (Egypt) has the earliest record of the shoe motif and there are some who claim that the Chinese version called: Yeh-Shen (850 AD China) is most likely the oldest story of Cinderella; The Canadian Opera Company published in the following link:

http://www.coc.ca/ecms.ashx/StudyGuides/cinderellaschooltourstudyguidearoundtheworldfinal.pdf

Like all versions, this tale has its own characteristics.

From "Her Stories" - Catskinella

The usual story of Cinderella tells the tale of a normal teen-aged girl who is brutally mistreated by her step mother and sister.  Magic is around everything that involves Cinderella but in the Italian version Cinderella also has some sort of magical powers.

She demonstrates it with the following sentence: “But you will bring me a little bird, won’t you, papa?’ pleaded the little girl; ‘and I can tell you that if you don’t the boat you are on will stand still, and will neither move backwards nor forwards.'”  As one can probably guess, the father forgets about the bird and his daughter’s prophecy is fulfilled.

There are other details that make this story worth reading and telling: the fact that there is no fairy godmother, but the “bird” that the father brings back is truly a fairy and helps Cinderella to have a “happy ever after” ending; the slipper was made of gold instead of crystal or glass; it’s the king who falls in love with Cinderella and does learn her name from Cinderella herself but not where to find her. There is also the fact that Cinderella – in this version – shows no signs of defect.  She is again an image of perfection.  Well, there are other details but the idea is to pick your curiosity so you will read it.

A drawing by Arthur Rackham

What is always a main factor in all the versions of the story is the innocence and kindness of the heroine.  In many versions, Cinderella – after marrying the Prince or King – forgives her step-sisters and they all live happily ever after.  But this made me question: why is it that the character who most suffers and is adorned by goodness of heart is the one who always gets “the prize”?

If you think about it logically, with the wit and the meanness of the sisters, Cinderella should have ended up with nothing and less than nothing.  In the real world, many bad deeds end up with good results – at least the expected results.  Why is it that in most stories – especially the classic fairy tales – the ones who end up with complete happiness are the ones who strive for moral excellence?

I’ve already written a bit about suffering when I analysed “The Ugly Duckling”, but the natural tendency of rewarding goodness of heart that is stamped in human nature is something that is intriguing to all.  In all the versions of this beautiful story there lies the fact that there is true justice in them – the virtue of giving to each person what they are due – and the fact that this heroine always follows a natural law that is written in each of our hearts: do good and avoid evil – even though this is a hard task.

A beautiful picture by Howard David Johnson

I once read this: In the depths of the conscience, the human person detects a law which s/he does not impose upon himself / herself; always summoning him/her to love good and avoid evil; the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his/her heart.  Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man.  And in the inmost part of the human soul, s/he knows that only through goodness and love comes happiness.  Cinderella – Cenorientola in Italian –  incarnates this, though it’s not the only story.

Though to follow this “natural law” that we all have in our conscious is not easy – and even painful  at times – this story tells us that what awaits us after is worth enduring whatever we may have to face.

For the full story click: http://www.italiansrus.com/etexts/cenorientola.htm

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

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Also may be known as The Search for the Lost Husband or The True Bride (although it is a German version) and probably much older than the date when it was collected into written word by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, this Norwegian folktale relates human weakness and redemption.

Like many oral traditional stories, for instance Bearskin (Germany), in this story, the two main characters don’t have names.

It tells the tale of a youngest daughter of a poor husbandman who consents to go with a great White Bear in order to make her family rich and happy.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

By Kay Nielsen

Interestingly enough, the family doesn’t worry about the safety of their youngest family member.  In fact the father was very willing to give up his most beautiful child in order to get rich, without worrying what would happen to her.

So she is left to the care of a great White Bear who turns out to be gallant, protective and wise.  In some cultures, some the Native American tribes, the bear – especially the grizzly bear – was associated with healing as well as immortality. The bear expressed many meanings: bravery and strength as well as brutality or clumsiness.  One can understand how the bear is in this story.

They thus travel to a castle and supposedly all is well.

As one can imagine, the White Bear is an enchanted Prince and he visits the young girl every night.  There is little info given about him except that he “is the handsomest Prince that eyes had ever beheld” as the story tells.  He is also compassionate for wants to give the girl happiness when she tells him of her sorrows; he consents to help her as long as she gives him her word not to say anything of her life there.  She, of course, promises and as can be inferred, she breaks her promise as well as lies to some extent in order to cover her fault.

By Kay Nielsen

Because of this, she loses her chance of happiness and begins her long journey towards redemption.

Her journey is not easy for she must walk “many a day”; she meets 3 old women who – though they  don’t know the way to the Castle which lies East of the Sun and West of the Moon, where the girl’s love is – help her on her quest.  Here she just receives the help but afterwards, she asks for assistance from other elements, in this case the four winds – humanized -, and in the end retrieves her love as well as destroys evil but with sacrifice, for she gives up the gifts given by the 3 old ladies in order to achieve her goal.

In our own lives, this can have a great resemblance.  In our own journey through life, we receive many favors and gifts – big and small – from different people – sometimes without knowing or without wanting them – but they help us to reach our ultimate goal.   Similar to the heroine of the story, we should always be willing to use all the support that is given to us, because after all, true and lifelong happiness is printed in human nature.

Here is the link for the full story:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/norway034.html

By Kay Nielsen

The Ugly Duckling

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We all remember the sweet story of the creature that was beatened, insulted, scorned, discriminated and put down by others that didn’t know about him.  How many things he had to endure and one might ask, how could he have continued his life in such misery!  This is because pain – the main theme of this profound tale – and all that is related to it is now set aside without question.

The ugly duckling is a story that talks about true suffering and how only the strong can possibly continue without considering self-elimination.

Hans Christian Andersen – with his imaginative way of expressing things – shows the reader a deep sense of how hardships can get the best out of us.

However I’m not going to stop on all that this poor creature had to undergo but on the fact that he did endure them without asking himself if it wouldn’t be better to just disappear and leave everyone alone, as it was that his being “ugly” bothered them.  The Ugly Duckling is the representation of how we confront the difficulties that are presented to us in our daily lives.  If you come to think of it, the ugly ducking didn’t have any extraordinary difficulties.  He wasn’t attacked by eagles or even but the cats with which he had encountered. He suffered no illnesses, no mutations, nothing out of the ordinary.   His problems would be what we call “normal”: interactions with other farm animals, the changing of seasons and encounters with humans.

So why endure them if they would be so easily eliminated?  I think that HCA wanted to show the world that through hardships came beauty.  At first the creature was an ugly fellow and thats when it felt as if the whole world came at him.  We can relate this to what is known as bullying.  Only the strong survive, but is strength only measured physically?  When it comes down to it, the ugly duckling would be the characterization of strength both physically and spiritually.  Because of this, he obtains a humble and noble heart, making him the most beautiful swan of the area.

Pain and suffering are things that many scientists and all philosophers consider.  Some consider that it’s endurance is obsolete and unnecessary, which is why they try to eliminate it without asking themselves if some good could come of it.  Through this story HCA shows that suffering is not an absolute evil that has to be overcome by what ever means necessary.  It is only through them that we can gain other – if not all – virtues that is expressed as perfection and beauty – for what the soul is or has, it reflects in some physical way.

 We all know how the story ends and this makes us wonder if we will end our personal story the same way.

Here is the link for the full story.

http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/vaerk/hersholt/TheUglyDuckling_e.html