—a joint post from Betsy, Hayley, and Megan
We at Redeemed Reader love a good fairy tale. Cinderella is perhaps the quintessential fairy tale with its rags-to-riches princess, the fairy godmother, and fancy dresses. Indeed, the Cinderella story is one of the most ubiquitous stories worldwide, appearing in nearly every culture for centuries. The newest cinematic adaptation from Disney promises to live up to Cinderella fame so today we’d like to offer you some ways to talk about this classic fairy tale with your children, as well as offer some suggested literary Cinderella adaptations. We also encourage you to check out Emily’s review of the movie for World Magazine.
Cinderella: Discussion Starters (for all ages)
Ask your children these questions. See what they have to say. We offer some brief guidance in the parentheses; for explanation and elaboration, see the bottom half of this post.
- For starters, what’s so great about the story of Cinderella? Why do we like it so much? (princesses, fancy clothes, AND a reflection of main story of the Bible) Can you think of a book in the Bible that is kind of like the story of Cinderella? (the book of Ruth)
- What do you think about Cinderella’s clothes? Can you think of some ways the Bible talks about our clothes? (rags versus fancy ball gown, sinful rags versus robes of righteousness) Why is the shoe important? (The shoe is a sign of her hope and her true identity.)
- Do you think Cinderella’s stepsisters get what they deserve at the end? Where do you see justice (or “being fair” for younger children) in the story? What about Cinderella—does she deserve the happy ending? Do you see mercy (or “treating people nicer than they deserve”) in the story? (Their answers will depend on the version of the story you read.)
- Is Cinderella pretty? Is she just pretty on the outside? Does she show a pretty inside through her actions and attitude? (Note her humility, kindness, and patience.)
- Is the fairy godmother real? (This is a big concept! The fairy godmother is not real; magic is a tool the author uses to communicate something happening outside the physical realm.) Can you think of anyone in the Bible who might be able to transform things like the fairy godmother can? (Jesus is our Redeemer.)
Themes in Cinderella: Mercy and Justice, Transformation and Redemption, Inner and Outer Beauty, True Faith
Below is a fuller discussion of the questions listed above. Depending on the age of your children, they may or may not be ready for all the implications listed.
Mercy and Justice
Some versions of Cinderella show the stepsisters getting what they deserve (they are banished or cut off their toes to make the shoe fit!) while other versions show Cinderella being kind to them and granting them a happy ending as well. Regardless, readers universally agree that Cinderella herself is not treated justly at the hands of her stepfamily. Yet, despite her mistreatment, she remains kind and humble. God has created within us a sense of justice and the desire to see true justice in action. However, were we to experience true justice ourselves, we would have no hope of redemption! In God’s mercy, he has redeemed us out of our sinful lives much as Cinderella has been redeemed out of her sordid life. Interestingly, throughout Scripture we see mercy and justice walking hand-in-hand. In the Garden, while Adam and Eve are banished (partial justice), they are simultaneously promised a future deliverer (mercy). In Exodus, the Lord tells Moses to tell the people, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:6b). This refrain: redemption for God’s people (mercy) and judgment for sinners (justice) continues throughout Scripture.
Cinderella’s shoe is a tangible picture of hope. In so many fairytales, there’s a rule that gets broken: don’t open the door, don’t stay out until midnight… And each time, even though the rule is broken, there is still hope—hope that isn’t merited. Cinderella’s shoe, thus, is her picture of hope. In our Story, at the beginning, we were told, “Don’t eat the fruit. You will surely die.” And we did receive that curse. Yet, God gave Adam and Eve (and us!) hope; the serpent’s head would be crushed. Hope remains and grows, undeserved, until the end when hope wins.
Transformation and Redemption
Cinderella’s story shows us the story arc of Scripture itself: there is a creation-ideal in the beginning before her mother dies (a loving family, etc.). Then, Cinderella experiences a “Fall”: her wicked stepmother and mean stepsisters make her life miserable. This is analogous to our own sin-cursed world in which we, too, struggle and face trials. Cinderella is redeemed out of that life and into a new life much as we, too, are redeemed through the intervention of Christ from our old life of sin into a new life with Christ.
Why are the beautiful dress and the shoe so important? God created in us a desire for beauty, but in our fallen state we are poor and naked, dressed only in rags like Cinderella, longing to be redeemed into something beautiful. Cinderella’s dress represents her outward transformation that reveals the beauty of her kind and humble spirit. We are transformed when we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ which is the result of His grace working in our hearts.
Cinderella’s shoe is the only proof of who she really is the morning after the ball, when everything else has returned to its original state. The temporary change of her outward appearance is wonderful, but the fitting of the shoe proves her identity. It is the reality of her inward beauty that makes her a bride. In the same way, it is not our outward works that save us; it is the inward righteousness of Christ that brings us to the eternal wedding feast.
In fairy tales, it is consistently the youngest, plain, outcast one who shows kindness and is rewarded while the strong, proud, rude characters are disgraced. This is also true in Scripture: God looks at the heart. Jacob loved Rachel, but God chose Leah to be part of the messianic line. The story of Ruth is a great example of an outcast who followed her mother-in-law’s advice and was honored not only to be the wife of godly Boaz but also to be part of the messianic line. Although Esther was chosen for her outward beauty, it is her character that shines when she risks her life for her people. True biblical beauty is inward, not outward. Proverbs 31 reminds us that “a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.”
Magic in fantasy (and fairy tales) is a tool: it enables an author to communicate something that is happening outside the physical realm. While we must be careful to refrain from point-to-point comparisons between magic and the spiritual realm, we can still use elements like the fairy godmother and Cinderella’s recognition that she is unable to save herself. Here, we see the fairy godmother as signifying a “divine intervention,” not because the fairy godmother is God, but because she is a tool in the story that points to an outside, “otherworldly” intervention.
Cinderella “wishes” things could be different, but she still must rely on an outside intervention in order to be transformed. We can wish for change, but our only hope is in a real, living God, not a fairy godmother. We need a divine Savior—not to make our earthly dreams come true, but to cleanse us and give us His Spirit to transform and sanctify our hearts.
What do you think? Are there themes and symbols you wish we would have addressed? See our Cinderella-related booklist for similar books for girls and boys!