While I consider myself a fairy-tale connoisseur, I have never been drawn to the story of Cinderella. I never considered the reason until yesterday.
Cinderella is a passive character. She reacts to what goes on around her, but never starts anything. Her stepmother tells her to become a servant: she becomes a servant. Stepmother tells her to stay home from the ball: she stays home. Her fairy godmother tells her to go to the ball: she goes to the ball. The most proactive thing she does is lose her shoe, and that was an accident. Many retellings try to make her spunky, but that falls flat when Cinderella is only spunky when her stepfamily isn’t around. The closest I’ve seen to an active Cinderella is Ever After. Danielle has moments of proactivity, but she still allows herself to be victimized.
Because Cinderella is so passive, the writer has to find a way to make the audience like her that is not based on Cinderella’s actions. The answer writers come up with is: get the reader to pity Cinderella. They caricature the stepfamily, make them so “evil” that no one could possibly like them. For me, this has the opposite effect than writers intend: I get annoyed with Cinderella for being so passive, and annoyed with the writer for creating an obnoxious and unrealistic villain. How many people base their actions around making one person miserable? People are cruel to others when they believe that they will get what they desire due to their cruelty. Villains are people, just like protagonists. If their actions are unmotivated, why be afraid of them? Eventually, they will get bored and antagonize someone else.
Perhaps I will one day write a retelling where Cinderella is proactive. I’m not sure how–it would take a lot of reworking of the story–but I’m sure it’s possible. Perhaps I’ll add it to the set of fairy-tale and myth novellas I’m working on now.