Hundreds of versions and variations of Cinderella can be found all around the world. The most popular ones are those of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm (Aschenputtel), both of which were inspired in turn by an older, spoken version of the story, The Cat Cinderella by Giambattista Basile.
In Perrault’s version, the orphaned young woman is condemned to serve two horrible step-sisters (as well as a step-mother) who saddle her with the nickname Cinderella because of the ashes that stick to her skin. Everyone knows how the story goes from there: a fairy godmother comes to her rescue on the day of the big ball, changing a pumpkin into a carriage and giving her a chance to meet her prince. What follows is a race against the clock, during which a slipper is left on the stairs of the royal palace.
That slipper, made of glass in Perrault’s tale (which was actually called Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper) would become the subject of controversy under the pen of Balzac in the 19th century: was it made of verre (French for “glass”) or vair? Wouldn’t vair, the squirrel fur used in heraldic ornamentation, make more sense from a historical and even a practical point of view? However, in keeping with the logic of the story, it’s clear that it has to be a glass slipper. No other woman in the kingdom is able to put it on, despite considerable trickery. In the Brothers Grimm version, for example, Cinderella’s half-sisters go so far as to cut off a toe and a heel to get it on! Proving to be a perfect fit for Cinderella’s foot, the glass slipper finally confirms her identity as the belle of the ball because only she is able to wear it. Free to cast off the wooden clogs she wore as a little girl, our heroine is finally able to marry her prince and take up her role as a young wife.