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Showing posts with label Cinderella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cinderella. Show all posts


The Way Meat Loves Salt (1998)

Retold by Nina Jaffe

Illustrated by Louise August

Linocuts painted in full-color oils on rice paper

Henry Holt and Company

"A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish tradition," reads the subtitle of this one. Having already featured Raisel's Riddle and interviewed its author, I figured I was an old hat when it came to Jewish Cinderellas. Well, shows what I know. In fact, I would say that this was more of a Jewish inversion of the Cinderella story.

Some aspects run parallel. The Fairy Godmother is here the bearded Prophet Elijah. The fancy dress ball is a wedding feast in Cracow, and the prince is the handsome son of Rabbi Yitskhok ben Levi of Lublin, with whom our Cinderella is living at the time. Her name is Mireleh, by the way. And how did she come to be destitute, living a life in the margins of society, a poor beggar girl given shelter in the attic of a kindly Rabbi? Well, it is a family tragedy. I can hardly bear to write it down.

You see, not long ago, Mireleh had been the youngest, carefree daughter of a rabbi herself. Even though she had no special gifts, her father held a special place in his heart for her. But then, one dark day, Rabbi Reyzeleh was besieged by a quandary for which not even the Talmud held an answer.

"I know that I love my children," he said to himself, little realizing the horror his line of thinking would soon inflict. "But how much do they love me?"

He decides, in a moment of insight, to actually ask his daughters! A cunning plan, which seems at first to work perfectly:

"As much as diamonds!" answers the first daughter.

"As much as gold and silver!" is the second reply.

But finally, young Mireleh goes and screws things up royally with this enigmatic response:

"Father, I love you the way meat loves salt."

"What?!!" he shrieks. "You love me no more than salt??"

And for this, Mireleh is banished from the house, in shame and in disgrace.

Fortunately, Old Prophet Elijah is on hand with a Magic Stick that will grant her wishes, as a consolation.

So, that's the beginning of the story. Now, into the Cinderella-ness of it. Armed with the magic stick, Mireleh produces for herself, "a dress of satin, embroidered with pearls! A garland of roses for my hair and a pair of satin slippers for my feet!" Then: ZAP! She appears at the wedding feast, and everyone is shocked to see this beautiful stranger, especially the bride and groom who are just trying to get married.

Well, it pays off. The rabbi's son is stricken with love, little realizing that Mireleh is the very same beggar girl he was looking down on just two pages ago! That's what I meant by an inversion. In this story, the handsome prince and the wicked stepsisters are one in the same.

And here's another inversion: The rabbi's son then goes out and decides it would be a good idea to cover the front steps of the house with tar. Why? So that he can hide and wait for the beautiful stranger to leave. When one of her shoes gets stuck in the tar, she runs off without it. All a part of his plan, you see.

Now he goes around, trying the shoes of the lovely Jewish maidens in the village, promising his parents that he will marry whomever the errant shoe belongs to. But when he realizes it belongs to the beggar girl under his own roof, what is he to do? Follow his heart?

"You came to us a poor beggar, covered with mud and dust. We let you stay here for tsedokeh!"
Eh, sort of.

That night, the disembodied spirit of Prophet Elijah appears to the rabbi: "Your son must keep his vow and promise, or misfortune will follow!"

Yikes! I don't recall Cinderella's godmother making such a threat!

"Your son must keep his vow and promise, or misfortune will follow!"

So, it should come as no surprise then that indeed, he does marry Mireleh. A large wedding feast is planned! But, before it starts, Mireleh runs to the cooks and instructs, "Don't put any salt in the food!"

Later, during the ceremony, who is that old man, retching at disgust at the food which is offered? "This food tastes terrible! It has no salt!"

"But, Father, don't you remember? I told you I love you the way meat loves salt and you drove me from your house!"

"You spoke only words of truth to me!" he exclaims, and they are united.

So the next time someone asks you how much you love them, don't use any of your cute metaphors, oy vey!


Raisel's Riddle (1999)

By Erica Silverman

Illustrated by Susan Gaber

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

This is a Jewish version of the Cinderella story. It does not appear to be based on an actual Jewish folktale, but is an invention of the author, Erica Silverman. However, it does incorporate aspects of the story of Esther and of the Purim celebration.

Indeed, it is the celebration of Purim which serves as the stand-in for the fancy-dress ball. The "prince" in this tale is the son of the village rabbi and the Fairy godmother is a Polish beggar woman.

That is not to suggest that Silverman merely filled in the blanks of the Cinderella tale with Jewish icons to arrive at this telling. There is plenty to distinguish this story on its own terms. First and foremost, the eponymous "riddle" from the title. During the Purim meal (beet soup, roast duck, potato pancakes, noodle pudding) a bevy of young Jewish maidens flirt with the rabbi's son by telling him riddles.

"What has a face but no mouth?"

"Now what is that over my head but under my hat?"

Surely, this is the way to a young man's heart, and Raisel - working in the rabbi's kitchen whilst dressed in rags - also knows a riddle, though she doesn't get the chance to tell it until later that night, after she has helped an old beggar woman who turns out to magic, wishes for a Purim costume and a horse-drawn wagon, and finds herself at the celebration where the young son of the rabbi states with bold impertinence bordering on the scandalous, "In that costume, you are the loveliest Queen Esther here."

She asks:

What's more precious than rubies, more lasting then gold?
What can never be traded, stolen or sold?
What comes with great effort and takes time, but then -
Once yours, will serve you again and again.

Then, the striking of the chimes, midnight apparent. The young Raisel disappears and the Rabbi's son is left with the task - not of trying to fit a solitary slipper upon the foot of some lucky woman - but of discovering the woman who knows the riddle.
Click here to read my conversation with Erica Silverman!
Click here to read about the story of Queen Esther and the Festival of Purim!
Click here for other Jewish Folktales!
Click here for other Cinderella stories!


The Rough-Face Girl (1992)

Retold by Rafe Martin

Illustrated by David Shannon

Text set in Veljovic

G.P. Putnams' Sons

When Arlo first learned that this was a David Shannon book, he was surprised - as was I. The paintings are just so... earnest. Beginning with the cover, which I could look at for a year and a day, waiting for her to move the hands from her face, just a centimeter, as I know she is about to, and then continuing into the early morning mist revealing a small encampment by the shores of Lake Ontario, followed by the two sisters standing over the eponymous rough-face girl, their eyes lost in shadow as they gloat above a roaring fire. They look hollow. They look like evil statues. These are paintings which carry weight.

This is a Cinderella story, and it is also a retelling of the Sootface story which I reviewed last week. Sootface was Ojibwan, this story is Algonquin.

The former heroin had a face of soot, this girl has sisters who "made their youngest sit by the fire and feed the flames." Over time, as the sparks do their worst to her flesh, her skin begins to take on a rough appearance.

Beyond that, the two stories were very much the same. I noted that neither one begins with the appearance of the Invisible Warrior. We are introduced to him and his sister and their large wigwam before we meet the Rough-Faced girl and her wicked sisters.

All of the women of the village go to the wigwam of the Invisible Being and are then challenged by the sister.

"If you want to marry my brother, you have to have seen him. Tell me, have you seen the Invisible Being?"

"Of course!"

"What's his bow made of?"

"The great oak tree."

"No! What's the runner of his sled made of?"

"The green willow branch."

"No! You have not seen my brother. Now go home."

So then, it is the rough-face girl who makes the journey to the wigwam, and as she walks, she must put up with the taunts and jeers of the other women. "Go home, you ugly girl! You'll never marry the Invisible Being!"

Here the tale diverges quite a bit from Sootface. I noted that in Sootface, when the young heroine is asked about the Invisible Warrior, she responds that his bow is made of the rainbow. We see a normal-sized warrior approaching holding a bow which indeed appears to be a rainbow - or perhaps a rainbow colored piece of wood.

In The Rough-Face Girl, Shannon paints a gorgeous, 2 page spread of an unfolding landscape. "As she walked on, she saw the great beauty of the earth and skies spreading before her. And truly she alone, of all in that village, saw in this thing the sweet yet awesome face of the Invisible Being."

A very large, and very real rainbow arcs down from the skies.

Later, as night has fallen, and she is asked by the sister to tell of the Invisible Being's sled runner, she looks up into the starry skies and answers, "Why, it is the Spirit Road, the Milky Way of stars that spreads across the sky!"

There is the sense, then, that the Invisible Being is not a person at all, but a spirit which surrounds the whole of the earth. Perhaps the problem with the other sisters was that they took the questions too literally, trying to discern an invisible apparition, with the Invisible Being was with them and apparent the entire time. From this point of view, then, it seems The Rough-Face Girl - though beginning as a Cinderella story certainly, ends up being about a young woman's spiritual awakening, seeing for the first time the supernatural properties of the natural world.

Click here for more Native American tales!

Click here for more Cinderella stories!


Sootface (1994)

Retold by Robert D. San Souci

Illustrated by Daniel San Souci


Doubleday Book for Young Readers

The subtitle for this book is "An Ojibwa Cinderella Story," which immediately gives us some narrative mile markers, even if it doesn't quite hit all of them.

Curiously though, San Souci tells us that this story is not just an Obijwa tale, but it also found in other Algonquian tribes and the Canadian Micmac, all the way down to the southwest. However, San Souci's detailed design of the village and the clothing of the characters are all based on that of the Ojibwa, so this tale is indeed grounded in a particular place and time.

There are no fancy dress balls, no portentous strokes of midnight, not even a lost shoe. There are however, two nasty, mean older sisters and a younger sister whom they mock and make do most of the work. In addition, they, "beat her and smeared her face with ashes." Thus the name, Sootface.

Legend is, across the waters there lives a mighty warrior who happens to be invisible. It is this mysterious warrior for whom all the young women of the village vie. One by one, they make their way across the lake - including Sootface's two older sisters - and there to find the warrior, who is represented only by a pair of white moccasins and a shadow.

"Can you see my brother?" asks the sister of the warrior.

"Oh yes," lie the women of the village.

"Of what is his bow made?"


"And with what is it strung?"


"You do not see my brother."

This goes on, one disappointed woman at a time, until at last it is Sootface's turn. There is no fairy godmother to magically make her beautiful. Instead, she takes two strips of birch bark and sews them together to make a skirt. Then she weaves herself a necklace of wildflowers and soaks her old, stiff moccasins in a spring until they grow softer. Finally, she puts wild flowers in her hair and she is ready.

"You are so ugly and foolish looking! You will shame us before the hunter and his sister!"

But Sootface is determined. After she makes the journey, and is approached by the hunter, his sister asks, "Can you see him?"

"Yes, he is carrying a beautiful bow."

"Of what is his bow made?"

"A rainbow!"

"And how is it strung?"

"With white fire, like Milky Way, the Path of Souls."

From that moment, she is no longer 'Sootface,' but 'Dawn-Light,' and she lives happily ever after, or - as the story says - "claim the wife's place by the door flap!"
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