Monday, February 12, 2018

Cinder Jack

This Hungarian tale is found in Surlalune's Frog Tales collection but it's also a gender reversed version of Cinderella (by the way that's an idea for a collection I'd love to get my hands on some day, I love a good gender reversed fairy tale!)
A peasant had three sons, and he sent the eldest to guard the vineyard. During the night, a frog came up to him and asked for a piece of the cake he was eating. Angrily, the young man threw a stone at the frog and in the morning the vineyard was ruined. The same thing happened to the second son the next night.

The following night, the youngest son offered to watch the vineyard. The family thought very little of him, and he always sat in the cinders, so he was called Cinder Jack. But they allowed him to try. When the frog approached, he shared his cake. In return, the frog gave him three rods of copper, silver, and gold; and told him that three horses of the same material would come to destroy the vineyard unless he used the rods. Cinder Jack was able to subdue the horses, and the vineyard flourished; but he did not tell his family the secret of his success.

One day, the king erected a high pole and hung a golden rosemary on the top, promising his daughter to whoever could reach it in one jump on horseback. All the knights of the realm tried, but failed. Then, a knight in copper mail, on a copper horse, came and took the rosemary, and disappeared. When Cinder Jack's brothers returned home, they told him all about the mysterious knight. Their brother claimed he had seen the whole thing from the top of the hoarding, so his brothers had it pulled down, so he wouldn't be able to see anything else.

The next week an even higher pole was put up with a golden apple at the top, and the same promise. This time a silver knight on a silver horse took it and disappeared. When Cinder Jack told his brothers he witnessed the whole thing from the pigstye, they had it destroyed.

The following week, a gold and silk kerchief was placed on yet a higher pole, and a gold knight took it and disappeared. Cinder Jack claimed to have seen it from the top of the house, so his brothers had the roof taken off.

The king invited the mystery knight to come forward with the rosemary, apple, and kerchief. The people were astonished to see that it was Cinder Jack, and he was good hearted enough to rebuild his brothers' house and give them gifts. "Cinder Jack is reigning still, and is respected and honored by all his subjects!"

I find gender bent fairy tales to be fascinating-in some ways they might seem to confirm gender bias but the mere fact that they exist proves that gender roles in folklore may be more flexible than we often assume. For example, I like the fact that Jack forgives his brothers. Although Cinderella gets criticized for forgiving her sisters in some versions, and it can be troubling and seem naive, when a man forgives and even goes beyond that to restore their house and give them gifts, it comes across less as weakness and more as him being the better man taking the high road, at least to me--(which makes me wonder how much of my/culture's interpretations themselves are biased and not the character's actions themselves?). Then again, it depends on each story; in this tale, Cinder Jack was clearly manipulating his brothers and Cinderellas don't tend to do that.

Then there's the matter of how Jack wins the bride-rather than simply appearing beautiful as Cinderella does, he performs feats of strength, which on the surface seems unfair and to reveal unbalanced gender expectations. And jumping really high on a horse that much more impressive than Cinderella's feats of dexterity, sorting grains, etc.? Especially when considering the fact that neither of them are actually performing their impossible tasks on their own merits, but using aid of magical helpers they befriended because they were kind?
What do you think of Cinder Jack?

Illustration by Charles Folkard


  1. This sounds like a version of "The Princess on the Glass Hill", actually...

    1. Oh you're right! I had read that a long time ago (8 years!) but forgotten about it. Very similar. I feel like this is my main problem, I keep forgetting tales, especially since they're all so similar and interconnected to each other!

  2. I believe the Male Cinderella is a folktale trope, and appears in some mediaeval literature. There is, among others, the story of Sir Gareth, who works in the kitchen at Camelot, taunted by Sir Kay, until a damsel in distress needs a knight to save her.

    And frankly, I have always thought that Harry Potter borrows from that trope. ;-)

    1. I'm not very familiar with Mediaeval literature, but from what I've read of folklore, there do seem to be more male Cinderellas than other gender swaps (although it seems almost every common fairy tale trope has a gender reversed version if you keep looking). I can definitely see that with Harry Potter!

  3. There is a double standard difference between Cinderfellas and Cinderellas, and I plan to change that in my retelling of Cinderella.

    In my retelling, Cinderella, whose real name is Josephine, is the last living descendant of the Ashlyn Clan, a famous family of heroes in their native country. Josephine practices a form of Ancestor worship, as her whole family burial grounds is near her home. Her mother died in childbirth, her wise grandmother of old age, her father, brother and sister were secretly murdered by the stepfamily.

    The Hardup family are in a shady business of illegal slave-trading, child trafficking and adoption fraud. Madam Hardup is a ruthless businesswoman who is, rather than malicious, very fond of Josephine because she bears an uncanny resemblance to her firstborn older daughter (who mysteriously died under her watch). Hardup's treat of Josephine is rather abusive and creepy, as she forces Josephine to adopt her late daughter's mannerism, meekness, obedience, and silence, even go as far to change her name to 'Ella' and making her forget about her dead family, especially her mother, whom she dearly loves. Madam Hardup's abuse toward Josephine is a real life dysfunctional parenting method called "My Baby Forever", in which the parent stunts the child's growth by treating them perpetually like children, and abusing them if they ever show any defiance or independence from them. The stepsisters on the other than hand, Charlotte and Francine, don't really like it and are cruel toward Josephine, nicknaming her Cinderella and force her to do the household chores while Madam Hardup is away on business or sleeping late (as she usually does).

    Francine and Charlotte are a vicious satire on the Madonna-Whore dichotomy; Charlotte is a debauched libertine who's also predatory, inclined toward sexual harassment toward young men (even 14 year-olds), creepy, with a love for gambling, drinking, smoking, chewing tobacco, and brutish hunting. Francine is a ladylike puritan and borderline religious fanatic, unromantic, prissy, judgmental, prone to fainting spells, phobic of mice, attends opera and ballets, superstitious of witchcraft and black cats.

    Both stepsisters are spoiled, classist, xenophobic, and secretly murderous (Charlotte murdered Josephine's brother, for rejecting her and thinking that he was gay. Francine murdered the older sister as she thinks she's a witch for knowing about herbs and charms).

    Josephine is the opposite of both the stepsisters; she's mature, sensual, compassionate, self-determined, cunning, clever, and orchestrating to reclaim her family estate and name by seeking the Crown Prince's favor. She meets the Prince three times at church,at a festival, and at a ball. She uses not only her beauty but her wit and feats of ingenuity, and kindness. She even has a sincere and intimate relationship with the Prince, and she purposely shucks her magic slipper as a clue to find her (the slipper will fit on no one but her, it will either hurt the toes or heels if someone else wears them). Josephine is also aided by the ghosts of her ancestors, a magic wishing tree planted at the graves of her sister, mother and grandmother (who form a Triple Goddess motif).

    The stepfamily get their comeuppance once they reveal their crimes; the ghosts of brother and sister scratch out the stepsister's eyes, Josephine boils their bodies, cooks their flesh, feeds it to their stepmother, and the Stepmother tries to kill Josephine but is attacked by the mother's corpse.

    In the end of the story, Josephine doesn't marry the prince, that's left ambiguous, but she bids a tearful farewell to her deceased family, especially her mother.

    I borrowed other story elements of many Cinderella variations, including Asian ones.

    1. I really like the psychological aspect to the stepmother's abuse; it adds more depth and believability to what could easily become a cliche trope. I also like your take on the slipper and of course a developed relationship with the Prince! Sounds very intriguing!

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  4. parts of it sound great becuse you actually make the stepsisters and stepmother vile yet fleshed out characters worthy of the punishment they recieve in a lot of the older versions. I honestly feel like its disportionate retribution especally Brothers grimm they were manipulated into cutting parts of their feet by their own mother i think haveing birds peck out their eyes was a little much after that. Also sexual predator female bad guys done on purpose rather then not thinking through the implications is something i'd love to see more of. But i find it hard to buy Cinderella as mature ad sentual and capible if she in fact was groomed to be a perpetual child by the stepmother its just not realistic if her growth really was stunted for her to be the independant bad ass your clearly going for. This perfection was easy to get away with in the victorian era but in a modern tale its harder to sell especally if you want to apply phycological explanations for character motives. Other then that though it sounds good.

  5. I didn't know where else to ask this question, so I'm asking it here. I wonder if you might have any idea about the following: As a child, I had a set of four jigsaw puzzles with fairy-tale illustrations on them. I know one was definitely Cinderella. One of the others may have been Rumpelstiltskin. I can't clearly remember the other two, but I know it was a set of four, each depicting a scene from a different fairytale. This would have been in the late 60's or early 70's. The illustrations were done in a style somewhat reminiscent of Arthur Rackham (not his silhouettes tho) -- they were quite beautiful, and somewhat dark and moody. The Cinderella one shows Cinderella feeling from the ball, and having just lost a glass slipper. She is running down the stairs, from left to right, and wearing a beautiful dress with her hand pressed to her bosom. The illustration is done mostly in shades of blue/purple (because it's night) with yellow/orange highlights. One feature of these illustrations that I loved was that they all had a border with little hidden things in it, and every border had, in one of its corners (a different corner for each illustration) a picture of a "wind" (a cloud face blowing with puffed out cheeks). I think the Rumpelstiltskin one showed the moment of the discovery of Rumpelstiltskin by the man who then reports his name to the Queen -- the man is crouched in the bushes, and Rumpelstiltskin is dancing around a fire outside of his hut in the woods.

    Anyway, if you have *any* idea what I'm talking about, I would love to track down these illustrations. I've done numerous google searches, but it's difficult to specify a search in such vague generally descriptive terms.

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