This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit.
Solnit turns Cinderella
into a story about being kind and lifting each other up, and she consciously subverts the more dated tropes associated with the fairy tale. The illustrations are lifted from an older version of the story, giving this modern fairy tale a clean, classic look that really works. — Ashleigh B.
We’re avid fans of Rebecca Solnit’s challenging, reference-rich essay collections, so it's exciting to find that same intelligence and empathy brought to bear in her retelling of the Cinderella story. In Cinderella Liberator
, it's not just Cinderella who needs help: her stepsisters, who have been told that beauty equals happiness (and there is not enough for all), languish upstairs; Prince Nevermind, who, it turns out, is
rather charming, would prefer to be a farmer; and even the mice, rats, and lizards swept up in the fairy godmother’s magic desire to take new form and have adventures. Under the fairy godmother’s tutelage, the story’s characters learn that it’s important to ask for help when you need it, give help where it’s needed, and live in a way that guarantees not just your own freedom, but that of the people and creatures around you. There are still spells and ball gowns and glass slippers in Cinderella Liberator
, but true magic, the story instructs, is embedded in the acts of kindness and love between neighbors.
Reclaiming Cinderella and her compatriots as scrappy, self-sufficient children who want to go to balls and meet royalty, but also open their own businesses and determine their futures, is great fun and a fantastic model for children and parents who enjoy fairy tales, but don’t want every story to end with a teen wedding. Solnit populates Cinderella’s town with a female blacksmith, a dreamy painter, and a nonbinary dance teacher, among others, highlighting the diversity found even in the smallest villages.
These subversions of the original plot and characters aren’t subtle, and there are moments when Cinderella Liberator
teeters on the edge of didacticism. What saves it from being a well-meaning but flat text is the beauty of Solnit’s language, which transforms platitudes about feminist agency into the sparkling, magical jewels they truly are, capable of turning ordinary people into the kindest, happiest, freest ordinary people possible. A favorite passage reads:
But there isn’t actually a most beautiful person in the world, because there are so many kinds of beauty. Some people love roundness and softness, and other people love sharp edges and strong muscles. Some people like thick hair like a lion’s mane, and other people like thin hair that pours down like an inky waterfall, and some people love someone so much they forget what they look like.
For some of us at least, there will always be a place for the Cinderella who waltzes into the sunset, Prince Charming on her arm. But we’d much rather be the Cinderella of Solnit’s imagining, working in her cake shop by day and resting at night with the knowledge that she lives fully, caringly, and on her own sweet terms.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here