What Cinderella Got Right and Wrong

Les Newsom  |  March 23, 2015

Cinderella stories happen all the time in college sports. In that spirit, my family loaded up on popcorn and previewed the latest cinematic rendition of *the* Cinderella story. We assume many college students did the same. 

Cinderella charms us all, and for good reasons. Tolkien taught this generation of Christians to see the old fairy tales as compelling, because, in the light of THE story (God and His work in Christ), they are all true. In such stories when the sudden “turn” comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through. (Tolkein, "On Fairy Stories")

Gloriously true, but with the search for this “gleam” comes the responsibility to see where the old tales missed the mark. Some thoughts...

Prince and Princess stories appeal to a deep memory trace in the soul which says, “You were made to rule, to take authority over the world around you.” Cinderella knows that something is not right about her world. She longs for deep honest beauty. The prospect of being carried away by a good-hearted prince transforms her world.

Likewise, the Gospel makes pronouncements about mankind’s royal origins, “Let us make man in our image…and let him rule…” The king’s prince (Jesus) appears late in the story to wed his long lost Bride (the Church) and restore the Kingdom to order. Getting choked up as Cinderella turns heads at the ball involuntarily brings longing from inside us—we were made for that kind of endearment. But Cinderella does not live in a world without opposition. Her wicked step-mother writhed her way into her life and now tyrannizes her, ruthlessly keeping her in a prison of fear and self-loathing. As Cinderella draws near to her rescuer, she whispers in a sinister voice, “Just remember who you are, you wretch." The voice of the law and of conscience can be just as sinister, denying at every possible turn the new identity God grants his people in Christ. 

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV).

Sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

One storyline theme of the movie, however, gave me pause as I watched. In the end, Cinderella succeeds because there is purity in her heart. She is loved by the prince because she is truly lovely. If she can just “have courage…and be kind” then all will be well. The older Cinderella grows, the more these attributes are manifest in her, the more endearing she becomes to the prince.

Unfortunately, the Bible’s estimation of me is far closer to that of the intolerable step-sisters than to the natural purity of Cinderella. Conniving, selfish, maneuvering, posturing, insecure…this is much closer to what comes out of the human heart given enough time and the right circumstances. Much closer to the true nature of my heart is the story of Hosea, who is called to pursue a prostitute who regularly rejects him. 

But this makes for an even better story!

"The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, "God accepts you just as Christ is. God has ‘contraconditional' love for you…. God never accepts me 'as I am.' He accepts me 'as I am in Jesus Christ.' The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God's love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul's lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. (David Powlison, "Idols of the Heart and Vanity Fair")
There is nothing sub-Christian (or sub-masculine, men) about getting teary eyed at the end of a princess story, as long as our nostalgia isn’t channeled into longing for a handsome Prince with perfect teeth who will marry us and give us 2.2 children and set us up live in the suburbs. Rather, see the longing for what it is: a deep emptiness that knows that even the best husbands, wives, job, careers, parents, children, pursuits, hobbies, escapes are nothing more than signposts pointing to the One who loves us out of our step-sisterness. 

If Revelation 21 is to be believed, then what Prince “Kip” says as Cinderella enters the ball will eventually come true. “Believe me…they’re all looking at you,” he says. How different would you be if you believed that you were built for that kind of beauty?