In the story of Cinderella, we are told that she tries desperately to prepare herself for the ball. But, her family makes it impossible with all their pointless chores. Despite this, she manages to sew a few things together and actually looks somewhat decent for the ball. Her step-sisters are livid. They tear her dress to shreds. Now she is dressed in nothing but rags. She runs out to the garden and sobs.
Her voice is heard by a pure spirit who, at first, is just a pinprick of light but soon a person steps through. She is beautiful and radiant. With a magic wand in her hand, she promises to make Cinderella ready for the ball. But, the spell will break at midnight. Cinderella lights up. It’s not much but it will work. She says yes to the spirit and everything is transformed. Her dress, the mice, the pumpkins are all transformed. But, again, the spell will break at midnight, the spirit cautions.
Cinderella rides off to the ball for a few hours of enjoyment. She gets lost in the prince’s gaze. She dances all night. But then, the clock tower strikes. Cinderella, remembering the spirit’s words, rushes out of the palace. In her hurry, she loses a glass slipper. She gets back in her coach and they ride off. Once they leave the palace gate, everything starts to melt around them. Pretty soon, Cinderella is left walking home barefoot. Curiously, the slipper is still intact. She clutches it like a newborn baby. It’s all she has left of the one night of enjoyment she’ll ever have.
Midnight always gave me problems in this story. Because, otherwise, Cinderella is the Gospel of Jesus Christ condensed. This spirit, the Fairy Godmother, enacts a transformation of this girl to make her ready for the prince. Much like the Holy Spirit transforms our lives and makes us ready to see Jesus. So why wasn’t the Fairy Godmother’s transformation permanent? Well, let’s examine the story closer.
In most versions, the glass slipper is left behind. For some reason, the glass slipper was not changed back. Just maybe the spell wasn’t what we thought it was. Maybe there was ‘deeper magic’ at work.
Let’s examine Cinderella. She has been verbally and physically beaten all her life. She is an orphan and raised in neglect. Her identity as a lady of the house has been stripped. Her inheritance stolen by her stepmother. She now begs for scraps and sleeps by the fireplace in the kitchen. Her life is one of fear. She feels she deserves every punishment she gets. She feels dirty and used. She feels worthless.
What happens when a girl like that is given a pretty dress and shoes and told to enjoy herself? Fear like no other. She feels she doesn’t deserve it. She still feels dirty and used. She fears what the spirit will do to her if she messes up. The spell will break at midnight? Better be home before then. You see, the transformation is only physical. A physical makeover can never replace years of psychological abuse and scarring. But what does change that? Seeing a glimpse of what you truly are. Seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you. That’s what the Fairy Godmother hoped to accomplish. She hoped that when Cinderella saw how the Prince and everybody else looked at her that the pain of the abuse would start to fade away. Maybe she would start to see herself as a treasure.
But that still doesn’t answer the question. Why midnight? I believe deeper magic was at work. If you watch the Disney version, Cinderella doesn’t start to change back until after she leaves the palace gate. It is only when Cinderella runs away that the spell is broken. The slipper doesn’t change back as it’s still at the palace of the King.
At the palace of the King, we see ourselves as we truly are. Radiant, beautiful creatures of divine light. It is when we leave that we start to listen to other voices like the stepmother who tells us that we’re dirty and rotten. So at midnight, Cinderella had a choice to make. Who would she listen to? Unfortunately, Cinderella listens to her stepmother’s voice and leaves. As evidenced by the slipper, I don’t believe Cinderella would have changed back if she had stayed. The spell was meant to make her examine what she really was. Was she a servant who smelled of pigs and ash and worthy of every beating? Or is she much more? It is a good thing that the Prince is always in pursuit of us.