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The Romance Plot Thread
Enjoy them or despise them, a romantic plot thread, as long as it’s not gratuitous, enhances most stories. Otherwise, Top Gun wouldn’t have had the guy get the girl in the end. An Officer and A Gentlemen was the same story simply written for a female audience.
What makes a romance work? Tension. Sexual, emotional, or intellectual, in whatever combination the audience demands. A timeless romance conquers all three. But, the early fairy tales were largely confined to the emotional sphere, restricted from offering any sexual images, the intellectual reduced to symbolic mysticism. The tension was by necessity all emotional.
In the earliest versions, Cinderella attends three balls, seeing the prince each time. Afterward she runs home with him chasing her in vain. In Snow White there was no interaction with the prince until he’s attracted to her when she’s in a glass coffin. I’d hate to examine the psychological meaning of that symbol. For Sleeping Beauty, her prince charming was a mercenary lured by the promise of riches, never having set eyes on her. By comparison, Cinderella’s prince knew who she was and sought after her desperately. Being desired for who you are is a powerful emotion, and resonates beyond gender definitions. It’s a more complex concept adding heft to the feelings evoked. That’s the appeal, and the reason Cinderella has been co-opted as a modern story more often than all the other fairy tales taken together.
Foreground vs. Background
In the original version, Cinderella had no fairy godmother; it was the little critters who helped her. She worked her tail off for that wicked stepmother. By contrast Snow White was a silent symbol of purity and submissiveness. The evil Queen and the amusing dwarfs dominated the stage. Snow White’s one effort was to eat the poisoned apple and fall into a coma. It was about the same with Sleeping Beauty. She pricked her finger and fell asleep. A comatose heroine isn’t much of a role model, or much of a role.
Cinderella is a cultural icon, an action figure who sets the baseline for feminine aspirations and desires. That’s why she’s eternal, appearing in one form or another in every generation.