My wife and I raised two boys, so it has been a new experience for us having a granddaughter. The difference became apparent when Alex graduated from stuffed animals to Disney princess dolls, along with princess books, princess coloring books, princess DVDs, princess puzzles, princess stickers, princess washable tattoos and a cardboard castle big enough for a young princess to crawl into. On a recent visit to Brooklyn, where Alex lives with her mom and dad, we found her wearing her yellow chiffon Cinderella dress, one of a collection of princess gowns and accessories she had gotten for her third birthday. There was an empty cardboard box on the living room floor whose purpose became clear when Alex invited her grandma to join her on board for a quick airplane ride to Florida, a favorite destination for young princesses. A dress and a cardboard box were all that were needed for her imagination to take flight.
You can see why the Cinderella story might appeal to a three-year-old who loves to play dress-up. In order to attend the prince’s ball, Cinderella must have the appropriate gown and accessories, which in the Disney version are supplied by a fairy godmother. The catch, of course, is that the gown turns to rags at midnight, and Cinderella’s coach becomes a pumpkin. The story’s happy ending turns on a glass slipper that somehow survives the witching hour and allows the prince to track her down.
Magic slippers are a staple of fairy tales, enabling the wearer to escape a downtrodden existence and journey to another realm, where he or she lives happily ever after. In a similar vein, golden slippers were a motif in Negro spirituals and minstrel tunes expressing a longing for heaven. In order to get to heaven, you have to be dressed appropriately, which usually means wearing a long white robe and footwear that would not look out of place walking on streets paved with gold.
The trouble with such flights of fancy is that there is no way to get there from here, at least not without dying first. In real life, there are no magic slippers to deliver us from our downtrodden existence. If that is the only kind of deliverance we can imagine, we will always pine for a better life. Perhaps we should take our cue from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Much like the Prophet Elijah, she was transported to another realm in a whirlwind. Once there, she realized where she really wanted to be was back home. Fortunately, she was wearing the ruby slippers given her by Glinda, the good witch, and she discovered that the real aim of our life’s journey is not to get from here to there but from there to here.