One of the oldest tales in literature is the story of a beleaguered protagonist who rises from rags to riches. Centuries before Charles Perrault, a 17th-century French author, created the character that embodied the plot device, the Greeks and Chinese shared variations of the classic “Cinderella” story. In 1950, Disney solidified Cendrillon, Perrault’s fairy tale, as the definitive version when they adapted his story for Cinderella, their twelfth animated feature film. And 30 years after that, Marvel introduced Rogue, a character that transitioned from mutant outsider to superhero royalty and personified Disney’s persecuted princess.
Outside of fairy tales and comic books, storytellers applied Cinderella’s main theme– an underdog who persevered against the odds – to a variety of other relatable narratives, including romantic comedies, political dramas and sporting events. No matter the setting, the antagonists typically exerted power over the heroes and cruelly enforced their authority. The oppressors preyed upon the good-natured, insecure protagonists and inflicted emotional, sometimes physical, abuse. In Cinderella and Rogue’s case, they were both exploited by their evil stepmothers, an unfortunately common choice for fairy tale foes.
Lady Tremaine, Disney’s title for Cinderella’s shrewd stepmother, frequently threw shade her stepdaughter’s way and relied heavily on her natural-born daughters to deliver much of her torment. Emboldened by their mother, Anastasia and Drizella tore down their stepsister, literally and figuratively. They stripped her of her clothes and dubbed her Cinderella after forcing her to sleep among the soot of the fireplace. Disney rightfully omitted the nickname ‘Cinder-slut,’ Perrault’s more slanderous put down in his story.
Mystique, similar to Lady Tremaine, adopted Rogue when the young mutant had fled her home after manifesting her absorption powers. The devious shape-shifter wasted no time in exploiting her new, naïve daughter for her own gain. Mystique encouraged Rogue to join her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants which brought her into conflict with the X-Men. This eventually led to Rogue using her abilities to defeat and depower Carol Danvers, one of the Avengers most powerful heroes. Despite these minor victories over Cinderella and Rogue, their evil stepmothers never succeeded in breaking their daughters’ spirits.
Cinderella and Rogue knew they were better than what their surrogate mothers led them to believe, but they silently and dutifully absorbed the abuse at the hands of those they trusted. They never wished their tormentors harm, and, even while being misled, simply desired to please their new families. This misplaced trust resulted in Cinderella and Rogue keeping outsiders at a distance. Be it a charming prince asking for a midnight dance, or a ragin’ Cajun asking for a hazardous kiss, the protagonists tended to keep their suitors at arm’s length.
Showing compassion to those that deserved no such sympathy was a common trait for the Cinderella archetype. In certain variations of Perrault’s fairy tale, Cinderella welcomed her wicked stepsisters into her castle at the end of the story. After Rogue reformed and joined the X-Men, she continually tried to turn her adoptive mother from her terroristic roots. As misplaced as their devotion was, the desire to do good and please others resulted in Cinderella attending the ball and Rogue becoming one of the most popular X-Men.
However, Cinderella and Rogue did not achieve their happy endings simply by persevering against their adversaries and aspiring to be good people. In Perrault’s story, he introduced the character of the Fairy Godmother and the concept that everyone needs a little extra help when intelligence, courage and common sense fail. Disney placed a lot of emphasis on the Fairy Godmother and she became a classic character in their mythos. In Perrault and Disney’s versions of the tale, the bippity-boppity-benefactor rewarded Cinderella for her good deeds with a magical pumpkin carriage ride, as well as elegant new clothes, which included the now-iconic glass slippers.
Rogue discovered her own Fairy Godprofessor in Charles Xavier, the leader of the group of mutants she once opposed. Despite the X-Men’s objections, Xavier offered Rogue a place on his team of mutant heroes. Ever since, she has worked to redeem her roguish past. In time, Rogue eventually became an instrumental part of both the X-Men and Avengers teams, even serving as the face of the Uncanny Avengers, a group of heroes devoted to the peaceful cohabitation of humans and mutants.
Rogue, like Cinderella, encapsulated Perrault’s message that graciousness is priceless, but it also helps to have influential friends and a bit of magic on your side. Disney extracted that message of believing in one’s dreams and put it to song, as Disney was wont to do. Marvel applied that message to their popular skunked-hair, Southern belle. And for Cinderella and Rogue, no matter how their hearts were grieving, the dreams that they wished, did come true.