Cinder or Suyen: A Risk in Re-telling

What more could I want? In Marissa Myer’s Cinder [1] there’s a sassy robot, moon people, a plucky heroine fighting for herself, those she loves, and what she believes to be right. Plenty to wonder about in between readings, too: what else goes on in New Beijing, for example, and, what is life like on the moon? There’s the mysterious back story of cyborgs, their relegation to inferior status in society, how the Eastern Commonwealth came to be, on and on. So much well-written fun, and the heroine’s actions take me away!

It’s why I get snippy, shake my head some, when unnecessary things pull me out of Cinder’s world. A super-mean step-mother and precisely two step-sisters, for example, a pumpkin-like car; a prince, fancy dresses, and a ball. Yeah, yeah, I’m thinking, sour-faced. Can we get back to the actual story, the new one that’s evolving, blossoming on the page?

As writers, we need to take inspiration wherever we can get it. But there are also some secrets I believe we ought to keep, ‘darlings’ we need to not only kill but bury well-hidden in the yard. So, you set out to write a better Cinderella, maybe even use specific prompts. (This story must have a pumpkin, an amputation, etc.) Or, you want to honor your love and admiration for the fairytale and its tradition. I’m all for it. Get those creative juices flowing! But when your story has gained ground, has traction all its own, has grown up and is ready to leave home, you, writer, have a responsibility to let it go, allow it to leave the nest that spawned it behind.

It irritates me in any literary tradition, however highfalutin or pulpy the fiction, when the author feels the need to elude directly to her process, taking her fattest yellow highlighter and circling an idea. That’s what my brain is for. This story is not camp, so any wink-elbow-wink is out of place. It is therefore nothing short of heavy-handed when, for example, the word pumpkin is used to describe a car, one meant to make me think of Cinderella’s magic vehicle. Yes, author, I get it, and now I’m floating over your story, yanked up by the junkyard crane away from your lovely characters and plot, left to think about how clever you are, what your deepest attachments might be, which, though interesting from a certain perspective, is not where I really want to be just now. How about bright rust colored? Let me do the rest, or not. For young or less-young adults both, this story is well beyond needing to rely on anything so specific outside of itself, would in no way be weakened, I don’t think, if the prince were a recycled materials entrepreneur, if Cinder’s guardian were a discombobulated uncle instead of a mean step-mother. Even without mirrors to impair the evil queen, there’s plenty of original material in the story to evoke fairytale tradition, to trigger subconscious musings which would enrich the reading experience far more than any finger pointing will ever do.

I want my nieces and nephews to read Cinder, have this young woman as their role model rather than Cinderella, Disney or Grimm, the long-suffering girl who must be the right shape (the foot) to fit others’ expectations (super-uncomfortable glass slipper), or any character who must wait for a fairy godmother or a handsome prince to save her day. Myer skillfully does much of what I ask of an author: she leads me through her story with a sure hand, builds her plot in ways that allow me to suspect but not fully predict where it is I am being led. I only wish she had liberated Cinder entirely, let her become Suyen, the cyborg mechanic, and let go of gratuitous nods to preexisting tales.

Cinder is an extremely good story, kept from being great by hanging too tightly onto its seeds of inspiration, by not allowing those seeds to be the germs of true originality and thereby robbing the reader of the greatest gift of all, genuine and uninterrupted surprise.


1. Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, Rampion Books, Inc., 2012