AppLit Home Appalachian Tales of Strong Women Tina L. Hanlon

"Ashpet" and Other "Cinderella" Variants


"This is my life." Anndrena Belcher's grandmother, on hearing the tale of Ashpet 

"We look at these old tales and they are survival tools. We can remember how Ashpet did it or Mutsmag or even Jack, and in times of loneliness and desperation we have something to hang on to." Anndrena Belcher, 1991            

"Ashpet." In Richard Chase, Grandfather Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1948. pp. 115-23. Rpt. 1976. pp. 102-9. With one drawing by Berkeley William, Jr., of Ashpet watching the dishes fly down to the creek to wash themselves (a detail Chase invented). In a modest mountain home live two spoiled daughters and a misused "hired girl" who would like to go to church-meetin' with the others. When the "old witch-woman" makes the dirty dishes wash themselves, and turns simple objects into a mare for Ashpet to ride and a pretty but not extravagant red dress and red slippers, Ashpet begins to look like a more down-to-earth, independent heroine than European princesses in glass slippers and carriages with flashy fairy godmothers, or peasant girls who chase after princes. Ashpet never says she wants to go to the meetin' to compete for a prince or any man, but she wins the hand of the King's son after he finds her hiding under a tub.  In the end, the mean woman and her daughters try to do Ashpet in, but the Old Hairy Man gets them instead, after keeping Ashpet captive in a cave for a while. Ashpet helps the army find the Old Hairy Man's weak spot with a bullet that knocks him out. The "king's boy" throws the bad woman and her daughters down to the deep hole of water where the Hairy Man lives. Chase notes that Mrs. Nancy Shores, his informant in Wise County, VA, had the old woman who helps Ashpet say "crack three nits in my head" instead of "comb my head."

Chase's "Ashpet." In Judy Sierra, ed. The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Cinderella. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1992.

"Ashpet" by R. Rex Stephenson. Published in Grandmother Tales: Mutsmag and Ashpet, Traditional Tales from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville, VA: New Plays for Children, 2004.
Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing [2012]. First performed by The Jack Tale Players. Ferrum, VA, 1998. This "story-theatre" dramatization is based on an unpublished oral version of "Ashpet" collected by Richard Chase and James Taylor Adams, WPA folklore collectors. The stepmother’s sharp tongue and the fierce arguments between the two mean stepsisters cause audiences to roar with laughter while also recognizing how vain and selfish these characters are. The treatment of Ashpet and the old woman in the role of the fairy godmother emphasizes how unfair it is for people to be demeaned because they are "old, ugly, dirty, poor, and different." When the old woman gives her magical help, Ashpet’s request for a red dress and, later, her deliberate act of kicking off one shoe when she slips away from the prince show that she takes some initiative in bringing about her own happy ending. She marries the lovestruck prince in her red dress and gold slippers in the end.  

Left: Drawing by Chelseah, a primary grade student in Franklin County, VA, after seeing a performance of Stephenson's Ashpet (spring 2000). See more pictures in AppLit's Picture Gallery. Right: Ashpet gets help from her neighbor (at the Ferrum Folklife Festival, Oct. 2001). Compare the photo of Ashpet and wise old woman from Davenport's film.

See also Study Guides for Jack Tale Players and more pictures of Jack Tale Players performances.

Performance Note: Stephenson's "Mutsmag" and "Ashpet" were performed in Dec. 2003 within the play called Grandmother Tales at Radford University's Pridemore Playhouse. A short review appeared in Radford's The Tartan. Performance photos at left, courtesy of Radford University and Pat Whitton.

Below, "Ashpet" at Ferrum College Women's Leadership Conference 2008.

Ashpet: An American Cinderella. Dir. Tom Davenport, 1990. In this film with a realistic World War II setting, the role of the fairy godmother or wise witch-woman was rewritten and expanded for a wonderful African American storyteller, Louise Anderson, who tells riddles and a short tale within the tale in the role of Dark Sally. She encourages Ashpet to remember her dead mother, use her real name Lily, stop letting people take advantage of her, and above all, to use her brain for her own benefit. Sally's magic comes from deep wisdom combined with good humor, matriarchal strength, and family and community history. She reinforces the heroine's direct links with a beneficent maternal influence, a theme emphasized in the German "Ashputtle" and other old tales, when she gives Ashpet beautiful clothes and jewelry that had belonged to her mother. This Ashpet is more independent than other Cinderellas because she decides to leave her foolish and selfish family herself, as well as planning to wait for the soldier she loves. Bibliography of Davenport's Fairy Tale Films.

"Ashpet's Dreams" by Brenda Gough. In Loyal Jones, ed. Appalachian Folk Tales. Illus. Jim Marsh. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2010. pp. 40-50. This book has twelve tales by different storytellers and writers, with a Note to Parents and Teachers, a glossary, and background on the collectors and storytellers. Gough is a Kentucky writer. (See Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.)

Joanne and Kenn Compton. Ashpet: An Appalachian Tale. Illus. Kenn Compton. New York: Holiday House, 1994. The Author's Note summaries the history of Cinderella stories, from the ancient Chinese "Yeh-shien" to the Grimm Brothers' "Aschenputtel," European settlers retelling the tale as "Ashpet," and Richard Chase publishing it in Grandfather Tales. "I have recast the king's son as a more likely mountain character—the doctor's son." Ashpet is a serving girl living "long ago, in a cabin deep in the shadow of Eagle's Nest Mountain." Widow Hooper and her daughters Myrtle and Ethel (lazy and ugly) give her chores all day. Ashpet is the only girl who will comb Granny's hair when they need to borrow fire from her before the church meeting. Granny casts a spell that makes the cabin shake and clean itself, so Ashpet can put on the red calico dress and red shoes that appear in the cabin, and go to the meeting, where she distracts everyone from the preaching. Ashpet kicks off her shoe near Benford's footbridge so she can get ask the doctor's son to find it, run from him, and be home by midnight. The Widow hides Ashpet under a washtub while Doc Ellison's son tries the slipper on the other girls. A big black bird (which has been in the illustrations from the beginning watching over Ashpet) grabs the shoe and causes the boy to fall over the tub, revealing Ashpet with the other slipper still on her foot. The boy pays the Widow for the remaining two years of Ashpet's servitude. As the story spreads, the Hoopers are shamed into moving to Crabtree Cove. The well-written text uses dialect effectively and draws attention to stories spreading across the mountains in the end, but the illustrations' goofy visual images detract from Ashpet's status as a strong heroine who earns magical help through kindness to the old woman, and who asserts her own desire to be accepted by washing her ashes off and choosing her red outfit to wear to church. While some readers enjoy the cartoonlike style, others object to the pop culture imagery and stereotypes suggested by the big noses on all the characters and the barefoot heroine in a sackfeed dress.

Compton, Joanne. "Ashpet: An Appalachian Folktale." In Literature Lures: Using Picture Books and Novels to Motivate Middle School Readers. Ed. Nancy Polette and Joan Ebbesmeyer. Greenwood Village, CO: Teacher Ideas Press, 2002. In the section on Parody along with other "fractured fairy tales" in this thematically organized textbook.

"Ash Pet" as told by Anndrena Belcher is summarized in Telling Tales Teacher's Guide for the KY Educational TV series of dramatized folktales (p. 69, with study guide pp. 70-71). Belcher's performance of "Ash Pet" at the 1991 National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN is available as an audio recording at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Belcher includes the ending found in Chase's Grandfather Tales. At the end she says she told this tale to her grandmother, who cried and laughed and said, "This is my life." Belcher then observes that in these days of talking openly about child abuse, physical and emotional, "we look at these old tales and they are survival tools. We can remember how Ashpet did it or Mutsmag or even Jack, and in times of loneliness and desperation we have something to hang on to."

"Ashpet" told by Anndrena Belcher (30 min.). In For Old Time's Sake. Videocassette. Appalshop,1989. A blend of storytelling, music, and dance designed especially for use in educational settings. Also includes "Bubble Gum Baby" (24 min.); "Jim Barton's Fiddle" (15 min.); Interview (18 min.).

Creative Activities for Three Folktales includes jump rope chants about Ashpet and other activities for children.
See also Ashpet Crossword Puzzle.

Schroeder, Alan. Smoky  Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella. Illus. Brad Sneed. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997. Rose, a trapper's daughter, loses her glass slipper at a party given by the rich guy on the other side of the creek. The fairy godmother is a huge hog. Sneed's water colors feature elongated figures and unusual perspectives similar to those in American paintings by Thomas Hart Benton. Analysis of dialect used in this picture book.

"Cinderella's Slipper," an unpublished tale collected by Emory L. Hamilton of Wise, VA, from Mrs. Goldie Hamilton, Jan. 9, 1940. Full text in this web site. Typewritten transcription in the James Taylor Adams collection in the Blue Ridge Institute (JTA-2315). There is no stepmother in this unusual Cinderella variant about three orphan sisters. The eldest feels unworthy to marry the rich man at her aunt's ball because she thinks that working hard to care for her younger sisters has made her unattractive. When she kicks off her slipper for good luck, it accidentally lands in the lap of the rich young man. He later insists that he wants to marry only her, while the younger sisters vow generously that they will "learn to work hard and care for" themselves. There is no magic helper in this tale and the teller noted in remarks at the end, "I learned this from my grandfather, when I used to stay with him 41 years ago." "I believe it is a true story. It was said it was true when I first learned it."

"Cinderella." Told by Hattie Presnell to Barbara McDermitt. Cassette tape MCD-5. Barbara McDermitt Collection. Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University. On this tape, Presnell comments on the storytelling tradition of Beech Mountain, NC, and tells swiftly narrated versions and fragments of some tales to McDermitt. Presnell's "Cinderella" is a quick retelling of Perrault's French tale, with two sisters and a stepmother who never liked Cinderella and gave her ragged clothes. Cinderella cries because she can't go to a party. Her godmother tells her to get a pumpkin and mice to make a coach and horses. Cinderella puts on golden slippers and fine clothes and her sisters don't know her at the party. She has to be home by midnight and loses a slipper. The prince asks everyone who can wear the slipper. Cinderella's family says she is nothing at all ("like a dog") but she comes out and fits in the slipper so the prince takes her and marries her and they live happily ever after. Presnell comments on this tale's relevance to real life: it could be that somebody treats you so bad and somebody would come along and help you out.

Fleischman, Paul. Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella. Illus. Julie Paschkis. New York: Henry Holt, 2007. "The author draws from a variety of folk traditions to put together this version of Cinderella, including elements from Mexico, Iran, Korea, Russia, Appalachia, and more" (Worldcat). The Author's Note refers to Fleisschman's desire to recognize lesser known tellers of Cinderella tales. Reviewers praise the way that story elements from 17 cultures are combined artfully in Fleischman's story and Paschkis' colorful folk art illustrations. Appalachia is the only regional (rather than national) storytelling tradition recognized on the map on the end papers and on one page in the middle of the text, where the stepmother orders the girl to pick lentils out of the ashes (as in the German "Ashputtle") and "scour all the kitchen pots." After the stepmother and her daughters leave for the palace, "Then a witch woman came in and spoke a spell—and up jumped the pots and scoured themselves." Richard Chase's notes in Grandfather Tales (see above) point out that "The magic washing of the pots is my own invention" (p. 216 in 1976 ed.). See an insightful, nuanced review of this book by Uma Krishnaswami at (and other "Cinderella" books on that page). She points out that regional distinctions are not acknowledged for other countries in the book.

quilt square Related Appalachian Tales:

"Chipper." Told by Dianne Hackworth. Tales & Tunes. Audio cassette. This is a role reversal adaptation of Cinderella or Ashpet tales by a NC storyteller, with modern details. Chipper is a working boy with shabby clothes. Griselda is wealthier but not beautiful. They fall in love at a barn dance Griselda's father holds to find her a husband. Chipper loses one of the Australian lizard lip boots his fairy godfather gives him, which reveals him later to be the man of Griselda's dreams. Also contains "Jack & The Frogs," "Don Gato," "Possum & Snake," "The Fox," "You Talk Too Much," "Jack & The King's Girl," "Cat Came Back," and "Father Grumble." Hackworth also tells "Chipper" in Mountain Tales, along with "Here's To Cheshire," "The Hoe Handle, Snake, and Barn," and "Old Dry Frye. "This video includes 2 hours of tales from the Appalachian Region." Orville Hicks tells "Red Devil Suit," Jack and the Varmints," "Two Uncles and Their Horses," "Jack and the Three Sillies." Charlotte Ross tells "Catherine Sherrill" and "The Cabin." Info. with photos at Dianne's Storytelling Site.

"Rushiecoat and the King's Son." In Leonard Roberts. Nippy and the Yankee Doodle, and Other Authentic Folk Tales from the Southern Mountains. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1958. (Reprinted in Smith, Jimmy Neil, ed.  Why the Possum's Tail is Bare and Other Classic Southern Stories. New York: Avon, 1993, pp. 19-25.) This Kentucky tale is much like "Cinderella" and "Toads and Diamonds," with one ugly stepsister. The beautiful girl's own mother appears, to do her work and send her to the king's dance in fine clothes. An old Grandpa and three bloody heads in the water also give her magical help when her mean stepmother sends her off to the end of the world to get water. As in "Ashputtle," a bird warns the prince that the wrong sister is maiming her foot to put on the glass slipper. After her marriage, Rushiecoat is turned into a rabbit by her jealous stepsister, using a pin obtained from a witch. Here the tale has similarities with Catskins. When the rabbit's hide is burned, Rushiecoat and her baby can return to the prince. Roberts calls this tale "a cunning medley of about four of the most widespread fairy stories of the world, containing large parts of Types 402, 480, and 510. 

"The Girl That Could Do Any Job of Work" in Marie Campbell. Tales from the Cloud Walking Country. Indiana UP, 1958. Rpt. Athens: U of George Press, 2000, pp. 242-43. This short tale has a mean stepmother (no sisters), who makes the girl do impossible tasks (sort out feathers, empty a pond with a spoon, build a castle with rocks). The girl's diligent attempts are aided by a little old woman who destroys the stepmother at the end by pulling down the castle on top of her. The little old woman gives the girl to a king for his bride.

Mutsmag is an orphan with two mean sisters who overcomes adversaries and marries a prince in the end in some versions, but gets other rewards and remains independent in others.

Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story, picture book by Anna Egan Smucker. Watercolor illustrations by Kathleen Kemly. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman, 2008. This book is more natural and agricultural history than folklore, recounting the discovery of the Golden Delicious apple with allusions to Cinderella. "Every Golden Delicious apple tree in the world is descended from that one tree 'that just grew' on Anderson Mullins's farm in Clay County, WV in the early 1900s!" A nursery in Missouri purchased the tree and took twigs for growing new trees. While searching for the "Queen of the Apple World" and tasting many "disappointing" apples, Paul Stark says to his brother, "I feel like the prince who tried a glass slipper on one smelly foot after another to find Cinderella." The Author's Note gives further background on the apple's history and the grafting process.

quilt square Compare "Ashpet" with:

"Ashputtle" or "Aschenputtel" or "Cinderella" by the Grimm Brothers. Transl. and reprinted online from the Grimms' final edition, 1857, by D. L. Ashliman.

"Cinderella" by Charles Perrault, and innumerable other variants of the Cinderella story from all over the world. Six variants are given in Maria Tatar, The Classic Fairy Tales.  New York: Norton, 1999. "Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper," is reprinted online from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book at Rick Walton, Children's Author:  Classic Tales and Fables.

"Cinderella." Annotated text (from Perrault and Andrew Lang) with background, illustrations and links to many related tales and literature, at Sur La Lune Fairy Tales by Heidi Anne Heiner, which contains a growing collection of resources including reprints of older tales. The Italian "Cinderella," in Thomas Crane's Italian Popular Tales(1885) has a beginning somewhat like "Beauty and the Beast," with a father and three daughters but no stepmother. Cinderella sits in the ashes and declines invitations to the ball although her father and sisters urge her to go. The little bird Verdili that she asks her father to bring her is Cinderella's magic helper (Ashputtle is helped by birds associated with her mother's grave), making Cinderella more beautiful than she normally is. The servants who find her in the end so that the king can marry the owner of the slipper are rewarded with promotions.

Old manuscripts in the Cinderella Project, "a text and image archive containing a dozen English versions of the fairy tale. The Cinderellas presented here represent some of the more common varieties of the tale from the English-speaking world in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. Materials to construct this archive were drawn from the de Grummond Children's Literature Research Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi."

More texts of tale "type 510A and related stories of persecuted heroines" in Cinderella, translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman.

Perrault, Charles. Cinderella. Illus. Errol Le Cain. London: Faber and Faber, 1972. Picture book. There are many, many picture book versions of traditional tales from Europe and "Cinderella tales" from other cultures.

Swortzell, Lowell. Cinderella: The World’s Favorite Fairy Tale. Charlottesville, VA: New Plays Inc., 1992. Contains an excellent introduction to fairy tales and theatre, and a Multicultural Study Guide by Nancy Swortzell with exercises involving drama and cultural traditions. The script combines Cinderella tales from France, China, Russia, and the Micmac tribe of North America. 

"Fair, Brown, and Trembling." In Joseph Jacobs, Celtic Fairy Tales, 1892. Reprinted in The Internet Sacred Text Archive. In this Irish tale, the two favored daughters of a king go to church every Sunday while Trembling is made to stay home and work, until an old henwife gives her magical help to go to church herself, just as the Appalachian Ashpet goes to a church meeting rather than a ball. With drawings by John D. Batten, including one of of Trembling at the church door on the horse provided by the henwife. She is forbidden to go inside the church and must leave at the end of the mass.

The Hidden One:  A Native American Legend. A version of the Native American "Cinderella" tale, as retold by Aaron Shepard. Story text online: Reader's Theater Edition with full text online: There are many other reprints and retellings of Native American tales called "The Rough Face Girl" or "The Indian Cinderella."

"Cinderella/Ashputtle" is one of the categories in Once Upon a Time . . . a personal web site with a list of novels based on fairy tales and synopses of individual tales with lists of novels for each. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales has similar lists with other genres in addition to novels.

Many tales related to Cinderella, including "Ashpet," are also listed with other teaching resources at Cinderella Around the World. 1999. South Salem Elementary School, Salem, VA. Includes a play by second graders taking Cinderella around the world.

quilt square Hispanic Connection

Hayes, Joe. Osuna, Perez G, Lucia A. Perez, and Joe Hayes. Little Gold Star: A Cinderella Cuento = Estrellita De Oro. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2000. Picture book. "In this variation of the Cinderella story, coming from the Hispanic tradition in New Mexico, Arciá and her wicked stepsisters have different encounters with a magical hawk and are left physically changed in ways that will affect their meeting with the prince." Also "Little Gold Star." In The Day It Snowed Tortillas: Tales from Spanish New Mexico. Ed. Joe Hayes. Illus. Lucy Jelinek. Santa Fe, NM: Mariposa Pub, 1985.

Souci, Robert D. Little Gold Star: A Spanish American Cinderella Tale. Illus. Sergio Martinez. New York: Harper Collins, 2000. Picture book. The Virgin Mary is the girl's magical helper in this version.

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