I tore through the pages of Cinder by Marissa Meyer. And for good reason. Cinder follows the titular character, a cyborg living in a futuristic Asia put to work by her legal guardian and ignored by most everyone else. But once the Prince comes into her shop, she is thrust into the world of the royal court where she slowly learns more about the deadly plague, the Lunar Queen and her own mysterious past. This retelling of Cinderella leaves behind the docile Disney version you might have knocking around in your head and introduces a fascinating world with aspects both beautiful and terrible.
The more I read and think about the genre of science fiction, the more I am impressed by its ability to form questions about the world and human race through imagining the future. Fairytales strive for a similar goal. In my personal research for my own novel, I have been reading many fairytales, folktales as well as commentary on their meanings. Fairytales are a reflection of society and/or community in the form of simplified metaphor. Myth is a way to deal with reality. This, I believe, is why many fairytales and myths are very dark, gruesome and deal with themes of grief, death and transformation. These dark themes are central to our lives, but we may not always have an outlet to deal with them. Storytelling makes that a possibility.
Science fiction deals with darkness as well, especially when we get into themes of the apocalypse and dystopia. Cinder’s world, though physically and technologically changed from our own, deals with issues of human rights, disease and war. The fairytale Cinderella is one of personal transformation. Science fiction offers a transformation on a greater scale, the transformation of our society into something new yet oddly familiar. It’s a way for us as a society to deal with the darkness and potential future of our world.
These two genres together have the potential to create something extraordinarily timeless. And I think Marissa Meyer begins to tap into that lofty goal with Cinder.
The character Cinder, unlike the docile Disney version, is sharp, a master mechanic, a good friend despite being systematically mistreated by her legal guardian and extremely practical and level-headed. One of my favorite aspects of Cinder’s character is how she accepts her grunginess out of practicality and is honest about her her self-consciousness at both her grime and her cyborg parts. A lot of her thoughts center on how she is an outsider because of the way she appears to others and that concept is a central one, to both Cinderella and in real life.
The plot of Cinder flows smoothly from this first characterization. Without giving to much away, the book takes the basic plot of Cinderella and adds the desperation of a worldwide plague, the threat of interstellar war, systematic discrimination and political intrigue to the backdrop of what is traditionally a story about a girl who literally brushes dirt from her skirts to become a princess. All these things are tethered to Cinder, who, as a cyborg, is maligned by society and treated as an outcast in her own home. Meyer also draws interesting and unique comparisons to the original tale through an orange car, an android named Iko who takes the place of mice and birds and an ambitious scientist with questionable morals who becomes a stand-in for her fairy godmother.
Cinder is more then a fast-paced fairytale retelling. It quickly evolves into a young girl’s painful transformation from somebody who nobody cares about to a girl with power and danger on her heels. Through all of this, she doesn’t loose her pragmatic sense of self and her deep love for the small circle of people (and robots!) who she calls friends. She is one of those characters I never want to stop reading.