And then came Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: I ate up everything I read online, in print, and saw on the news. A biracial woman from the United States, with a completely different life, is introduced to a British prince and they fall in love.
She gives up her comfortable life and successful career to become the wife of the man she loves, a real prince, looking forward to her happily ever after. I am a 60-year-old African American woman, and to me, their engagement was a fairy tale romance.
But the happily ever after looks different from the fairy tale, which stops at the wedding.
The version of Cinderella we’re most familiar with comes from the Brothers Grimm in 1812; an earlier version was Cendrillon found in Charles Perrault’s 1697 Mother Goose stories. In 2019, Megan Markle and Harry have managed to take the Cinderella fairy tale, repeat it, polish it up and add new elements: the Markle Sparkle is real. (Side note: Should we call it “Harry Flash” whenever we swoon over Harry’s princely defense of his wife? His swagger? His open-hearted devotion to his charity and conservation work?)
What if we’ve been reading the fairy tale of Cinderella with just a cursory glance, missing a deeper meaning?
Most of the current versions of the story has more or less the same basics: a girl, motherless, raised by a loving father, in a comfortable home, finds herself left with a heartless stepmother and two stepsisters, none of which have any love or concern for her. But the girl perseveres, is kind, loving, brave enough to take herself on an adventure which leads to love.
Cinderella is all of those things but also is resourceful, intelligent and strong. In the Grimm version, she’s magical! And so the prince finds her exciting, challenging – a mystery and a miracle all at once because she is EXACTLY what he was looking for, even though he didn’t know it. But it still all ends at the final declaration of love, the marriage official.
But that’s still the old ending, isn’t it?
I read somewhere there are up to 3000 versions of Cinderella, going back to the 9th Century BC. Doesn’t that tell you something about the power of this story? Maybe there’s more substance to it, more meaning than we’ve been taking from it.
What if the meaning of Cinderella isn’t simply the raising of a poor girl to the level of a prince, though that’s one result? What if the fairy tale represents the ability to see beyond the old way to see the true value of something new and different? What if the prince’s search for a bride is a quest, the prince’s search for an element or a person who can change duty into challenge and creativity with love and joy?
Instead of a magic sword, or a cup, the prince needs to find a bride who has a certain set of skills and a special energy or magic if you will, to help him bridge his royal responsibilities with his vision for a different and better future. Maybe the fairy tale focuses on Cinderella to prove she has all the qualities he needs, beyond a title and royal blood – otherwise, why bother with the ball? With all of those choices, why look elsewhere and why was he so dissatisfied with the choices? Duchess Meghan has said you can’t have a conversation about feminism without men. Maybe the prince in Cinderella represents that — the male acknowledgment that women are not just ornaments, trophies, and vessels for heirs, but essential to regeneration, and not just of bloodlines. The prince’s choice was important not just for him personally, but for the future of his kingdom.
Maybe those who have found fault with everything Duchess Meghan has done (and for those diehards, what she will do), should consider that the actions she has taken on behalf of the monarchy, in her role as Patron, have done much to enhance and make thrive initiatives that had been set in motion, invigorating them. And by doing so, she’s provided a new avenue for the monarchy.
Change can be frightening and threatening to some people. There’s comfort in the familiar and the known. Meghan Markle is an unknown, but by her actions as a Patron, she is making herself known.
As for the prince’s role in Cinderella: I would imagine it would take quite a lot to impress him. I doubt very much a pretty face, not even one as lovely as the Duchess’s would blind him to manipulations or sycophantic fawning. Growing up in the royal court would make him wary. The ball is a pressure tactic – choose someone, anyone. And I’m sure that they assumed it would be royalty.
My issue with the royal family and courtiers is that, by not acknowledging the benefit of Meghan’s example, they are silently supporting an elitist view that because she is: American, biracial, divorced, a former actress – whatever reasons there are for diminishing her – they are tacitly reinforcing the idea that only royalty or those who are deemed ‘superior’ can have good ideas and have a beneficial effect on the country. And further, they’re implying that they’re too good (or she’s too low) to acknowledge the Duchess as a good role model with a good work ethic: basically saying her ‘place’ is beneath them, not beside them. The tabloids are working overtime in that regard.
I’m not going to drag the royals for copying and pasting actions taken by Duchess Meghan, because her template is a good one (and because when it comes to dragging, there are people with stellar dragging abilities that I’d never try to compete with!!). Meghan’s template is focused on the initiatives: taking an active interest in charities and initiatives and providing concrete solutions and not just photo ops, which do have their uses.
To truly benefit from her efforts, her work ethic, her beneficent intentions, many will have to examine their own attitudes about who’s ‘appropriate’ (as categorized by class, race, sex, and so on) and decide if these negative racist, elitist and fabricated narratives are what the royals, courtiers, and so-called royal experts really want to define the monarchy. ‘Honi Soi Qui Mal Y Pense’ – Shame be to him who thinks evil of it. That’s the motto of the British Order of the Garter. Have they forgotten what it means? They just have to set aside ego, id and whatever other baggage they’re carrying and walk through that door to the future. Good luck.
Meghan’s presence and actions are giving the monarchy the opportunity to break out of an outdated and constrained role and bring a new sparkle into that crown. She’s a real gem, Cinderella 3.0.