Catskin: A Cinderella Variant

Two years ago this week, I wrote out a version of a traditional tale I’d been working on for a long while. This is my first time sharing it in its written form, though I have told it orally before, using different bits and pieces each time. Brave Wednesdays are pushing me to look back at earlier works. When I wrote this I thought it rough, and too raw to share. Now I think it’s actually quite smooth, and some raw emotion is a strength rather than a weakness. It’s longer than a typical blog post, but I know you can handle it. My notes at the end were also written two years ago, but those I did edit a bit as they were previously just for me, and not written in complete sentences. Enjoy!

Once, a young lady had to leave her childhood home.  The reasons were various, but high among them was her father, and the way his brains had become addled in his grief. You see, her mother had died, and before she had gone she made him promise that he would never marry another unless that person could fill her shoes.

As their daughter grew, she took after he mother, and had all the same proportions. In fact, in remembrance of her mother, she often wore the shoes from her closet, which, since her feet were so large, were impossible for anyone else to fill.

Now you and I know that to fill someone’s shoes means to truly take on their former role, and be equal to them in wisdom and integrity. That is what the lady meant when she made her husband promise. And the husband had known that at one time too, but in his grief, he became completely irrational. And one day when he saw his daughter filling her mother’s physical shoes, he decided that he must marry her.

The girl was horrified at the thought, and so were all of their friends and relations, but her father was mad in his grief and would not be swayed. So at long last, her friends and relations agreed that she must leave her childhood home. They appointed cousins Sun, Moon and Wind to the task of helping the child flee.

Sun baked the bricks of the wall around her shutter all day, so that they would contract, and make the shutters looser on their hinges. Moon then froze the wooden shutters all night, so that they became even looser. And then, as the night began to end, Wind threw himself into the shutters with such force that they burst off their hinges.

As the girl snuck out, each gave her a present. Sun gave her a dress as golden as the sun which was so fine that it could be folded into a walnut. And it was. She put the walnut in her pocket. Moon gave her a dress as silvery as the moon which was so fine that it could be folded into a walnut. And it was. She put the second walnut in her pocket. Wind gave her a dress that shone as brilliantly as the stars when polished by the wind, and this too was so fine that it could be folded into a walnut. And it was. And she put the third walnut in her pocket, and thanked them all.

Then she snuck out into the woods, and slept all day. She woke at night, and hunted for her dinner. First she shot a small bird, but then, before she could go to it, a wildcat pounced on the bird she had shot and ate it, and so she wound up eating the cat for dinner instead. In fact, it was rather large, so she ate it for her next several dinners, and also cured its skin to make a funny looking coat to go over the tattered clothing she had run away in.

After some time living thus in the forest, a band of hunters stumbled upon her, and asked who she was. The only name she would give was Catskin, and the only answers she would give were in riddles, such that the hunters took pity on the poor girl, thinking she was not quite right in the head, and brought her to a nobleman’s house where she found work as a scullery maid, peeling potatoes, scrubbing pots, and bringing the slops to the hogs.

It was during those visits to the hogs that she often ran into the nobleman’s daughter at her games, said good morning, and exchanged friendly banter with her, for the two could match each other wit for wit. And in this way some time passed, and they both grew older.

Eventually, it was time for the nobleman’s daughter to choose a mate. All the single ladies and gentlemen from miles around came, each competing for her hand. The nobleman’s daughter danced with the ladies, and she danced with the gentlemen, but Catskin, peeking through the space between the doorjamb and the door that led to the kitchen, could see that she was bored. And she could also see that the ladies and gentlemen, though very polite and attentive, were not enjoying dancing with the nobleman’s daughter as much as she felt they should.

So she slipped off into the night, and out of her catskin coat, and opened one of her walnuts in which was the dress as golden as the sun. When she entered the ballroom people stared, but when she went to the nobleman’s daughter, she looked as bored as ever, though she did complement the dress. Catskin thanked her, and as they danced, and started to banter as they used to back at the hog pen. The more they spoke, the more the nobleman’s daughter enjoyed herself, until finally she danced with enthusiasm. And Catskin too, enjoyed herself immensely, but she knew that soon she would be missed as the scullery maid, and at last she regretfully slipped away. The nobleman’s daughter asked everyone who she was and where she had come from, but no one knew.

After Catskin had slipped off her dress and slipped on her tattered clothes and catskin coat, she went back to the kitchen and got scolded by the cook for dilly-dallying.

The next weekend there was another ball, meant to continue the search for a mate for the nobleman’s daughter.  And again Catskin peeked through the crack between the doorjamb and the door to watch the dancing. And this time, she could see that the nobleman’s daughter was still a bit bored, but also kept looking at the doorway. Catskin hoped that meant that she wanted to see her. In fact, she was sure that was what it meant.

So she slipped off into the night, and out of her catskin coat, and opened her second walnut, which held the dress that was as silvery as the moon. When she entered the ballroom, people stared, and the nobleman’s daughter smiled. They danced again and again, and as they danced they spoke, and matched each other wit for wit. But Catskin knew she would soon be missed in the kitchen, so regretfully she slipped away.  The nobleman’s daughter asked everyone who she was and where she had come from, but no one knew.

After Catskin had slipped off her dress and slipped on her tattered clothes and catskin coat, she went back to the kitchen and got scolded by the cook for dilly-dallying.

On the third weekend, the biggest ball of all was held, and the rumor was that the nobleman had told his daughter she had better choose this time, or else.

This time, Catskin told herself it would be a bad idea to go to the ball. After all, it was time that the nobleman’s daughter found someone to be her mate, and Catskin felt she had nothing to offer her. It would be better, she thought, if the nobleman’s daughter could find among the ladies and gentlemen a mate with wealth, or great skill, or had something else to bring to the table. She neglected, of course, to think of all the skills she had, or the strength and love that she could bring to the table.

But after a long time of watching, and seeing the nobleman’s daughter look hopefully towards the door, her resolve broke. She slipped into the night, and out of her catskin coat, and took out the last walnut, this one with the dress that shone as brilliantly as the stars do when polished by the wind. And when she walked into the ball, the ladies and gentlemen breathed a sigh of relief, because it was clear to them at this point that their suits had failed, and they were ready to mingle with one another. And the nobleman’s daughter grinned.

They danced, and this time Catskin even coaxed laughter out of the nobleman’s daughter. But as the night went on, Catskin knew she would be missed in the kitchen, and so regretfully she slipped away. But as she was going, the nobleman’s daughter caught her hand. “Please,” she said, “take this.” And she pressed a ring into the palm of Catskin’s hand. Catskin held it tight as she ran into the night, and slipped out of her dress and back into her catskin coat. She then went back to the kitchen and was scolded by the cook, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she could hardly manage to look properly upset at the scolding.

The nobleman’s daughter, meanwhile, asked everyone where the lady she had danced with the night before was to be found, but no one knew. At last she determined to go look for her. So she packed a change of clothes, and asked the cook to give her journey bread for the path, and saddled up her horse. The cook was in a hurry that day, and so she had Catskin make the journey bread. Catskin made several loaves, and into the last one, which went on top, she pushed the ring that the nobleman’s daughter had given her.

The nobleman’s daughter said her farewells, and set out on her journey. At midday, she stopped for lunch. But biting into her journey bread, she crunched down on something hard. She took it out, and there was her ring! She turned the horse around pronto, and hightailed it back for home. Once there, she ran into the kitchen. “Who baked this bread?” she demanded. Well, the cook was afraid she was going to get in trouble for letting Catskin do it, so at first she said she did. But when pressed, she admitted that it was Catskin.

Catskin was brought to the nobleman’s daughter, and as usual, the hood of her catskin coat was pulled up over her head, so that her face was shadowed.”Please. Will you take down your hood, so I can see your face?” asked the nobleman’s daughter. And Catskin did.

The wedding was a wedding, and the best part, at least for the two brides, was the fact that they got to marry each other, and spend life together.

After they were married, the two sent messengers far and wide to announce their happiness. Catskin didn’t want her father to find out through an impersonal messenger, for though she had memories of his cruelty in his madness, she also had memories of his kindness in the years before her mother’s death. And so she again asked her relations, Sun, Moon, and Wind, for assistance.

Sun shone gently, enticing her father to take a walk outdoors. Sun told her father, “Your daughter has found warmth and happiness.” Recognizing these words, the man began to cry, confused at the knowledge that his daughter had not been happy in his home. Then Sun set and Moon rose, and said to him, “Your daughter has found someone with whom to share the beauty of a cold night.”  And the man cried harder, woeful in the knowledge that he had not gotten to watch his daughter find that someone. Then the wind blew gently, and dried his tears. “Be content,” said the wind, “Your daughter has found that which many seek.” And the man stopped crying, and went inside.


This version is based on many, and also has my own additions and adaptations. These are, in my opinion, the most important choices I made, and why I made them. One great resource on Cinderella Variants is Marian Roalfe Cox’s Cinderella, the entirety of which is available online. 

Father as predator

I gave a lot of thought as to whether to leave out the upsetting beginning of this story. In the end, I decided to keep it as it is really one of the defining characteristics of Catskin tales. Moreover, some may recognize this situation, and it is important to give people room to identify and struggle with hard things within stories. I did, however, choose perhaps the softest version of this theme. In it, the father is truly unstable and the girl has friends on her side who quickly help her out of the situation.

Magic dresses

The magical dresses are often gifts from the father, demanded by the daughter before she escapes. Sometimes, the father is aided by a devil to obtain them.  Often the dresses are the way that the daughter is stalling the unwanted marriage. I substituted Sun, Moon and Wind as the givers of these gifts, just as they are in the stories “Seven Ravens” and some versions of “Girl with the Iron Shoes.” This was for several reasons. One is that I wanted Catskin to have a support system to help her out of the bad situation. Another is that I wanted to be able to have these characters come back at the end. A third is that I didn’t want the stalling of an unwanted event to be part of the story. Lastly, having these particular characters as helpers sets us firmly in fairy tale land.

Two brides

The idea of Catskin marrying a nobleman’s daughter instead of a son is my own. I’m not the first to place LGBT characters in fairy tales, but as far as I know this particular tale has not been told in this manner. One of the reasons I chose Catskin, which is a Cinderella variant that is less well known, is that it leaves room for innovation to feel authentic. If you hear new characters w/ different genders in stories you already know well, you may, and somewhat rightfully, reject them. My hope is that a story you have not yet heard, with all the markers and tropes of a fairy tale and all the characters I populate it with, give a space for LGBT folk to be part of the cannon without the story feeling “new age” or forced.

Crying father

The end featuring the crying father is my attempt to bring some closure, and is loosely based on a version of “As Meat Loves Salt” that I once came across in which the father is rooted to his seat when the tears run down his beard and freeze him to the floor. In my version, I wanted to leave some room for the father and daughter to have peace, but a reunion seemed forced, and out of keeping with the traditional Catskin tale. Thus I took an enormous liberty and brought Sun Moon and Wind back into the story to tell the father the news.


What’s in them? The only named character in this story is Catskin. One of the charms of fairy tales is their somewhat blank characters, leaving themselves open to our identification with them. And one of the simplest ways to let any listener identify with any character is not to name them. The only thing that bothered me about this decision was the way it meant I had to keep referring to one woman as “nobleman’s daughter,” defined by her father. The only other word to put there is “princess” though, and my way to keep the characters outside of the Disney association we all (or at least most) have with that word was to leave it out entirely.