Bibliophile | ‘Cinderella is Dead’ by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella is Dead
by Kalynn Bayron
Bloomsbury

Variations of the Cinderella story have been told for nearly 2000 years and the mythology of the popular fairy tale lingers in our cultural ether even today. While the Grimm brothers’ tale is a lot darker than the Disney one, the possibility that magic can transform a destitute girl into a princess to be carried off to a happy ever after by a handsome prince is enchanting.

African American Kalynn Bayron couldn’t relate to the story and questioned her view of a world where the characters in the vast majority of stories didn’t look like her or love like her. She questioned whether it was possible for a lie, told over and over again, could become the truth.

So she wrote a story about a queer Black girl living in the town of Lille where Cinderella had lived, set 200 years after the princess’s death shortly after her marriage to the prince. The heroine Sophia knows the story off by heart and has received her invitation to the royal ball for ‘the choosing’ but Sophia has been in love with Erin for the last three years and she doesn’t want to be chosen.

In Bayron’s story, King Manford’s capacity for cruelty and his lust for absolute control rivals his predecessors. Regardless of money or class, women of every standing are controlled by the men and Sophie has seen firsthand the violence to women and the neglect of children. There are decent men but they turn a blind eye, and nobody questions the number of women and girls who just disappear.

Her heroine Sophia dislikes the stories that trick young girls into obedience. She doesn’t want to be saved by a knight in shining armour, she wants to be the knight doing the saving and finding herself a princess. She feels trapped in a story written long ago, and when she finds out the story is actually inaccurate, she decides to go in search of the stories that nobody wants to hear.

Then Kalynn Bayron had difficulty finding a publisher for her book because she says Black girls in a fantasy setting and was full of magic, adventure, peril, levity, and sisterhood by marginised creators didn’t fit with what most publishers wanted. “Being Black AND queer AND a woman is just too much.”

“Because I share my main character Sophia’s intersectional identity as a Black queer woman, and because it was very clear that in some cases that was the reason we didn’t get a bite, it was personal at least some of the time. It’s exhausting to constantly be wondering if the most recent pass was because of something I could improve upon or if it was because of something that I can’t—and wouldn’t—change about who I am as a person.”

Cinderella is Dead has been published and it is not a retelling of the fairy tale. Bayron throws a grenade into the middle of the story to blow it apart and re-imagines it to create a world where young girls get to decide for themselves what their happily ever after looks like.

Lezly Herbert


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