When I reviewed Ella Enchanted, I said it was “one of the best retellings of Cinderella I’d ever read.” There was actually a very specific reason I didn’t just say it was the best retelling. That reason is Silver Woven in My Hair by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
I read this originally from the library when I was…maybe nine? I don’t really remember. Young. I read it several times, and then it somehow disappeared off the shelf. But miraculously, I remembered the title. I usually don’t. I usually remember something like, there was a bit in there where the girl is watching the royal family come back from the island and she sees the goatherd, and then she invites him into the kitchen at the inn to have dinner and it makes her stepfamily mad but he just laughs so it’s all right…oh and then they had a picnic later on in the book, and there was that really good part about the owner of the sword.
And that’s not going to help anyone find the story they’re looking for. But fortunately I remembered the title, and by the time I was in high school the wonderful world of online booksellers existed and I was able to buy Silver Woven in My Hair for my very own, and I spent an entire afternoon rereading the whole book. It was lovely.
It’s one of the best retellings of Cinderella I’ve ever read. It’s a story about Thursey, and her terrible stepfamily. The royal family was coming back from that island because they were there while the queen and the prince recovered from being captured in a war. Thursey’s father went to the war and never came back, so this Cinderella actually has a reason to stay where she is–even though she knows he’s probably never coming back, she can’t bring herself to leave, just in case.
Thursey doesn’t have a sparkly fairy godmother, but she does have friends who want to help her go to the ball at the palace. There’s Anwin the monk, and there’s Gillie the goatherd, who’s funny and charming–and pretty far from a sparkly fairy godmother. 🙂
One part of the story I love is that Thursey is a Cinderella who loves Cinderella stories. Her family runs an inn, and she collects stories from the travelers who pass through–all the different Cinderella stories from different cultures, Cendrillon and Aschenputtel and Catkin and so on. Even though Thursey’s life isn’t very good, she never stops dreaming. The ball is one aspect of the story, but Thursey’s dreams have a lot more substance than dancing a single night at a ball.
The characters, from Thursey to Gillie to the nasty stepfamily, are well-drawn and life-like. The story is very grounded in reality, in a practical world where dishes have to be washed and goats have to be fed and there’s none of the impossible and imcomprehensible leaps that the original fairy tales often make. Yet there’s also something whimsical about the tale. For some reason the word “gossamer” keeps coming to mind, and I think it has to do with the writing style. Murphy has kept some of the poetry of the old tales, while giving us characters and a plot that are more tangible.
Silver Woven in My Hair isn’t exactly a fantasy…or it could be. Murphy leaves it up to the reader to decide whether some elements are really magic or not, and I’m not entirely sure what I think.
But even if you decide it’s not a fantasy, it’s definitely a magical story. And a marvelous tale.