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Udo Agomo

Revisionist fairy tale essay

October 10, 2018

Professor Jablonsky

The story I decided to use for this essay is Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes”. As you

know the story “When the Clock Strikes” isn’t a very traditional fairy tale story even though it’s

a version of the classic Cinderella fairy tale. The classic version of Cinderella has a clear good

side and clear evil side, but that isn’t the case when it comes to Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes”,

which makes this story very different for the original.

When it comes to traditional fairy tales the moral content and narrative structure are

usually the same for most of them. The narrator in fairy tales usually tells the story in a 3rd

person narration. Also the story usually doesn’t involve the narrator in the actually story. It’s

usually an outsider that tells the story about certain characters they just happen to know about.

With a 3rd person narrator in the story the audience gains objectivity but they lose perspective

in the story. The moral content of fairy tales is the same for almost every classic story. The

moral content in fairy tales has a clear “good” going up against a clear “evil”. The good

protagonist possesses traits like being kind, beautiful, and obedient but they can also be a bit

naïve. The evil antagonist usually has traits like being vengeful, mean-spirited, and envious. For

example, Cinderella in the original version is said to be seat and kind and she cleans up the

house and does any chore she is told (Perrault 1697). When it came to her step-mother and

step-sisters, they were said to be wicked and treated Cinderella with disrespect and as a second
class citizen (Perrault 1697). Every decision the good character makes is very selfless and any

decision the evil character makes is bad and only for their own good. In classic fairy tales there

isn’t any real moral ambiguity, and one of the things that separates Tanith Lee’s “When the

Clock Strikes” from the classic Cinderella tell is moral ambiguity throughout the tale and how

there is no clear good side and no clear bad side.

The story When the Clock Strikes is a little bit like Cinderella but just has a lot of major

twist and turns that make the story different from the original. The story is told by a man that

lives in the city where the story took place and he tells this story to another man that is waiting

for a carriage (Lee, When The Clock Strikes). He also is telling him a story that is 200 years old

(Lee, When The Clock Strikes). Our narrator starts out by telling the man a story about the

ballroom where Ashella, the name our protagonist gives herself, and the prince meet and how

it’s in ruins now. He eventually starts to tell the man waiting for the carriage a story about why

the whole city is destroyed and that where the Cinderella story starts to be shared (Lee, When

The Clock Strikes).

“When The Clock Strikes” starts out by talking about Ashella’s mother and how she is a

works in witchcraft and devil worshiping. She does this as her means to get back at the Duke for

what he has done to her family (Lee, When The Clock Strikes). She takes her daughter under

her wing and teaches her the tools of the trade. Ashella’s father finds out that her mother is a

witch and has an angry mob after them and her mother decides to take her own life in order to

save Ashella as long as she decides to continue her witchcraft work. Before all this happened,

The Duke of the whole city was having people that were in line to rule killed in order for him to

reign, one of which would have been Ashella’s family line. For this, Ashella seeks revenge (Lee,
When The Clock Strikes). As you can see for the start of the story When the Clock Strikes has

huge differences from the classic Cinderella Story we are used to.

Ashella’s father remarries and just like the original Cinderella, Ashella gets a stepmom

and two stepsisters but unlike the original Her step family is actually very kind to her and try to

involve her in things they do but she insisted on staying up in the Cinder living with ash on her,

which is where she gets the idea for her nickname. Eventually she uses her witch craft to kill the

Duke for revenge for her mom and once the ball comes around, instead of a fairy godmother

helping her, Satan helps her by giving her a carriage and dress for the ball. At the ball she puts a

spell on the prince and he becomes obsessed with her, and once it strikes midnight Ashella dies

and no one can find her but she leaves a glass slipper that only fits her behind just like the

original fairy tale. The prince goes crazy trying to find her, so much so that he neglects to care

for the city and outside enemies come and take it over leaving the place in ruins. All of this

affects the overall morality of the story because both the protagonist and antagonist use evil

actions like witchcraft and murder in order to get what they want.

As you can see there are a lot of differences from the original story and “When the Clock

Strikes”, but I feel there is one big reason that this is the case. When the clock Strikes breaks

down the moral fabric of the original one because the story gives Ashella evil traits and

characteristics. Traits like being vengeful and spiteful. The original Cinderella would never have

those kind of traits and this creates a morally ambiguity throughout the story because now the

protagonist is seen to be a bit evil.

One example of these is how Zipes talks about the main conflict of the story of

Cinderella. Zipes says that the main conflict is child neglect and the struggle between

stepparents and stepchildren (Zipes 101), but in “When the Clock Strikes” the Stepmother as

well as Ashella’s stepsisters try and make an effort to get to know her and involve her but

because of her evil traits and being consumed with revenge, she refuses their love to a point

that the step sisters and step mom stop trying with her. This makes it hard for the audience to

choose sides because on one side the step sisters and step mom do make an effort to involve

her but they do stop once it gets difficult. On the other hand, Ashella doesn’t make any effort to

get to know them but she is also upset about her late mother which is understandable. This

makes it difficult for there to be any one true “good” side and creates a little moral ambiguity in

the story.

In Perrault original version of Cinderella, the protagonist has nothing but “good”

traditional fairy tale traits and her step mom and step sisters have every traditional “evil” trait,

which makes it easy to see who is the good moral character and who the villains are. However,

in When the Clock Strikes the only Character that is considered the “Bad” guy would be the

Duke, and Ashella who is supposed to be to “good” protagonist is vengeful and practice

witchcraft, which aren’t traits of what a good fairy tale character should be (zips 42). Everyone

else are pretty morally sound characters so when Ashella takes the actions she does against the

Duke and her son, it makes things very morally ambiguous. The audience doesn’t know whether

to side with Ashella or to side with the Duke and the prince because there isn’t a clear “good”

side and clear “evil” side.

When the Clock Strikes has a lot of different changes and tweaks to the story that make

it a whole different version from the classic Cinderella story. The biggest thing I take away is

that Cinderella in Lee’s version if the Story has evil characteristics and traits that make it hard to

root for her as the protagonist. This creates a moral ambiguity in the story that isn’t present in

the original version of Cinderella and this creates a whole dynamic that isn’t seen in traditional

fairy tale stories.


“Cinderella.” Firewalking Myth vs Physics,

“When the Clock Strikes.” History of the Transistor,

Tales/When the Clock Strikes.htm.

Zipes, Jack David. Why Fairy Tales Stick: the Evolution and Relevance of a Genre.

Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2010.

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