|The Red Shoes
as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD in Women Who Run
With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman
Archetype, pp. 215--218.
|Once there was a poor motherless child who had no shoes. But the child saved cloth scraps wherever she found
them and over time sewed herself a pair of red shoes. They were crude but she loved them. They made her feel
rich even though her days were spent gathering food in the thorny woods until far past dark.
But one day as she trudged down the road in her rags and her red shoes, a gilded carriage pulled up beside her.
Inside was an old woman who told her she was going to take her home and treat her as her own little daughter.
So to the wealthy old woman's house they went, and the child's hair was cleaned and combed. She was given
pure white undergarments and a fine wool dress and white stockings and shiny black shoes. When the child
asked after her old clothes, and especially her red shoes, the old woman said the clothes were so filthy, and the shoes so ridiculous, that she had
thrown them into the fire, where they were burnt into ashes.
The child was very sad, for even with all the riches surrounding her, the humble red shoes made by her own hands had given her
the greatest happiness. Now, she was made to sit still all the time, to walk without skipping, and to not speak unless spoken to, but a
secret fire began to burn in her heart and she continued to yearn for her old red shoes more than anything.
As the child was old enough to be confirmed on the Day of The Innocents, the old woman took her to an old crippled shoemaker to
have a special pair of shoes made for the occasion. In the shoemaker's case there stood a pair of red shoes made of the finest
leather that were finer than fine; they practically glowed. So even though red shoes were scandalous for church, the child, who
chose only with her hungry heart, picked the red shoes. The old lady's eyesight was so poor that she could not see the color of the
shoes and so paid for them. The old shoemaker winked at the child and wrapped the shoes up.
The next day, the church members were agog over the shoes on the child's feet. The red shoes shone like burnished apples, like hearts, like
red-washed plums. Everyone stared; even the icons on the wall, even the statues stared disapprovingly at her shoes. But she loved the shoes all the
more. So when the pontiff intoned, the choir hummed, the organ pumped, the child though nothing more beautiful than her red shoes.
By the end of the day, the old woman had been informed about her ward's red shoes. "Never, never wear those
red shoes again!" the old woman threatened. But the next Sunday, the child couldn't help but choose the red
shoes over the black ones, and she and the old woman walked to church as usual.
At the door to the church was an old soldier with his arm in a sling. He wore a little jacket and had a red beard.
He bowed and asked permission to brush the dust from the child's shoes. The child put out her foot, and he
tapped the soles of her shoes with a little wig-a-jig-jig song that made the soles of her feet itch. "Remember to
stay for the dance," he smiled, and winked at her.
Again everyone looked askance at the girl's red shoes. But she so loved the shoes that were bright like crimson,
bright like raspberries, bright like pomegranates, that she could hardly think of anything else, hardly hear the
service at all. So busy was she turning her feet this way and that, admiring her red shoes, that she forgot to sing.
As she and the old woman left the church, the injured soldier called out, "What beautiful dancing shoes!" His words made the
girl take a few little twirls right there and then. But once her feet had begun to move, they would not stop, and she danced
through the flower beds and around the corner of the church until it seemed as though she had lost complete control of
herself. She did a gavotte and then a csardas and then waltzed by herself through the fields across the way.
The old woman's coachman jumped up from his bench and ran after the girl, picked her up, and carried her back to the
carriage, but the girl's feet in the red shoes were still dancing in the air as though they were still on the ground. The old
woman and the coachman tugged and pulled, trying to pry the red shoes off. It was such a sight, all hats askew and kicking
legs, but at last the child's feet were calmed.
Back home, the old woman slammed the red shoes down on a shelf and warned the girl never to touch them again. But the girl could not help looking
at them and longing for them. To her they were still the most beautiful things on the face of the earth.
Not long after, as fate would have it, the old woman became bed-ridden, and as soon as her doctors left, the girl crept into the room where the red
shoes were kept. She glanced up at them so high on the shelf. Her glance became a gaze and her gaze became a powerful desire, so much so that
the girl took the shoes from the shelf and fastened them on, feeling it would do no harm. But as soon as they touched her heels and toes, she was
overcome by the urge to dance.
And so, out the door she danced, and then down the steps, first in a gavotte, then a csardas, and then in big darting waltz turns in rapid succession.
The girl was in her glory and did not realize she was in trouble until she wanted to dance to the left and the shoes insisted on dancing to the right.
When she wanted to dance round, the shoes insisted on dancing straight ahead. And as the shoes danced the girl, rather than the other way around,
they danced her right down the road, through the muddy fields, and out into the dark and gloomy forest.
There against a tree was the old soldier with the red beard, his arm in a sling, dressed in his little jacket. "Oh my," he said, "what beautiful dancing
shoes." Terrified, she tried to pull the shoes off, but as much as she tugged, the shoes stayed fast. She hopped on one foot and then the other trying
to take off the shoes, but her one foot on the ground kept dancing even so, and her other foot in her hand did its part of the dance also.
And so dance, and dance, and dance, she did. Over highest hills and through the valleys, in the rain and in the snow and in the sunlight, she danced.
She danced in the darkest night and through sunrise and she was still dancing in twilight as well. But it was not good dancing. It was terrible dancing,
and there was no rest for her.
She danced into a churchyard and there a spirit of dread would not allow her to enter. The spirit pronounced these words over her: "You shall dance in
your red shoes until you become like a wraith, like a ghost, till your skin hangs from your boned, till there is nothing left of you but entrails dancing. You
shall dance door to door all through all the villages and you shall strike each door three times and when people peer out they will see you and fear
your fate for themselves. Dance red shoes, you shall dance."
The girl begged for mercy, but before she could plead further, her red shoes carried her away. Over the briars she danced, through the streams, over
the hedgerows and on and on, dancing, still dancing till she came to her old home and there were mourners. The old woman who had taken her in had
died. Yet even so, she danced on by, and dance she did, as dance she must. In abject exhaustion and horror, she danced into a forest where lived the
town's executioner. And the ax on his wall began to tremble as soon as it sensed her coming near.
"Please!" she begged the executioner as she danced by his door. "Please
cut off my shoes to free me from this horrid fate." And the executioner cut
through the straps of the red shoes with his ax. But still the shoes stayed
on her feet. And so she cried to him that her life was worth nothing and that
he should cut off her feet. So he cut off her feet. And the red shoes with
the feet in them kept on dancing through the forest and over the hill and
out of sight. And now the girl was a poor cripple, and had to find her own
way in the world as a servant to others, and she never, ever again wished
for red shoes.