Rags to Riches stories are interesting because it is about characters entering a different world from the one they have always known. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is the classic literature example and is a great book, but the Disney films of Aladdin and Cinderella are for me the epitome of these types of story line.
Aladdin and Cinderella are great examples to compare because they follow two different types of plotline that a ‘rags to riches’ tale can follow. Both of the plots start with the main character being hard on their luck, gaining a great favour (in both cases from magical creatures) and getting a taste of a different aspect of their world. They then both lose it all, before getting it back. Trying to chose which I prefer between the two though is difficult.
I like the character of Cinderella a great deal more than Aladdin. However, I much prefer the character development in Aladdin than in Cinderella. Cinderella is a nice character; a good person not tainted by the hard reality she has grown up in. While I love a good story about nice things eventually happening to nice people, in truth it is a little bit boring.
If I wrote the story today, what I would want to see would want to see is Cinderella having the strength of spirit to just turn up to the ball in rags and see what the Prince makes of that; any fellow worth spending the rest of your life with will have to accept you entirely as you are with a magical transformation. If your appearance is all he cares about find a different prince charming. If nothing else, even if Cinderella stayed at the ball even after her pretty dress disappeared it is a much better character development. It would mean that she wasn’t ashamed of herself anymore, even in front of royalty and her vain stepsisters.
It is why Aladdin is the better example of a rags to riches story line. While I’m less keen on the character, the development the characters goes through does make for an interesting story. Aladdin is a nice character, until he gets everything that he has been denied all of his life. Then he becomes arrogant and that is why I’m less keen on him. But he does learn his lesson and becomes a wiser person because of it. The development of the character arc is just a much better moral tale in my opinion; it teaches you that the greatest virtue in a person is that they are kind and generous, not that they are rich and powerful.
So when it comes to rags and riches, the character development is the key aspect that you have to take into account. Nice things happening to nice people is fine, but if they don’t learn anything along the way or find their confidence in themselves, there is almost no point in telling the story.
If you liked this post then you might be interested in the following post about other plot types: