What’s in a Slipper? According to Literature, a Lot.

Be it shoes, slippers, boots, wellies, or flip-flops, our footwear is a constant companion. We wear them daily and we own numerous pairs over the course of our lives. Some of our footwear we remember, others we forget. Some we cherish for special occasions and others have a more work-a-day quality to them.

It’s not too often that we ascribe special significance to what’s on our feet, yet throughout written history shoes have often played a central role in narratives.

Here, we take a brief look at some of the ways in which shoes have been imbued with meaning in literature and popular culture.

As Transporting

Joanne Harris, the award-winning author of ‘Chocolat’, writes that shoes have a “talismanic quality”, an air of possibility to them.

Cinderella would certainly agree; her glass slippers play a central role in transporting her to a life beyond the cinders of a wicked stepmother’s hearth. Likewise for Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, whose ruby slippers need only be clicked together 3 times and Dorothy can be transported back home to Kansas. Both women gain the ending they sought thanks to the transformative and transporting power of their footwear.

As Powerful or Magical

While Dorothy’s red slippers were magical in a good way, other pairs in literature haven’t been so kind to their wearers. Consider Karen in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale ‘The Red Shoes’. In this darkly moralising tale Karen is made to dance continuously for the sin of pride:

"Dance in your red shoes until you are pale and cold, and your flesh shrivels down to the skeleton. Dance you shall from door to door, and wherever there are children proud and vain you must knock at the door till they hear you, and are afraid of you. Dance you shall. Dance always."

Yikes. It’s enough to make you want to run to your trusted slippers and hide from the world.

Fear not though, not all-powerful shoes have a dark side. As Nancy Sinatra sang, her boots were made for walking and they help her protagonist walk away from a lyin’ and cheatin’ man who is ill-deserving of her affections.

As Comforting

In Bob Dylan’s song ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ the speaker’s beloved goes away on a trip and asks what gift they should send back. At first, the lover left behind declares they want nothing more than “your sweet kiss” for which they would forsake “the diamonds from the deepest oceans” and “the stars from the darkest night”. Yet, as the song progresses the lover who travelled to Spain becomes increasingly distant and says that perhaps they won’t be returning. The forsaken lover ends the final verse with a wish:

“And yes, there’s something you can send back to me Spanish boots of Spanish leather”

With the loss of their love, the speaker goes for the next best thing they can think of, eschewing the offers of ‘fine’ golds and silvers, they ask for a pair of good boots. We can assume that these boots are to be both comfortable and comforting.

Here at SHEPHY, we’re with Bob on this one; what can beat the comfort of a pair of good boots? And what could be more comforting than knowing that if all else fails, you’ve still got a good pair by your side?

Just tap the heels together a few times to find out if they’re magical.