George Mason a Cinderella Story? If the Shoe Fits...

George Mason University's trip to the Final Four is being hailed as a Cinderella story. NPR book reviewer, Alan Cheuse, who teaches writing at George Mason, says that's not a bad way to look at it.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Many are calling George Mason's advancement to the final four a Cinderella Story.

Our book reviewer, Alan Cheuse, has taught at George Mason for almost 20 years, and he says, that's not a bad way to look at it.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

The poor relation working as a scullery maid while the favorite sisters get all the privileges. A nice hard-working girl, who with a wave of the magic wand of her fairy godmother turns into a beautiful princess and attracts the attention and the love and affection of the Prince at the Great Ball.

That story's burned into our imaginations as children, and we usually put such stories aside. Certainly by the time we get to university. So it seems rather clichéd to talk about George Mason's victory yesterday as part of a fairytale, but sometimes clichés turn out to be the elemental truth. And sometimes, the gritty, stinking, sweat and blood and rough and tumble world of men's basketball and the world of fantasy come together.

And sometimes, victories such as the Patriots made yesterday bring all sorts of distinctly different groups together. You expect undergraduates to paint their faces green and spill beer like blood in a hospital delivery room. You expect to see a room filled with a couple of hundred fans crouching expectantly in the final moments of the regulation game, and then again in overtime, when every second seems like the second before the clock strikes midnight.

But it's not just an undergraduate joy. My fellow writers in the English Department and I have been getting telephone calls and emails from friends around the country all day. My brother-in-law traveling in India called to say, "Say hey!"

This is happening today all across a relatively young university that's been rising on a steep curve for decades, but only now has, thanks to a great athletic program, been able to look in the mirror and say to itself, I'm not a frog, I'm a prince.

Of course, the question lingers. Will the glass slipper fit? But for now, all week, we'll enjoy the Ball. For now it's in our court.

(Soundbite of band playing)

BLOCK: Alan Chuese teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Keep up with the latest on March Madness at our website, NPR.org.

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