Fairest of Them All – A Historical Journey

All fairy tales start out as an idea.  A story that explains away the sounds you hear in the darkness or the reason your buttons/postage stamps/loose change goes mission (according to Celtic legend, it’s due to boggarts, and I think I can blame them for my missing keys).  A story that tells some kind of moral lesson.

In the case of Snow White, there might actually be some historical basis.  According to a book, Schneewittchen: Marchen oder Wahrheit? by German scholar Eckhard Sander, there are real-life parallels to relationship between Spanish heir-to-the-throne Philip II and his supposed lover, Countess Margarete von Waldeck.  As their affair was potentially harmful politically, many believe that Margarete was poisoned.   Plus, she supposedly didn’t get along with her stepmother, which forced to leave her home when she was a teenager, and the village where she grew up employed child labor in the copper mines, the “poor dwarfs” of the folk tale. (Details – Goodreads article.)

The tale of Snow White isn’t just limited to the Germans and and the Spanish.  In an Albanian version, the main character lives with forty dragons and her enchanted sleep is due to a ring.   In other versions, the dwarves are robbers and the magic mirror is the sun or moon.  Alexander Pushkin borrowed many elements of Snow White in his 1833 poem The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights, with the dwarfs being replaced by knights.   You can find it here in prose.  Also, look here for more fascinating folktales related to Snow White.

Over the years, many other writers have given a shot at retelling Snow White:

  • Gregory Maguire’s Mirror, Mirror retells the story in Tuscany where the queen is the infamous Lucrezia Borgia.
  • Neil Gaiman flipped the story around in his graphic novel Snow, Glass, Apples, with Snow White being the monster and the queen the victim.
  • In White as Snow, Tanith Lee hangs a loose version of Greek mythology’s Persephone and Demeter onto the familiar storyline.
  • Gail Carson Levine spins a musical, kid-friendly tale in Fairest.
  • Shel Silverstein takes the magic mirror’s side in his poem Mirror, Mirror.

Had enough with Snow White spin-offs?  If not, there’s plenty more to be found at SurLaLune’s excellent collection, complete with helpful summaries.

And as for my favorite, I would have to go with Roald Dahl’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs from his Revolting Rhymes.  It follows the usual storyline, with the exception that the magic mirror is flawless at predicting the future, and the dwarves are addicted to gambling.  Snow White sneaks into the castle, steals the mirror, and the dwarves use it to learn who the winners will be in the next horse race.

Thereafter, every single day,
The Mirror made the bookies pay.
Each Dwarf and Snow-White got a share,
And each was soon a millionaire,
Which shows that gambling’s not a sin
Provided that you always win.

Which, while not Biblically sound, is a really fun way to end the story.

So, go ahead, explore a new version of Snow White, and when doing so, always remember to

Read the Extraordinary.  Responsibly.

Next Time: Snow White — The Movie Edition!


Taste of the Fantastical

In the spirit of Snow White, let’s take a look at some different versions of glass coffins:

So, which one do you want beneath your tombstone?  Or rather, which one do you want on a raise platform where you’ll wait for years until a lovelorn, desperate prince decides to come knocking?

The Fairest of Them All – An Introduction

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

As most people know, the answer is “Snow White.”  The princess who is primarily famous for her good looks, her ability to put up with seven dwarves, and her dangerous naivete about old ladies and fruit that almost ended her life in a glass coffin.

I am a fairy tale maven.  Not the Disney-fied versions, but the hard-core stories sourced directly from the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.  I enjoy the adult edge these authors brought to their works, the harsh morals, the deeper grounding in good and evil, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness.

However, Snow White has never been one of my favorites.  Even in the Grimm version, she was far too passive.  She was beautiful, so she was dangerous.  She was hunted by the queen, so she pleaded for her life and ran away.  She was hungry and alone, so she ended up playing housekeeper for seven dwarfs in return for protection.  She was simple-minded and gullible for pretty things, so she was tricked, not once, but three times by the evil queen: first by a fancy corset, then by a comb, and finally by a shiny apple .  At last, the fair maiden is dead, but once again, her beauty saves her, for she is found by a prince who is so entranced by the dead girl that he has his servants haul her away.  The servants’ clumsiness acts as an unintentional Heimlich maneuver.  Out comes the poisonous apple piece (which must be really gross after being lodged in Snow’s throat for all that time), and Snow White wakes up.  Prince and princess get married, and the evil queen ends up having to dance her life away in red-hot iron shoes.

Clearly I’m not the biggest fan.  However, I was intrigued when I discovered that there are currently three Snow White movies in the works.  In addition, Snow White is a major character in the dystopian fairy tale drama Once Upon a Time.

Why the sudden interest in silly old Snow?  Three movies seems to be an awful lot of fuss for a character primarily known for being  pure and beautiful and (most likely) virginal.  She is not in any way empowered or possessing of any special traits except her beauty. Well, she can clean, but since she wasn’t a professional maid, this says more about the dwarfs’ kindness/desperation than Snow’s incredible homemaking skills.

What is the modern-day appeal?

The answer takes us back into the history of Snow White, on through the series of literary renditions and interpretations over the years, and into the modern-day empowered adaptations.  This answer will also take us through several posts, so I invite you to sit back and follow along as we have a look into the mirror at the Fairest of Them All: Snow White!


Taste of the Fantastical

In the spirit of fairy tales, here’s a plug for another fairy tale show that recently arrived on your friendly TV:

Combines old German fairy tale stories with your basic police procedural.  I’m not a huge fan, because I think in trying to make the fairy tales appropriately gritty and harsh, the story leaches some of their magic and wonder.   Even the Grimm fairy tales had some happy endings.  Plus, the police side of the story isn’t especially unique or inventive.

Still, it’s worth a look!