Fairy Tale Musings: Snow White

This morning, I decided to watch Disney’s animated rendition of “Snow White” while I ate breakfast. It’s your typical sweet and sappy Disney movie. We all know the pattern of these tales fairly well. The heroine starts out in rags, finds herself in a position of threat, hides away, makes some friends, is discovered by her nemesis, is “destroyed,” is avenged, and is then revived by true love.

As I sat watching it, I had an idea. “Hey, let’s read the original version out of our copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” So after the movie was over, I rand upstairs, located my cherished book, and began to read it.

Man, I always knew Disney liked to change things, but I didn’t realize how much they changed things until this reading. I had usually assumed they tended to just make things less gory (or to be faux witty about it, remove the most grim parts of Grimm). But man, they even changed the natuere of the seven dwarfs. In the original tale as told (or recorded, as is more accurate) by Jacob ad Wilhelm, the dwars were actually quite meticulous in their own housekeeping. In their written tale, Snow White (who it might also be noted was originally called Little Snow White, as she was only nine) found a spotless house in excellent order. Yes, the dwarfs do tell her that she has to cook and clean if she stays, but in the tale, it’s apparently not because they need her services. Knowing that dwarfs in Teutonic mythology and lore are generally seen as the embodiment of industriousness, it seems to me that the original interpretation of the seven dwarfs’ conditions to Snow White have more to do with the idea that one must make oneself productive in some way in order to stay in the realm of the dwarfs.

The other thing that stuck out to me is that in the written tale, it’s not the Prince’s kiss that awakens Snow White from her slumber. In fact, the Prince doesn’t kiss her at all. Instead, when he comes to stay with the seven dwarfs and sees the beautiful maiden asleep in her coffin, he begs the dwarfs to allow him to take her back to his castle as “his most treasured possession.” (We’ll try to keep the inner feminist from barking too loudly about that poor choice of words on the tale-spinners’ part.) While he is transferring Snow White and her coffin to his castle, the wagon hits a bump which dislodges the bit of poisoned apple from her throat. That is what revives her, not love’s first kiss. Quite a difference, eh?

Now, I don’t mean to bash Disney for these changes. Disney’s animated movie is a work of beauty in its own right, and I’ll hopefully enjoy it many more time times in my life. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s very different from the tale as written down by the Brothers Grimm, and I’m glad I read their version as well. It just seems to be packed with so many details. In fact, I hope to explore why the story-tellers of old (those who actually recounted these tales to the Brothers) would have mentioned them. After all, these are folk tales, (and folk tales that come from the same cultural groups that developed the myths of my gods no less, so they’re likely of value to me)and that means that they likely have much symbolism that would’ve been understood and seen as important. So some of the little details I hope to look into and find possible signficicance include:

1. The repitition of “splitting things” over the seven dwarfs (such as when Snow White eats a little from each of the seven plates she finds upon entering the house “so as to not clear any one plate” or when the seventh dwarf who gave up his bed to Snow White sleeps one hour with each of his six brothers in their own bed).

2. The three methods that the Queen uses to try and kill Snow White.

3. The fact that the Queen asks the huntsman to bring back Snow White’s lung and liver so she can eat them.

4. The seven hills our mountains past which the seven dwarfs live.

I also find the introductory paragraph to the tale interesting. In this paragraph, the story-teller introduces us to the first Queen, Snow White’s mother. This paragraph tells of the snowy morning where she pricked her finger so three drops of blood fell. It is upon looking at these red drops of blood, the white snow, and the black ebony of the window frame that the Queen suddenly wishes for a chile “white as snow, red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.” It leaves me wondering if this is merely to describe the eventual beauty of Snow White, or if there’s some deeper signficicance to these events and their resulting wish.

So now, I need to find a good commentary on this tale as well as the rest of those recorded by the Brothers Grimm.