Fairest Of Them All: The Evolution of Snow White
The modern world may initially view the story of Snow White as a simple fairy tale. Woven by the demigods of Disney as a mystical and fully-colored narrative fraught with slightly zaftig princesses dressed in bawdy threads, sentient mirrors, aptly-named dwarves, evil—yet oddly alluring—stepmothers, poison-laced fruit, pristine glass coffins and the singular, ultimate and redeeming kiss from your own personal Prince Charming. Reflecting the female zeitgeist of the mid 1930s with the reactionary antifeminist undertones brought about by the overindulgence of the Roaring Twenties, the Disney film still leaves much to be desired in the realm of children’s indoctrination. The original Brothers Grimm version first established these moralistic formulae, but it did so in a particularly gruesome fashion. Gone were the morbid details of murderous narcissism, witchcraft, prepubescent sexual ripening, and ritual cannibalism, originally indispensible story elements to better reinforce the all-too-important Protestant values the brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm held so dear. The target demographic was very different as well; while the Disney version was conceptualized with the General Patronage rating in mind, the Grimms’ version was formerly written and published for scholars and teachers in various editions abounding with annotations and notes. The pilot German edition was entitled “Snow-drop” and published in Kinder–und Hausmarchen in 1812. The rumored early drafts supposedly were a darker and more sinister tale, much more so than the edited version. However, this was not the first appearance of the Snow White character. The Grimms collected the elements of their stories from old midwives, nurses, sewing circle members and the like, owing to the deeply-steeped oral folk traditions of the time. The earliest known written version of the tale may be a derivation of Giambattista Basile’s “The Young Slave,” published in the collection, Il Pentamerone in 1634. Referenced in the Grimms’ text in 1812, the story is recognizable as the parent of the Grimms’ Snow White albeit it differs in some of the finer points, as well as owing some similarities in other fairy tales. In the account, a lady gets impregnated by the ingestion of a rose leaf. Secretly, the lady, a baron’s unmarried sister, births a baby girl and names her Lisa. Similar to the “Sleeping Beauty” trope, fairies were invited to bless the child but one unfortunate fairy botches up the blessing (she slipped and twisted her ankle), making it into a curse that states specifically that the child, Lisa, will die when she reaches the age of seven. True to the bumbled blessing, Lisa’s short and fast-forwarded life comes to an end on her seventh year, while her mother was combing her hair. In her grief, the mother tries to preserve the charming vision of her daughter in seven caskets made of pure crystal and hides her in a secluded part of the baron’s castle under lock and key. The mother’s grief eventually brought her to her grave; on her deathbed he gives the baron the key to the room and makes him promise to never open the door under any circumstance. Years pass, and the baron marries. Borrowing from “Bluebeard”, the baron is called by his peers to a hunting trip so he gives his wife the key and strictly instructs her not to open the door. Propelled by the sense of mystery, distrust and a skewed by-product of reverse psychology, the wife runs up to the locked room and opens it. Here she finds a stunningly beautiful young maiden—our Snow White, Lisa, now grown to her adolescent years by the magic of time—sleeping in an intricate crystal bed. Mistaking the girl for the baron’s secret mistress, the baroness in a fit deserving of the “Scorned Woman” description, dislodges the comb from the girl’s hair—subsequently waking her from her reverie—beats the girl within an inch of her life, cuts of her long, immaculate black hair and dresses her like...
Cited: Basile, Giambattista “The Pentamerone” translated from the Italian of Benedetto Croce by N. M. Penzer (New York: Dutton, 1932), day 2, tale 8.
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Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. “Kinder- und Hausmärchen.” 1st ed. (Berlin, 1812), v. 1, no. 53.
Sale, Roger. “Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E. B. White.” Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1978.
Sherman, Delia. “Snow White to the Prince.” 2 August 2008.
Windling, Terry. “Snow, Glass, Apples: The Story of Snow White”. 2 August 2008.
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