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Literature / Snow White

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Image courtesy of *yasahime; used with permission.

"I will never buy an apple from peddlers plying their craft in remote places where the customer base could not possibly support a full-time merchant."

Once upon a time, a little girl was born that was exceptionally beautiful. Due to jealousy, a wicked witch wanted her dead. She ended up being raised in fosterage in the forest by magical dwarfs, but eventually the queen found a way to poison her and put her in a coma resistant to aging. Eventually, Prince Charming showed up, kissed the girl and woke her up, and slew the evil witch.

But then, this article isn't about "Sleeping Beauty"...

A queen wishes for a child with lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony, and skin as white as snow. She gets her wish and names the child Snow White, but promptly dies and is replaced by a Wicked Stepmother who prides herself on her great beauty. Every day the stepmother asks her magic mirror:

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who's the Fairest of Them All?"

And every day the mirror assures the queen that she was the most beautiful.


Snow White is a beautiful child, however, and when she turns seven, the mirror replies that she, and not the queen, is the fairest. The queen isn't having any of that, so she orders her faithful huntsman to cut out Snow White's heart and give it to her to eat. The huntsman has some trouble with this, so he lets Snow White go and gives the queen the heart of a boar instead.

After some time wandering in the woods, Snow White falls in with a bunch of dwarfs, who let her stay with them in exchange for doing the housework. The mirror tips the queen off to Snow White's continued existence, however, so she disguises herself as a peddler and makes three assassination attempts; firstly by pulling Snow White's corset-laces too tight, secondly by selling her a poisoned comb, and thirdly with a poisoned apple. After each attempt, the dwarfs come home to find Snow White unconscious. While they succeed in reviving her the first two times, the third has more sticking power, and they have to admit that she's dead for good.


She is too beautiful for them to bury her in good conscience, though, so they build a glass coffin and take turns keeping guard. Fortunately for everyone involved, she does not decay, but remains so fresh and beautiful that a passing prince just has to have her. The dwarfs are reluctant at first, but eventually let him take the glass coffin. Thanks to a clumsy servant, the coffin is jolted, dislodging the piece of apple and reviving Snow White. Apparently the prince likes her almost as much when she's awake, and they marry. Hopefully, she's a bit older than seven by now, but you never know.

The evil queen comes to their wedding and is forced to dance to death in red-hot iron shoes. Everyone else lives Happily Ever After.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is one of the best known of the Grimms' stories, although it existed in numerous countries before being compiled into their Children's and Household Tales. It was one of the early victims of their bowdlerising edits; they changed the antagonist from Snow White's biological mother to a Wicked Stepmother.

Because of Snow White's rather unusual appearance and the disturbing psychological issues in the story, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" is frequently subject to Grimmification or Darker and Edgier treatment. One such example is a 1997 horror version with Sigourney Weaver as the queen. There's also a 2001 version subtitled Fairest of Them All with Miranda Richardson as the queen and Kristin Kreuk as Snow White, and rainbow dwarves, named after the days of the week. Finally, let's not forget Neil Gaiman's short story "Snow, Glass, Apples", where we have a perspective flip that takes some of the more eerie parts of the story, and makes them much much worse.

By far the most well-known adaptation of this story is Disney's first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Other adaptations have varied from Snow White and the Three Stooges to Prétear, which rewrites it as a Magical Girl Warrior show, the very loose Betty Boop adaptation entitled only as Snow White (1933) and then there's Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, which would be a side-splitter had not excessive Uncle Tomfoolery ruined it. It was also one of the tales adapted in Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics.

In recent years, more Action Girl-style portrayals of Snow White have come to the fore. Sword and Sorceress XXVII's introduction contrasted Snow White's portrayal in the Grimm and Disney versions with that of modern versions like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Once Upon a Time. Anthology editor Elizabeth Waters says:

I suspect that most modern viewers find it easier to identify with a Snow White who fights back. Spending years asleep in a glass coffin waiting to be awakened by "True Love's Kiss" is hopefully not something that girls today aspire to. We can fight for what we want, and we have a good chance of getting it.

Not related to "Snow-White-Fire-Red" or "Snow-White and Rose-Red".

Note that this specifically refers to the Brothers Grimm version and adaptations thereof, rather than any of the other fairytales of Aarne-Thompson type #709, "Snow White" (such as "Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree," in which the Snow White character is married off by her father to get her away from her insane mother, or the memorable version in which Snow White stays with FORTY DRAGONS.)

"Snow White" and variations contain the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Many versions introduce the prince early, in order to make the ending a bit less weird.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Almost everyone gets this many different adaptions:
  • Age Lift: In the 1812 version of Snow White, Snow White is seven years old when the Queen tries to kill her, and she remains that age for the entire story. In 1819, the second edition of the story had the Grimm Brothers age her up to 14.
  • Canon Foreigner: Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics gives Snow a younger childhood friend named Klaus and a nanny.
  • Composite Character: This Snow White is clearly not the same one from "Snow-White and Rose-Red" (they marry different people and the latter's Snow White is described as being fair-haired), but some expanded adaptations give this one a sibling named Rose Red to tie the two stories together.
  • Death Faked for You: The hunter used the heart of a pig to fool the queen.
  • Decomposite Character: In the first edition, Snow White's birth mother who wishes for her to have all the traits she is known for (white skin, black hair and red lips) and wicked stepmother were one in the same. When the Grimm brothers decided that the idea of a mom attempting to murder her child was too disturbing, they split the character into these two personas.
  • Disappeared Dad: Where was the king while the queen was off finding creative ways to kill his daughter? He must have stepped out of the fairytale for a bit.
    • The intro to the Walt Disney movie says he died. It was changed presumably to explain that very problem (he apparently is still alive but extraordinarily inattentive in the fairy tale).
    • She's a girl, why should he care? Also, the Queen gives him sex, while his daughter does not (we hope).
    • There is actually a version of the story where he does everything he can to stop his wife, but it doesn't work. Happily, the King in the Grimm version didn't have to live through such a horrible experience.
    • The original version does give an explanation: In it, he's the King of England, & his wife's attempts to kill Snow White happen while he's off at war.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Don't touch it! It might be poison!
  • Extremely Dusty Home: The dwarves home before she cleans it up.
  • Evil Matriarch: The queen.
  • Fairy Tale
  • Fairest of Them All: Snow White.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The evil stepmother is forced to dance in red-hot shoes until she dies.
  • Faux Death: Snow White. She got better.
  • Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics portrays Snow as this. She's a very feminine-looking girl who is the Team Mom for the dwarves and has very long black hair with a red hairbow, but is first seen happily getting up trees with her Canon Foreigner best friend Klaus to get her beloved apples and being scolded by her nanny for doing such "not-ladylike" things.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Spurs the Queen on.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!
  • Good Princess, Evil Queen: In the fairy tale and all adaptations the kind and virtuous princess Snow White is pitted against her Wicked Stepmother, the evil queen.
  • Happily Ever After
  • Historical Fiction: Gregory Maguire's version called Mirror Mirror takes place in Italy, with Lucrezia Borgia as the wicked witch.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The queen eats what she thinks is Snow White's heart. Not her fault it was a cheap knockoff.
  • Irony: One animated adaptation had it be the mirror who finally disposes of the queen. Fed up with her petty grudge, it sucks her into itself and traps her. Throughout the cartoon it's pretty clear that the mirror dislikes the queen for going after Snow White, but why it didn't stop her sooner is never answered.
  • Killer Outfit: In the version recorded by The Brothers Grimm, the wicked queen first tries to kill her beautiful step-daughter with a corset laced tightly enough to suffocate. When that fails, she tries a poisonous hair comb.
  • Lighter and Softer: Russian version by Alexander Pushkin removes the most gruesome and squicky aspects of the story. The Queen doesn't want to eat her step-daughter's heart - "just" have her left in the forest to die; the prince doesn't fall in love with a corpse - he was engaged to her even before the kidnapping and when he finds her, he breaks the coffin in grief, and she's revived by the Power of Love; and they don't make the Queen dance in red-hot iron shoes (because people don't do such sick stuff in Russia!) and she just dies of spite and envy (or maybe kills herself) after learning that the princess is alive and recovered.
  • Love at First Sight: If only she weren't comatose at the time.
  • Merciful Minion: The huntsman who refuses to kill Snow White and instead brings back the heart of a deer.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: The dwarfs can't bear to bury Snow White, so they put her in a glass coffin (in some versions) or simply leave her lying on the bier (in others).
  • Named by the Adaptation: The nameless dwarfs tend to get this:
    • Most famously, the Disney animated film named them as Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey.
    • The anime series Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics and a live-action film starring Kristin Kreuk and Miranda Richardson named them after the days of the week from Monday to Sunday.
    • Snow White and the Huntsman named them after letters of the Old Irish medieval alphabet: Beith, Coll, Duir, Gort, Muir, Nion, and Quert. An eighth dwarf is named Gus.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Everything the queen does to Snow White works this way. Stabbed by a poisoned comb? No problem! Just remove the comb and you'll be fine! Justified in the case of the first attempt, which was a corset. It was tied so tight that she couldn't breathe, thus cutting it off in time saved her.
  • Offing the Offspring: In early versions, the Queen was Snow White's biological mother, yet she was still jealous of her daughter and tried to kill her.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: The seven dwarfs are short and mine for ore, otherwise there are no other explicitly mentioned traits they seem have in common with dwarfs/dwarves in modern (read: post-Tolkien) fantasy literature.
  • Parental Abandonment: Snow White's father is often written as dead while her biological mother is consistently deceased.
  • Papa Wolf: In some Scottish versions, the Huntsman is Snow White's father. While he can't oppose his lover, he can still send their child away.
  • Perspective Flip:
    • The 2009 novel Fairest of All: A Tale Of... the Wicked Queen makes the Queen the protagonist, and in the process of giving her a backstory addresses such issues as what happened to Snow White's dad, the origin of the Magic Mirror, etc. The Queen becomes evil due to a combination of parental abuse that continues from beyond the grave and the death of the King, the only man who ever truly loved her, and it warps her view of Snow's beauty, innocence, and good nature.
    • There is also a short story ("Red as Blood" by Tanith Lee) that gives a different view on the matter: the Queen is actually a heroine who recognizes that the King's first wife (Snow White's mother) was a vampire. After trying several tests (seeing if Snow will go near a rose bush, look in a mirror, or take communion), the Queen determines that the princess is a vampire as well and sends a hunter with a cross to kill her before she reaches adulthood and goes off to kill people as her mother did. This does not go too well so the Queen disguises herself as a hag and gives Snow the apple (actually from the flesh of Jesus) which puts her into a coma. The "prince" (implied to be Jesus) wakes her up and turns her into a human girl. Oh, and the dwarves are stunted tree spirits in it.
    • "Snow, Glass, Apples", by Neil Gaiman, is also told from the perspective of the Queen, who came to realize that Snow White's father died because the little girl was sucking his blood (and other parts of him). The queen eventually succeeds in poisoning Snow White with the apple, but the prince who finds her is explicitly stated to be a necrophiliac who wants her because she's dead. The two marry and shut the stepmother up in an oven. The queen is narrating the story while being roasted alive.
    • The Twisted Fairy Tales collection starts with a take on Snow White. Like the above, it's told mostly from the perspective of the Queen. Unlike the other others here, she is her mother, like in the first version and is still definitely the villain. However, she remains somewhat pitiful, if only because one sees she was once a good person, before she started to lose her sanity and became an evil Vain Sorceress.
    • "Richilda" retells the story from the stepmother's perspective. The fun part is that it predates Grimms' by decades.
  • Prince Charming: The prince who Snow marries.
  • Princess Protagonist: Take a guess.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Snow White has "skin as white as snow" and "hair as black as ebony".
  • Rule of Three: The queen makes three assassination attempts in person before they pay off:
    • In the Grimm fairy tale, after Snow White's "death" her coffin is visited by three birds: an owl, a raven and a dove. It's an odd little detail, but scholars think they symbolize death and rebirth.
  • Self-Poisoning Gambit: In some versions of the tale, only one side of the apple is poisoned, and the queen takes a bite out of the other, unpoisoned side to "prove" the apple was safe and get Snow White to eat it.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Quite possibly the most famous example in fiction, a young girl sentenced to death for the crime of being beautiful.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: At least one incarnation ends in the queen just giving up on killing Snow White after she marries her Prince Charming. She realizes the mirror speaks the truth and just never asks it "Who's fairest?" ever again.
  • Tempting Apple: The queen disguises herself as a peddler in order to kill Snow White, and the third and successful attempt involves a delicious-looking, but poisoned apple.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: The first queen was sewing when she pricked herself, producing the blood and the famous wish.
  • Vain Sorceress: The queen.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Was added in the Brothers Grimm version. In first editions, it was averted since the queen in those versions was actually Snow White's mother.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: The queen, and then Snow White.

Alternative Title(s): Snow White And The Seven Dwarves, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs


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