Snow White, part 1

from CBS news

Marge Champion was the model for Disneys Snow White

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as with most fairy tales descending from an oral tradition, exists in a number of differing forms. I’m going to use the Brothers Grimm 1812 version as the earliest written form of the work that we recognize. The most often seen form today is Grimm’s 1819 version. SurLaLune Fairy Tales elegantly annotates the 1819 version of the work, and D. L. Ashliman presents his wonderful translation of the 1812 version alongside some of the other tales that involve a jealous mother figure trying to kill her more beautiful child (Aarne Thompson 709), including Basile’s, The Young Slave. Bruno Bettleheim’s take on Snow White in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, just humbles me. It’s well worth reading.

As always, I’ll begin with a synopsis and move on to the discussion. Do read a complete version of the fairy tale, either at one of the links above or from your own well-thumbed copy of Grimm’s (or Andrew Lang’s collection, though I forget what color fairy tale book Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs shows up in).

Once upon a time in mid winter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a beautiful queen sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony wood. As she sewed, she looked up at the snow and pricked her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red on the white looked so beautiful, that she thought, “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as this frame. Soon afterward she had a little daughter that was as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood, and therefore they called her Little Snow-White. (Ashliman)

The queen was vain, though. She sat in front of her magic mirror and each morning asked to be reassured that she was the most beautiful woman in the land. All of us know the refrain, “Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .”

All went well until Snow-White turned seven years old (yes, 7!!), and the mirror answered that that Little Snow-White was the fairer of the two. The Queen’s heart turned. She became jealous and hated Snow White from that moment on. The Queen summoned her huntsman and told him to take Snow White out into the woods and kill her, and to bring back the little girl’s lungs and her liver, that she might have them cooked with salt and eat them.

In the woods, Snow White begins to cry when the huntsman pulls out his knife to stab her, and he takes pity on her “because of her great beauty.” Besides, the animals will get her . . . Snow White runs far into the scary woods while the woodsman kills a young boar, which the Queen has cooked (with salt) and eats as promised.

(I pull back here and imagine a mother holding her daughter, sitting on the side of the daughter’s bed and telling the story of Snow White . . .)

image from

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White runs until dark, when she comes to a small cottage, neat and clean with 7 neatly laid out place settings and 7 beds, largest to smallest. She eats a small amount from each of the plates and tries each of the beds before the smallest is “just right.” She falls asleep and the dwarfs return from their day’s labor in the mine. Like the bears in Goldilocks, they each note that someone has been eating from their plates and trying their beds before the smallest finds the girl. They are struck by her beauty, and allow her to stay if she will cook and clean diligently, and warn her not to let anyone into the cottage, because they understand that she’ll be in great danger from the Queen.

The next day the Queen indeed checked her mirror and found that Snow White lived, and was still the fairest of all. The Queen tried three times to kill Snow White, each time in a different disguise. Each time the Queen approached the cottage with a different temptation, and each time, despite the dwarfs’ warnings and her own experiences, Snow White admitted her.

Snow White in the woods, by Franz Juttner (from

First, the Queen sold Snow White lace with which to tie her bodice (implying that Snow White now had a bust, and that perhaps “the next day” was longer than most and that Snow White was no longer 7 years old). The Queen laced the bodice and pulled it so tightly that Snow White could not breathe and fell to the ground, dead. The dwarfs returned at the end of the day and cut the ties. Snow White returned to life. Second, the Queen sold Snow White poisoned comb, and when she combed Snow White’s hair the girl fell dead. Finally, the Queen poisoned an apple and offered it to the girl (this she didn’t sell). Snow White was finally distrustful. The Queen cut the apple in half and ate from the white, unpoisoned, side. Snow White ate from the red side and died. The dwarfs could not resuscitate her, and mourned her. But since she didn’t decay or change her appearance “and still had beautiful red cheeks,” they did not bury her, but placed her in a glass coffin.

One day (here there is time for her to mature) a king’s son comes to the cottage. He falls in love with the girl in the coffin and asks if he can purchase her. The dwarfs refuse, and he begs them to allow him take her with, because he’s fallen in love with her. They relent and allow this.

In the 1812 version of the Grimm’s tale, Snow White is brought back to life when a servant, angry at having to carry the coffin all the time, opens it, sits her up and hits her on the back. Later versions have a servant stumble carrying the coffin from the dwarfs’ cottage to the castle. Either way, the apple is dislodged and Snow White and the prince are married. Snow White’s mother comes to the wedding and is placed into red-hot iron shoes and made to dance until she dies.

Again, I pull back and think of a mother reading this to her daughter. Whuwh!

There is a lot going on here, both on the surface and beneath it. Next post will begin to look at the story from the standpoint of what the child is hearing as mother tells the story. I’d love to hear from anyone out there about their Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs memories.


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