I find it amusing how simple and compliant the heroines in stories can be sometimes. Some of them have been through horrible things, but don’t appear to have trust issues of any sort. They appear to walk blindly into traps, and hope by the grace of God that there is a man around to help them out of whatever predicament they are in. Fairy stories really do exemplify this, and then disney came along and sanitised those stories to make it look like good won over evil, but evil generally just slunk away.
So… we all know the story of Snow White don’t we? Well you probably know the cleaned up version. I am going to have a look at the version documented by the Brothers Grimm and then where the story may have come from. I have used a picture by Roland Risse painted in 1835, you will figure out which part of the story it is when I get there.
Once upon a time a child was born to a king. She was a pretty little thing, with skin as white as snow, so she was named Snow White. Her mother, sadly passed away during childbirth. As time when on, the child grew and became a beautiful young girl, and the king took a second wife.
The second wife, let’s call her the Evil Queen, came with a magic mirror. She would gaze into the mirror daily and say, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”. Obviously the mirror would respond “My Queen, you are the fairest in all the land”. As the mirror could never lie, this would set the Queen up for a great day.
On Snow White’s seventh birthday, the Queen was going through her usual routine, prompting the mirror to give her daily compliment, but she was shocked when the mirror returned with “Snow White is the fairest of them all”. Flying into a rage, she called for the palace huntsman. The Queen gave strict instructions to the huntsman to take Snow White out into the forest and kill her, then to bring back her lungs and heart.
The huntsman, not wanting to cross the Queen, took Snow White out into the woods as directed, but rather than killing her, he left her in a clearing. On his return to the palace he killed a bore and took the heart and lungs back with him.
Giving the organs to the Queen, she promptly asked the kitchen staff to boil them up, and then she ate them, happy that she felt there was no one in the land more beautiful that she was. The huntsman was sworn to secrecy and the king was told that his beloved daughter had been carried off by a wolf.
Meanwhile, in the woods Snow White found a small cottage, knocked the door and found seven dwarves living there. They agreed that she could stay with them, so long as she took on the cooking and cleaning while they worked in the mines. This set up worked well for all involved.
The Queen, returning to her mirror the next day asked the fatal question – “Mirror, Mirror…”, when the response came again that Snow White was still the fairest of all, the Queen flew into a rage. Demanding the mirror tell her where Snow White was, as she should be dead, the mirror responded “Over the seven jewelled hills, beyond the seventh fall, in the cottage of the Seven Dwarves, dwells Snow White the fairest of them all”. The Queen was furious that the huntsman had deceived her, and plotted a way to do the job herself.
The next day the Queen disguised herself as an old woman, and passed by the cottage. Seeing Snow White inside cleaning, she leaned into an open window and asked if Snow White would like to buy a corset. Snow White, looking a little unsure went to turn down the old woman’s offer, but letting herself in the cottage, she convinced Snow White to try on the corset and she would do it up for her. Pulling the corset laces tight, the Queen squeezed all the air out of Snow White’s lungs, leaving her passed out on the floor, the Queen felt that she had managed to complete the task the huntsman was unable to do.
Returning home from the mines, the dwarves find Snow White on the floor and quickly cut the laces of the corset, allowing Snow White to come around. The dwarves warn Snow White that she needs to be careful who she lets into the cottage.
The following day, the Queen returns to the mirror, and the same thing happens. Realising that she hadn’t killed Snow White, she comes up with a second plan. This time she creates a poisoned comb. Disguising herself again, she leans through the window and places the comb in the young girls hair. This makes her pass out again. The Queen makes her get away, but the dwarves remove the comb and Snow White awakens.
Now, you would have thought that the Evil Queen may have wanted to hang around and check if Snow White had actually died the previous two times, but you know what they say, third time’s a charm… This time she created a poisoned apple. Disguising herself as an old woman again, she returns to the cottage, and asked Snow White if she would like an apple. The apple is so beautiful and shiny that Snow White can hardly resist, taking a big old bite the poison kicks in and and Snow White falls to the ground. The Queen obviously happy with this attempt, once again returns to the palace.
When the dwarves returned home this time, there was nothing they could do, so they placed the young girls body on display outside the cottage in a glass coffin.
Time passes and the dwarves watch over the lifeless body of Snow White, until one day a handsome Prince rides by. Seeing Snow White in the coffin, he approaches the dwarves and tells them that he wants to marry her (I mean marrying a 7 year old…not cool, but for the sake of the story let’s go with it). The dwarves explain that she is not sleeping, but presumed dead, so the Prince tells them that he wants to buy her so that he can look at her (not creepy at all). The dwarves hesitantly accept, as you know, having a glass coffin on your lawn can be a bit cumbersome. They start to load the coffin into one of the carriages following the Prince, but one of the dwarves is clumsy and tips, tipping Snow White from the coffin. In this action, the piece of apple that was stuck in Snow White’s throat flies out and she awakens.
The dwarves are overjoyed to see Snow White awake, and the Prince throws himself before her and asks her to marry him, which she accepts. The Prince takes Snow White back to her own palace, where the King is overjoyed to see that his daughter is actually alive (wasn’t it nice that he went out looking for her). The King accepts the Prince marrying his daughter, and as a punishment the Evil Queen is made to dance at their wedding – this in itself sounds ok, until you learn that she had to dance in iron boots that had been heated in a kiln. The Queen was made to dance herself to death as entertainment for the wedding party.
This story, really is pretty creepy from beginning to end, with infanticide, child slavery and peadophilla, but it is all wrapped up in a nice happy ending which appears to make it ok. Disney obviously cleaned this up a lot, and also made Snow White 16 when all the awful events happened to her, to avoid the obvious issues. This story really could be the makings of a great psychological thriller, but we all seem to be content with this staying as a story we tell to children.
As before, there is always a back story, and there are a few historical things that happened which scholars attribute to the story of Snow White.
Some feel the character of Snow White was based on the life of Margaretha von Waldeck, a German countess born to Philip IV in 1533. At the age of 16, Margaretha was forced by her stepmother, Katharina of Hatzfeld, to move away to Brussels. There, Margaretha fell in love with a prince who would later become Philip II of Spain. Margaretha’s father and stepmother disapproved of the relationship as it was ‘politically inconvenient’. Margaretha mysteriously died at the age of 21, apparently having been poisoned. Historical accounts point to the King of Spain who, in opposing the romance, may have dispatched Spanish agents to murder Margaretha. What about the dwarves… well mining was a big industry in these areas, and the minors were often children forced to work in them, the work causing them stunted growth, and they were referred to as “poor dwarves”.
Scholar Graham Anderson compares the story of Snow White to the Roman legend of Chione, recorded in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The name Chione means “Snow” in Greek and, in the story, she is described as the most beautiful woman in the land, so beautiful that the gods Apollo and Mercury both fell in love with her. Mercury put her to sleep with the touch of his caduceus and raped her in her sleep. Then Apollo, disguised as an old crone, approached her and raped her again. These affections led Chione to openly boast that she was more beautiful than the goddess Diana herself, resulting in Diana shooting her through the tongue with an arrow. Chione went on to have a child with Poseidon, but threw it into the sea in fear of how he would react. The child was however saved, and brought up by Poseidon himself.
Karlheinz Bartels, a pharmacist and scholar from Lohr am Main, a town in northwestern Bavaria, found evidence that Snow White was Maria Sophia Margarethe Catharina, Baroness von und zu Erthal, who was born in Lohr on June 25, 1725. Her father, Philipp Christoph von und zu Erthal, was the local representative of the Prince Elector of Mainz. After the death of Maria Sophia’s birth mother in 1738, her father remarried in 1743. The stepmother, Claudia Elisabeth von Reichenstein, was domineering and employed her new position to the advantage of her children from her first marriage. A magic mirror referred to as “The Talking Mirror”, known as always telling the truth, can still be viewed today in the Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle, where Maria Sophia’s stepmother lived. This mirror was presumably a present from Maria Sophia’s father to his second wife. It was a product of the Lohr Mirror Manufacture (Kurmainzische Spiegelmanufaktur). The mirror did actually talk, but this obviously wasn’t magic, but rather a clever trick where the mirror would reverberate the words the person looking into it said. This mirror can still be seen in Lohr Castle, and was called “self love” as the person admiring themself in it, could say all sorts of compliments for them to bounce back into their own ears.
Personally I think the story probably originates from all three of the above, and over time it evolved and became the terrible twisted tale above.
What do you think about the story of Snow White? Why not tell me in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?