Gather around children…
It’s time to desecrate Fairy Tales.
So recently I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman and was entirely indifferent about the whole experience. Yes, Kristen Stewart’s apathetic chipmunk face was annoying, the character development with the supposed friendship/love interest Chris Hemsworth was little to non-existent and Charlize Theron was hot as a crazy evil witch…these were all features that I had anticipated. What I was really thinking about for most of the film was the original German fairy tale and the other adaptations of it that I had encountered before I decided to pay money to see Kristen Stewart scrunch her eyebrows.
With the arrival of fairy tale film adaptations like Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman and the impending other Snow White film on its way (Mirror, Mirror) the film industry seems to have a case of Fairy Tale Fever. So, since many may often forget about the original tale and the themes it implies, and are unaware of other very interesting adaptations of Snow White & her Stepmother…I have decided to share my thoughts on some of these with you lovely people and show you just how weird and disturbing Fairy Tales can be.
Let us begin at the beginning! The original fairy tale Snow White & the Seven Dwarves by the Brothers Grimm is a story that probably would have frightened me as a kid. As we all know fairy tales were and still are used as warnings to bold children and somewhat impact their perspective on good and bad. However, since all I got was the watered down Disney version and only read the original text in my later years…it didn’t really have as big an impact on me. Sad really.
1) Snow White & The Seven Dwarves by the Brothers Grimm
So it begins… A lovely Queen pricks her finger on a sewing needle, three drops of blood in the snow (probably embodying the cycle of sexuality), a pleasant image of having a pretty daughter and POOF! A crazy beautiful girl is born to a King and Queen. Queen Dies. Enter…THE STEPMOTHER. And of course, because the Stepmother is not a blood relative, or virginal and pure like her stepdaughter she is inevitably portrayed as an evil, vain psycho obsessed with her reflection. She becomes insanely jealous of this child (and she is very much a child) with her skin as pale as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as dark as ebony. So, the Queen makes several attempts to kill her.
We don’t even see the father intervening… or actually appearing in this version of the story again for no stated reason. Although some say that he is present as the partriarchal voice of judgement that the Queen hears from her mirror. Aside from that it’s just back and forth with the Evil Queen and Snow White… and the dwarves being absolutely useless in the midst of the feud.
The story should really be called Snow White and her Crazy Evil Stepmother.
Really, for all of Snow White’s beauty and kindness and being a ray of domestic, house cleaning light to seven little men…she’s a really easy target. She gets away lucky with the merciful huntsman the first time the queen tries to kill her so she can maintain her beauty queen title and eat Snow White’s liver and lungs. Her LIVER and her LUNGS. Most people think she eats a heart. The other three times the Queen was very lucky that this Snow White kid was as innocent and naive as she was. She manages to nearly kill her three more times; once with magical staylaces for a corset that almost crushes her to death, again with a poisoned comb and then of course, the poisoned apple. She does all this in a silly disguise and Snow White, after SEVERAL warnings from the dwarves about NOT LETTING ANYONE IN THE BLOODY HOUSE, still falls victim to the Queen’s attempts.
So she dies after biting the apple…but not really. A lot of adaptations say that she falls into some sort of coma. However, in the original German story, it states that it only looks like she’s sleeping, retains her beauty and does not decay. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. I’ve decided to stay impartial to this. So, enwrought with grief for their beloved pretty housemaid. The dwarves put her in a glass coffin on top of a mountain. Because that is TOTALLY normal. Enter prince charming, who sees this pale, dark haired girl lying in a glass coffin and is all like; “Damn, I love that woman who may or may not be dead or sleeping.”
Tell me that doesn’t come across as the prince having latent necrophiliac tendencies? If you don’t think so… then it most certainly implies he’s a Somnophiliac (where sexual arousal is stimulated by intruding on and awakening a sleeping person).
So now you suppose he kisses her with loves true kiss and she wakes up right? WRONG. In the Brothers Grimm version, the Prince is having is servants carry the coffin of this total stranger to his home (Because that is ALSO TOTALLY NORMAL) when they trip over a shrub that conveniently jolts free the piece of poisonous apple stuck in Snow White’s throat. So you’d think the servants get some credit here right? Nope.
Snow White and the Prince get married and the Stepmother gets the really raw deal of not being the fairest in the land and being invited to the wedding only to find out that she was only invited so the Prince and Snow White could make her wear scalding hot iron shoes and then make her dance until she drops dead. That’s really high school prank kind of stuff.
2) Disney’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarves
Basically the same as the original without all the death & with lots more comedy and a hell of a lot more singing and dancing. You should totally watch it if you like the idea of birds singing to you as you bake pies and falling in love in the space of five minutes.
3) Snow White: A Tale of Terror (Film)
*Warning! Spoilers Ahead!*
The film does what the title implies, it sticks to the darker features of the original tale except there’s no actual reference to the name Snow White… instead the Snow White character is seen through Lily Hoffman. The daughter of a Lord in what appears to be a medieval setting. We have the same story as before; apart from the very present father figure in Sam Neil who portrays Lily’s father Frederic Hoffman; a grieving widower who falls for the charms of Lady Claudia, played by Sigourney Weaver, the story’s evil queen character. At first it seems that the stepmother genuinely wants to bond with Lily, she even gives her a puppy! But this Snow White is evidently more feisty and rebellious teenager than the original one (she totally doesn’t thank her for the puppy and throws a cup of wine in Claudia’s face after the wedding.)
Although it’s clear she is being rejected as a maternal figure by Lily, Claudia’s hatred for Lily still stems from her own narcissism. She keeps Lily in dressed in girls clothes until she comes of age, Lily rebels by wearing a dress that belonged to her mother to a ball at her fathers castle. Lady Claudia, now heavily pregnant, sees how pretty she looks and becomes so incredibly jealous that she goes into labour and delivers a stillborn boy. It’s after this grueling ordeal that she literally splits in two and starts plotting revenge on Lily, who she blames for the death, with her reflection in her mirror. This displaces the previous notions of the mirror as a patriarchal figure and focuses more on the queen’s inward struggle with her identity as a mother. Her revenge is all Black Magic and Doom, literally. She obsesses about bringing her stillborn back to life, keeps Frederic sedated with poisons and magic and infects everyone at the castle with the Black Death.
Talk about a temper.
Meanwhile, Lily makes her escape into the depths of the forest from Lady Claudia’s brother (The Huntsman) and runs into, not Seven Dwarves, but Seven Combatant Miners who are anything but vertically challenged. These guys are not the chubby little friendly people we saw in the cartoon. They are hard-done-by thieves and cut throats that threaten Lily with rape at first. But lo! She forms a friendship with the tall dark mysterious leader of the pack…I don’t need to tell you what happens after that. Even with all these big men protecting her, Lily still eats the apple (Biblical reference perhaps?) and develops a kind of locked-in-syndrome, as opposed to falling into a coma. Leaving her a awake and aware yet fully paralyzed until the apple piece is literally shaken out of her.
You can do the rest of the fairy tale math yourself.
Personally, I thought this adaptation was really good. It kept the whole story quite dark and real. Snow White isn’t just ‘As White as Snow’. Lily confronts Claudia and gets her revenge (kinda like in Snow White and the Huntsman). She stabs Claudia’s psycho alter ego mirror with a big knife and watches her burn to death. That’s gutsy. And Sigourney Weaver is quite awesome as the evil queen. There’s a lot of emphasis on her descent into the pits of madness after the loss of her son, something you wouldn’t get from the original story. This strengthens an additional theme of maternity, something that she longs for but is exactly what Lily refuses to give her. In general, the two lead female characters are a hell of a lot stronger than the original story implies.
Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman
Strap in guys, because Neil Gaiman is about to remix this fairy tale business with his short story Snow, Glass, Apples. This is not your basic ‘once upon a time’ job. Gaiman has shifted the focus of the well known fairy tale, and has written his version from the perspective of the stepmother, watching her life fall around her at the hands of a child who, according to her, is not what she seems. Already an established writer of all things dark and fantastic, Gaiman has very much put his own spin on this story. The title I find quite effective and mysterious as it signifies the three main aesthetic elements of the story, without so much as a connotation to the hero or the villain. Very un-fairy tale, and yet so intriguing.
So Neil relays the tale of the young queen, beginning with a young love affair with a King and her fear of his daughter, whom she claims to have an unusual thirst… for blood. The child is described as Snow White would be, pale white skin, black hair and blood red lips, but we are now seeing it from an entirely different angle. After the Queens initial and fearful encounter of this girl’s blood lust, the King is taken out of the picture, dying a pale and weakened man with new scars on his body, the queen obviously suspicious of the daughter. And so this Queen, unlike the others, claims to have cut the girls real heart from her chest and hung it from her ceiling where it continued to pulse with faint life.
Through the Queen’s clairvoyant mirror, we see this child as something demonic, bloodthirsty roaming the dark forests and strike fear into the Queen’s subjects. We see her seduce and drain an old monk of his blood. Even her Prince, who surely comes along, is claimed by the Queen to have an unusual fetish for ‘cold’ and ‘still’ women (Implying Vampires AND Necrophilia. Nice.) The usual themes of maternity and patriarchy don’t really exist much in this version, through the eyes of this particular queen, we see a monstrous, sexually aware female that is totally alien to her and her world. Perhaps Gaiman’s Queen in Snow, Glass, Apples is a window into an unstable mind of the original queen? Exaggerating her perspective of a girl that threatens her place in a new home? Or perhaps you’ll see it her way? Either way you may see it, the story is a very well written and very dark re-telling of a fairy tale. So much so that I don’t want to give TOO much away. At present, I shall only say that if you do enjoy a good spooky fairy tale, and if you haven’t read it already….READ IT!
(http://www.holycow.com/dreaming/stories/snow-glass-apples/_ Copyright (c) Neil Gaiman, 1994 )
So, young friends, what did we learn today? Probably that more recent adaptations of Snow White & the Seven dwarves are becoming significantly more bad ass than the original one. Which was initially pretty dark. I suppose I should mention, that Snow White and the Huntsman was actually a good adaptation in my opinion too. Despite the presence of Kristen Stewart. It stuck to similar story lines as Snow White: A Tale of Terror did. There was the same dark, gothic elements and a lot more fantasy. And of course, its all about the happy fuckin’ ending where Snow White is still seen as a virtuous ray of hope in a dark world. So much so that they just HAD to bring the Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke in to ‘bless’ her as the one to stop all the evil. I just had to laugh at that part. Seriously though, they look pretty much the same.
Aside from all that, I suppose you could say we learned that you should always be original in your disguises when taking revenge, if you try to cut out a vampire girls heart you will most definitely piss off their boyfriend and hot iron shoes will probably never be fashionable. I leave you with another interesting, amped up adaptation of Snow White: