Do You Know the Real Snow White?

Do You Know the Real Snow White?

Snow White

     Originally published in 1812, the Brothers Grimm released their first collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to the public (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 1987).  Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German authors that specialized in 19th century folklore.  They have been known throughout history as the best known storytellers of folk tales.  Snow White, numbered as Tale 53, is just one of the many popular stories included in their first edition.  Over the years there have been many different versions of Snow White written.  Some of these retellings are simply translated from the original to be enjoyed in a different language, while others have been altered to suit the intended audience or artistic vision of the author.  Whether sweet and charming or dark and gripping, this classic fairy-tale will continue to be loved by many for years to come.

In the original Snow White fairy tale, there are important elements included in the telling of this famous story; a magic mirror, a poisoned comb an apple, and a glass coffin.  In addition we are introduced to the main characters including an evil queen, seven dwarfs, a prince and, of course, Snow White. The original tale does not include any illustrations.  Various depictions come in later translations and versions of the story.

In the original telling of Snow White, the story begins with a scene of the queen sewing during a winter snowfall.  She pricks her finger and as a result three drops of blood fall on to the snow of the windowsill where she sits.  The drastic mark the red blood leaves upon the white snow results in the Queen thinking to herself, “Oh that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the embroidery frame (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.156).”   Soon afterward, the Queen has a child that holds all of these attributes and she is named Snow White.  Unfortunately for the new baby girl, the Queen dies while giving birth.

This opening scene is not found in some of the newer versions of Snow White that are written for a younger audience.  The Walt Disney version of Snow White opens with Snow White at a wishing-well the writing makes no mention of her mother that died during child birth (Baker, L., 1999).   The illustrations are brightly colored and animated portraying a beautiful young woman.  Josephine Poole’s version of Snow White does open with Snow White’s mother stitching pearls onto a cloth of gold at the window (Poole, J., & Barrett, A., 1991).   She does not prick her finger sewing but rather pricks her finger after leaning out the window to listen for the king’s hunting horn.  Upon pricking her finger, just one drop of blood falls in contrast to the original three that fall from the Queen’s finger in the Grimm’s telling.

As the original story continues, time passes and the King choses to marry again.  Although his bride is very beautiful, she is also incredibly wicked.  In addition, the new Queen is extremely vain and asks her magic mirror each morning, “Looking-glass upon the wall, who is the fairest of us all (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.156).”  Knowing that the magic mirror does not lie, she is happy to hear each day, “You are fairest of them all Queen (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.156).”  And so the morning ritual continues until one morning she is told that “Queen, you are full fair, ‘tis true, but Snow White fairer is than you (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.157).”  Enraged, the Queen takes it upon herself to have Snow White killed.  Each version of Snow White told has a scene fairly consistent with this original version.  The biggest difference noted within this scene takes place in the Disney version of Snow White.  After the mirror reveals that Snow White is the most beautiful, the Queen is witness to Snow White being sung to by a prince that was captivated by Snow White’s voice and beauty while riding by the castle.

Determined to get rid of Snow White, the Queen orders a huntsman to take Snow White deep into the woods to kill her and as proof he must return with her lungs and liver.  When the huntsman brings Snow White into the woods, he finds that he cannot kill her and lets her go.  The most common difference with later versions of Snow White that include the scene with the huntsman show him returning to the Queen with a heart from a deer, rather than the lung and liver of the boar he gives to the Queen in the original tale.

As Snow White flees for her life, she wanders the forest for days until she comes upon a tiny cottage.  It appears to her that no one is home, so she enters the cottage eating, drinking and then falling asleep on one of the tiny beds.  Later that evening, seven dwarfs return home to find that someone has not only eaten food but is still there sleeping in one of their beds.  As the dwarfs discover Snow White, she wakes up and tells them what has happened to her.  Out of pity, the dwarfs let Snow White stay if she agrees to “keep our house for us, and cook and wash, and make the beds, and sew and knit, and keep everything tidy and clean (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.158).” Snow White is happy to agree knowing they will take care of her in return.

Perhaps the most drastic difference in versions comes at this point in the story when the Disney version shows Snow White fleeing the huntsman.  She is found scared in the woods by a group of sweet animals that not only befriend her but lead her to a cottage where Snow White enters and begins singing and cleaning up after the untidy residents. Exhausted from all of the events, Snow White falls asleep in the beds of the dwarfs where she is found when they return home.  It is then that Snow White begs the dwarfs to let her stay by promising to “wash and sew and sweep and cook (Baker, L., 1999).”  The dwarfs are only too happy to agree knowing they will now have a clean home and good meals to look forward to.  At this point in the tale, Snow White takes on the role of a mother to the seven dwarfs.

As Snow White finds comfort in her new home with the dwarves, the Queen is horrified to learn that Snow White is still alive.  Determined to get rid of Snow White, she disguises herself as an old peddler and visits her at the cottage in the woods.  Each morning, before the dwarves leave for work, they remind Snow White, “Beware of your stepmother. She will soon learn that you are here.  Let no one in (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.158).”  As the Queen knocks on the cottage door, Snow White looks at the old woman, sees her to be honest, and lets her in.  It is then that the old woman entices Snow White to try on a beautiful laced bodice.  As the old woman laces up the bodice on Snow White, she laces is so tight that she faints and is left for dead.  Fortunately for Snow White, the dwarfs arrive just in time to loosen the laces and save her.

The next morning, when the Queen consults the magic mirror she is enraged to learn of Snow White’s survival.  Infuriated, the Queen dresses herself in disguise again and sets out to kill the beautiful Snow White with a poisoned comb. Naïve to the danger this new visitor presents, Snow White lets the stranger into the cottage and faints when the Queen begins to comb her hair with the poisoned comb.  The next morning the Queen is in shock and nearly has a heart attack when she learns that Snow White is still alive.

These two attempts to kill Snow White are not found in every version of Snow White, what is consist in each of the versions is the evil Queen’s final attempt to murder the beautiful princess.  Determined to take care of Snow White once and for all, the Queen turns to witchcraft and makes an apple so beautiful that whoever lays eyes on it will be filled with desire to eat it.  One bite of this apple, however, means death because it is filled with poison.  In the Disney version, the apple’s poison is merely a sleeping spell that can be cured by loves first kiss.

Dressed as a peasant woman, the Queen takes the apple to Snow White who is reluctant to accept the apple.  To encourage her, the old woman cuts the apple in half, biting into the white side of the apple that is not poisoned, showing Snow White that the apple is harmless. This sharing of the apple is not present in every version reviewed.  It is then that Snow White bites into the red half of the apple, which is poisoned and immediately falls down dead.  The Queen leaves feeling triumphant.  As this climatic scene comes to an end in the Disney version, the dwarfs discover the evil woman before she is able to leave the cottage.  They chase her to the top of a rocky cliff where the Queen ultimately falls to her death.

When the dwarfs find Snow White that evening, they are unable to revive her.  Assuming that she is dead, they mourn her loss.  After three days of grieving, the dwarfs prepare to bury Snow White only to declare they cannot.  Instead, they place her in a glass coffin high on the mountain side where she remains.  During this time they take turns keeping watch over her as she appears to only be sleeping for her beauty never fades.

At this point in the Disney version, Snow White rests on an open coffin surrounded by beautiful flowers.  It is here that the prince we are introduced to in the beginning of the story discovers Snow White and kisses her in great sorrow to say farewell to the beautiful princess he had been searching for.  This single kiss breaks the spell and Snow White awakes to the cheers of the dwarfs and her prince.  It is then that Snow White thanks the dwarfs and rides off into the sunset with the price to live happily ever after.

In a much different ending told by the Grimm Brothers, a prince comes traveling through the forest and sees Snow White.  He is so enchanted by her beauty that he instantly falls in love with her.  Declaring his love for her he states that he must take her home with him “for I cannot live without looking upon Snow White (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.163).”  The dwarfs take pity on the prince and allow him to take her.  As they begin to carry the coffin, they stumble over some brush dislodging the piece of poison apple that had been stuck in Snow White’s throat.  It is then that she opens her eyes, sits up in the coffin and cries, “Oh dear! Where am I (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.163)?”

As Snow White comes back to life, the prince declares his love for her and soon after their wedding is arranged.  The happy couple makes sure to invite Snow White’s stepmother to the wedding.  Upon dressing for the wedding, the evil Queen asks the magic mirror who is most beautiful only to be told “the young bride is a thousand times more fair (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 2007, p.163).”  Not sure what to do the Queen finally decides that she has to attend the wedding to see this young bride.  As soon as she arrives at the wedding, the Queen immediately recognizes Snow White. Filled with anguish, the evil stepmother is fitted with hot iron slippers that she must dance in until she falls down dead.

Comparing and contrasting the written text and illustrative contributions of each version reviewed revealed various similarities and a generous amount of originality from each writer and illustrator.  It is clear that the original telling of Snow White, written by the Grimm Brothers, is a beloved story that has not only entertained readers for over 200 years but has also inspired immense amounts of creativity in individuals throughout time as well.

One of the most simplistic and fun retellings of this story comes in the format of a board book written by Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott (Belle, T., & Scott, M., 2012).  Each turn of the page in this little book revels one to two words; girl, evil queen, magic mirror, huntsman, and so on.  The entire gist of the story is captured and is illustrated with friendly illustrations of the characters and events that take place.  This board book in addition to the Disney version and Jennifer Greenway’s retelling are more appropriate for a much younger audience.  Although the Disney version is perhaps the most well known and loved by people around the world, Jennifer Greenway’s writing of Snow White also brings forth a fun fairytale that ends happily ever after (Greenway, J., & Augenstine, E., 1991).  Erin Augenstine’s whimsical illustrations are illuminated beautifully and are fairy like. This version is likely to be a hit with children that are engrossed in princess and fairy books.

The other versions of Snow White reviewed may be better suited for an older audience, staying true to the more violent and gruesome details written in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  The illustrations within each of these more mature versions are drawn with incredible detail and depth and the written words follow suit with a more developed vocabulary.  Nancy Ekholm Burker does a beautiful job illustrating Randall Jarrell’s translated version of Snow White (Grimm, J., & Grimm, W., 1987).  This version earned a Caldecott Honor for its exquisite artwork.  The book is published in a slightly oversized format, 9”X12”, with an alternating pattern of two facing pages of illustrations and two facing pages of print.  Another Caldecott recipient, Trina Schart Hyman, did an amazing job illustrating Paul Heins translated version of this legendary tale (Grimm, J., Heins, P., & Schart Hyman, T., 1974).  The illustrations are bold and captivating, creating an old world feel to the classic tale.  They create wonderful movement and flow to the story, pulling readers into the tale. A similar feel is created in the illustrations Angela Barrett creates in Josephine Poole’s version of Snow White (Poole, J., & Barrett, A., 1991).  The drawings are very fanciful and the variations in color tones wonderfully support the recreated take Poole has taken on this classic tale.  With slight variations from the original throughout this story readers will progress with a multitude of feelings supported by the beautiful illustrations.

Works Cited

Baker, L. (1999). Walt Disney’s Snow White and the seven dwarfs: A read-aloud storybook. New York: Mouseworks.

Belle, T., & Scott, M. (2012). Snow White. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Greenway, J., & Augenstine, E. (1991). Snow White. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel.

Grimm, J., Heins, P., & Schart Hyman, T. (1974). Snow White, (Silver Anniversary ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.

Grimm, J., & Grimm, W. (1987). Snow-White and the seven dwarfs: A tale from the Brothers Grimm ; translated by Randall Jarrell ; pictures by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. (Sunburst ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Grimm, J., & Grimm, W. (2007). Selected tales. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ann Arbor Media Group.

Poole, J., & Barrett, A. (1991). Snow-White. London: Hutchinson.


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