Updated: Apr 11, 2020
By Katarina Spaic
The Original Tale of Little Snow White: Reflections of Within
“If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame” -Brothers Grimm (“Little Snow White” Fairy-Tale)
It is no secret that fairy-tales have been translated and adapted and then edited numerous times over since they were originally gathered and written down. Snow White is no different. Whilst prepping for this blog post, I had originally wanted it to be focused on the concept of mirrors and what they represent in this tale. However, I happened upon a version of Snow White that was translated by Jack Zipes and is supposed to be one of the more raw and un-tampered translations. There were many things about this specific version that I found to be drastically different than the other ones I have read. This sparked an interest in me and I decided to focus a bit more on these edited scenes, and explore some of the aspects of this story that jumped out and claimed by attention.
The first difference was that this version is actually called Little Snow White. Not sure why the “Little…” was dropped in later versions and what makes it so important to keep. However, I do think that the character of Snow White encompasses a child-like innocence and so the “Little” may have been a very vital addition to her name. The second major difference was that this version clearly identifies the “evil queen” as Snow White’s own mother! In other versions, they have since adapted it so that the queen is her stepmother. This was extremely interesting to me. What purpose would this change, from the mother to step-mother, serve? Was it too triggering to share a story of a mother seeking to destroy her own daughter? In such a gruesome way too? In this version the mother/queen asks the hunstman to “stab her (Little Snow White) to death” and remove her “lungs and liver” so she can “cook them with salt and eat them”. Pretty graphic and horrifying if you ask me. There’s no wonder later versions felt it necessary to remove any motherly attachment from the pair and instead claim that the evil queen was a stepmother. In the intro to The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: the complete first edition, they mention that the original biological mother was changed to a stepmother because the Grimm brothers held a great respect for motherhood, and the original tale went against what they believed should be kept sacred. Snow White wasn’t the only one that was changed in this way either; in the original Hansel and Gretel tale, they apparently were also thrown out by their biological mother, not their stepmother (as is seen in later versions).
If we analyze the original tale where the evil queen is the biological mother, then let us not forget that the mother/queen actually wished for her daughter to be “as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame”. The mother wanted her daughter to be beautiful. In fact, the story states that after she uttered these words, her intention/wish was granted. This Little Snow White was more than just a wish coming into fruition, she was also formed partly from the queen herself, who gave birth to her. If we look at the fairy-tale as portraying varying aspects of one Self, then the mother/queen created a character that was actually a part of herself when she wished for Snow White. This reminds me of the concept of archetypes in Jungian psychology, where throughout our lives we are in contact with numerous characters within ourselves. Together they still make up a whole, but individually they can take on lives of their own; they feel uncontrollable and we often feel threatened by them. As we see the story progress, the queen’s feelings toward her creation soon sour into envy because Snow White begins to replace her with her ever-increasing beauty. There is no question that she is greatly threatened by this character.
Another difference in this original adaptation, is that Snow White does not awaken when she is kissed by the prince or when the coffin is jostled upon lifting it unto the prince’s carriage (as seen in various later versions). Instead, the prince takes the glass coffin with the “dead” Snow White (they are very clear about pronouncing her as “dead” in this version) to his palace, and he finds he is not happy unless he looks upon her beauty constantly. Therefore, he instructs his servants to carry her around with him wherever he goes. Eventually, one of the servants gets fed up and takes her OUT of her coffin and exclaims “why must we be plagued with so much work all because of a dead maiden?”, and he hits her on her back. This act of fury knocks the apple out of Snow White’s throat and she awakens.
Interesting twist. First of all, it’s not the prince who awakens her. Second of all, it was an act of anger that dislodged the poisoned fruit and broke the spell. Anger, as we can see in other fairy-tales, does have a negative sequelae in some instances but it is also a form of power. In one of the more original versions of The Frog Prince, the princess throws the frog against the wall in a fit of fury and only then is the spell broken and he is revealed as the true prince. Apparently this is what happens in the original Little Snow White story as well. I do think this is something that should not have been changed in later versions!
Ok, let’s venture back to mirrors. The most interested excerpt from this version regarding the queen and her mirror is this scene after the queen originally orders the huntsman to kill Snow White:
“…the queen believed that she was once again the most beautiful woman in the land and stepped before her mirror and asked, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”…”
The word “belief” is inserted in here; the queen believed she was the most beautiful until the mirror reflected the “truth” back at her. There are a few questions here: firstly, why would the queen even consult the mirror if she believed she was the most beautiful, and second, why is it so important to be THE FAIREST. Why couldn’t she be content with just being one of the fairest? These are intriguing questions and I try to venture into how aspects of myself relate with the queen. One of my favorite novels that explore this idea of relating to fairy-tale characters is called The May Queen by Michelle Tocher (https://michelletocher.com/michelle-tocher-books/). She has a fascinating exploration of Snow White, as seen through the eyes of many characters in the novel, and I highly recommend looking into it.
The concept of mirrors itself can be viewed in so many different ways, it can be overwhelming. I spent a lot of time dwelling on what comes up when I think of “mirrors”. If I tune into the evil queen and picture myself standing in front of a mirror, what types of messages appear for me? A mirror presents us with information that we wouldn’t otherwise have. I can put my hair up without a mirror and believe that my hairstyle is perfect and beautiful; and a part of me feels very content with that. But as soon as I look in a mirror, if what I see opposes that former belief, then my thoughts automatically change. Along with that, my attitude changes and usually I will act in some way (fixing my hair in this example) to fulfill my original belief. This is a very silly example that has me thinking about what would our lives be like without mirrors. What is the purpose of mirrors? How are internal mirrors/reflections represented in our daily lives and what does that look like when we confide in them to get information about ourselves and our reality?
Basically, when I finished reading Snow White for the fifth time, had had multiple conversations with friends about what mirrors represented psychologically, and had engaged in my own deep reflections regarding mirrors, I realized that I was left with a lot more questions than answers. I had written three poems about it, and hadn’t gained that much more clarity on the subject. I have come to the nowhere-near-complete conclusion that mirrors can represent multiple different things to numerous people in various stages of their lives. Maybe it doesn’t really matter how to interpret what a “reflection” represents to us on a psychological level, but how we handle information that is given to us via a mirror that really should be focused on. Mirrors give us information that then allow us to compare ourselves to others. Whether that’s physically (such as beauty, which is seen in this fairy-tale) or internally (an example being having an internal mirror that allows you to scrutinize your academic ability and then compare this to others). In the fairy-tale, the evil queen was clearly consumed by what her reflection told her. In a way, she was a prisoner to this statement of being the “fairest in all the land”, it was set in stone for her. And if we follow her down this path, as we see in the ending, it inevitably leads to her downfall.
By Katarina Spaic
A mirror is a curious thing. She sees herself reflected in the water, Her bathroom mirror, The glass panes of a shop window…