A Myriad of Snow Whites

The number of Snow White adaptations out there is simply staggering. To date, I’ve watched five movies, read three YA novels and one very silly picture book, and have at least a dozen more versions coming from the library. And that’s just the adaptations or re-tellings of the Grimms’ tale, which is only one of many versions of this story.

The movies are: Snow White (silent film, 1916), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney, 1937), Enchanted (2007), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), and Mirror Mirror (2012). The books are the novelisation of Snow White and the Huntsman (which doesn’t even have the text writer, Lily Blake, mentioned on the cover, but instead the screenplay writers Evan Daughterty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini), Snow by Tracy Lynn, and Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (wonderful, that one. But that’s Levine for you.). The picture book is from the Fairy Tails series, which features photos of puppy dogs dressed in costumes by way of illustrations (’nuff said).

It’ll be fun doing a comparison of some of those versions (I was going to say “of all of those versions”, but that’s just not possible. I’ll have to pick & choose.). Because hardly any of these stories are like the others in their particulars. Most likely, some of those picture books I put on hold will be alike in their narrative at least; I think they’re just the Grimms’ version illustrated by different artists. But the ones that are retellings, or adaptations, are very different from each other. Some try really hard to stick with the original tale, but for most, Disney creeps into it somewhere.

The most notable instance of this is the kiss which breaks the spell. Disney must have swiped that from the Sleeping Beauty story, as being so much sweeter and more romantic than what the Grimms wrote down. From what I can gather, no version before 1937 has the kiss in it, not even the 1916 silent movie with Dorothy Cumming which (rumour has it) was one of Walt Disney’s inspirations. That one still uses the Grimms’ solution: the piece of poisoned apple which was stuck in Snow White’s throat somehow gets dislodged, and voilà, the princess flutters open her eyelids. In the final Grimms’ version (from 1819 onwards) the dislodging happens because one of the pallbearers trips, and the jolt this gives to Snow White in the glass coffin makes the apple pop out. In the 1812 version (first edition of the Fairytales), it’s even more drastic: the prince can’t live without looking at Snow White, so he has a servant carry her after him from room to room (like, that’s not creepy at all…). The servant, quite understandably, gets fed up with this chore, so he opens the glass coffin, pulls up the girl upright, goes “We’re plagued the whole day just because of this dead girl!” and thumps her on the back in exasperation. And out pops the apple piece, Snow White opens her eyes and chirps “Where am I?” to which the prince replies “You are with me!” and happiness ensues. Aww, so romantic – her spell gets broken by being hit by an overworked servant. (Incidentally, the same thing happens in the Grimms’ version of “The Frog Prince”: he doesn’t get de-froggified with a kiss, but the princess chucks him against the wall in disgust at his sliminess. I guess the Grimms believed more in the power of a good solid smack than that of True Love’s First Kiss.) The only one of those books and movies I’ve read/watched which uses this solution, other than the 1916 one, is Levine’s version, but in this one it’s the prince who hits Snow White (he’s been kissing her before she ever got poisoned, so I guess the first-kiss-effect was already worn off).

One of the things that strikes me about all these stories is just how varied they are. I suppose that’s what makes this a real folktale: anybody can use it for whatever they like, and make of it what they like. It brings up another question, too: is a folktale a set story with predetermined “meanings”, “themes” and “messages”, or is it a different story in each age it is told, if not with each teller or each telling? And at what point does it leave off being “Snow White” and become some other tale? What are the essential elements of a story?

One thought on “A Myriad of Snow Whites

  1. Pingback: Cinderellas Galore | quill and qwerty

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