Snow White is probably the most famous fairy tale brought to us by the Brothers Grimm, although arguably they have Walt Disney to thank for this particular story’s popularity. It was first published in 1812 as Little Snow White and in its original form was far darker than their finalised edition of 1854. This was because they were now aiming their stories at children. Disney’s animated film, released in 1937, owes much of its influence to the final version but he lightened the mood even further.
In the original story the villain is in fact Snow White’s mother, not step-mother, which puts a shocking slant on things. So jealous is she of her daughter’s beauty that she instructs a servant to take the girl into the forest and kill her. To prove that her daughter is dead the servant was required to bring back Snow White’s liver and lungs. (Not heart as in Disney’s story). The servant, however, takes pity on the child, who it should be mentioned is but seven years old, and lets her run away. On his return the servant slaughters a wild boar and presents its lungs and liver to the Queen. And what does she do? Orders the cook to prepare the offal and eats it for her supper. Ah, cannibalism. That wasn’t in Disney’s version.
Snow White comes across the house of seven little men. As none of them are at home the girl helps herself to their food and wine and then looks for a bed to sleep in. “But none of them felt right-one was too long, the other too short- until finally the seventh one was just right.” Sound familiar? When the seven dwarves return from their hard day down the mine they are somewhat perplexed to find that their lovely house is not the way they left it. Contrast this to Disney’s version where you may recall Snow White started cleaning up after the dwarves. Mind you, what seven year old’s first thought is “Hmm I must tackle the housework” The dwarves are so bowled over by the girl’s beauty that they let her stay. (It must also be noted that the dwarves were never named. That came along hundred years later in 1912 in a Broadway production called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And you thought that was Disney’s idea.)
Snow White by one of my illustration hero’s Yvonne Gilbert
Meanwhile, back at the castle, the Queen is shocked to hear from her magic mirror that Snow White lives and is a thousand times fairer than she. Now, unlike Disney’s version the Queen visits Snow White three times in an attempt to kill the child and on each occasion disguises herself as a peddler woman selling her wares. Firstly she offers silken bodice laces with which she tightens Snow White’s corset so severely the child cannot breath and passes out. And the second time with a beautiful comb for Snow White’s hair. The tines are poisoned and when it touches her scalp Snow White falls to the floor. On both occasions the dwarves arrive in the nick of time and save the child. To be fair to the dwarves they had warned Snow White to not let anyone into the house while they were gone. But as in all good fairy tales good advise goes unheeded. Finally the Queen uses all her evil powers to produce an apple so delicious that Snow White can’t possibly refuse. One side of the apple is white and the other red and it is the red side that is poisoned. To convince Snow White that there is nothing amiss with the fruit, the Queen cunningly takes a bite from the white flesh. When Snow White bites into the red half she falls down dead. The queen looked at her with a gruesome stare, laughed loudly, and said, “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood! This time the dwarfs cannot awaken you.”
Snow White illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia
And indeed they could not. Not wanting to bury her under the ground they fashioned a coffin from glass, placed Snow White within it and gazed upon her every day. Along came a prince and this being the very best of fairy tales he fell instantly in love with her. And being a prince he thought nothing of demanding that he take her home with him. The dwarves gave in but when the coffin was moved the piece of apple becomes dislodged from Snow White’s throat and she wakes up. (You may be interested to know that in the original 1812 version the Prince’s servants had to carry the coffin around all day every day so Snow White could be near the Prince. One servant got fed up of this, removed the lid and took his anger out on Snow White by slapping her around the face, so dislodging the offending piece of fruit.)
Well of course the Prince is overjoyed, automatically asks Snow White’s hand in marriage and she says yes. They get married and the Queen, who is blissfully ignorant of this new queen’s identity, is invited to the wedding. When her mirror tells her that the new queen is the fairest of them all the woman has to go to the celebrations to see for herself. Instantly, she recognises Snow White and in her terror cannot move.
Then they put a pair of iron shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead.
Disney opted to kill off the Queen by hurling her over a cliff, but I prefer The Grimm Brother’s shockingly cruel ending.
What do you think?