In the original folktale about Snow White, which even the Grimm Brothers had to sanitise, Snow White’s evil queen was not her stepmother but her mother. The queen had wished for a beautiful daughter but became so jealous of that daughter’s beauty, she ordered a huntsman to take her child to the forest, cut out her lungs and liver, and bring them back for the queen to eat to restore her lost youth and beauty.
The Grimm Brothers took out the cannibalistic mother, but their Little Snow White was only seven years old, and they had no qualms about marrying her off to the Handsome Prince. Their prose is very plain and didactic, which I have emulated, and some lines are quoted directly from the Grimm Brother’s version, because not even I could make this stuff up. I’ve underlined the quotes I took from the original version for those of you who may have read it so long ago that you don’t remember how truly awful it was.
I did not attempt to change the plot or Little Snow White’s fate as dictated by the Grimm Brothers. I simply reworded their version to highlight the ideas they were trying to convey to their audience.
Once upon a time there lived a King and Queen who longed for a child to inherit the throne and all their wealth. Eventually the Queen gave birth to a baby girl. The King was too busy to be pleased about a daughter who wasn’t a son but he named the baby Snow White so everyone would know she was white and pure and could therefore be beautiful. It’s very important for girls to be beautiful but princesses do not exist if they are not beautiful. Luckily, Snow White was as beautiful as the day is long and days are very long for beautiful girls.
After Little Snow White was born the Queen died because women’s stories always end when they have children.
Little Snow White was left to the care of her father, the King. Kings are far too busy doing important things with war and money to care for little girls, so he found a new Queen. “You are my wife,” he said to her, “and you are beautiful. It is your task to raise my child and maintain your beauty, for your purpose is to show all the men in my kingdom that I am very powerful.”
The King did not want to care for his child, but he was not evil, he was just important. The new Queen was desirable and wanted to do other things than care for a child, which proves that she was evil.
Knowing that his Evil Queen wanted to do these other things, the King, who was important but not stupid, asked a sorcerer to make a magic mirror. “Ensorcell it so it will talk to her every day,” he commanded, “but make it so it can never tell her truths, it can only lie.”
The Sorcerer did as the King commanded and after their wedding the King gave the magic mirror to the Evil Queen.
“You are my wife and my Queen,” he said, “you are too busy caring for me and my child to talk to any of the women at my court and too beautiful to talk to the men, so I am giving you this mirror. You must sit in front of it every day and talk to it about what you want and how you feel”. He had his servants hang it on the wall in her room and returned to his wars and his money.
Even Evil Queens can get lonely, so she spent many hours in front of the mirror that lied to her, talking to it about all the other things she wanted to do and the child she did not want to care for. But the mirror that lied to her was not there to listen or care for her. Its only purpose was to lie.
“You are still young and beautiful,” it said, “You cannot be anything else. You earn your place in the world with your beauty and the world wants nothing else from you. Accept this and you will be happy. You must also teach these lessons to Little Snow White. Even you, so evil that you do not want children, are required to ensure that little girls are good and sweet and obedient.”
For many years, the Evil Queen had no one to talk to but the mirror that lied to her, and so she came to trust it and believed its lies were truth. When Little Snow White was seven years old, the mirror that lied to her told the Evil Queen the child she did not want was becoming a danger to her.
“Little Snow White is growing up and you are growing older,” it said, “Look how beautiful she is becoming! Look how sweet and graceful and obedient she is! Soon she will take your place as the King’s most beautiful possession and then you will have no place in the world.”
The Evil Queen was terrified. “What can I do?” she asked the mirror that lied to her, “How can I save myself?”
“There is only space for one beautiful woman here and you must keep it for yourself,” replied the mirror that lied to her, “You must have Snow White killed.”
“Kill her? She’s only a child! Surely that would be even to evil for me,” cried the Evil Queen. She ran from the mirror that lied to her and roamed the castle, wishing she could be something other than beautiful and evil and in danger.
The Evil Queen begged and pleaded with the mirror that lied to her, but every day it told her she had to kill Little Snow White or lose her own place in the world.
Eventually, the Evil Queen called one of the King’s hunters to her and ordered him to kill little Snow White. The hunter was a Good Man who did not know he was responsible for his own choices. He agreed to take Little Snow White to the woods and kill her, as any Good Man would do.
Little Snow White was sweet and kind and obedient, so she made no objection to being taken off to the silent forest by the Good Man who was going to kill her.
When a Good Man kills a child in a fairy tale, it needs to happen in a dark forest, so the Good Man too Little Snow White to the deepest, darkest heart of the forest, drew his and prepared to plunge it into Little Snow White’s chest. Little Snow White was too unselfish to fight for her life, all she could do was cry and beg.
The Good Man was touched by her willingness to die for her role as a passive victim in her own story and decided he would not stab her through the heart. “Run away, then, you poor child,” he said. “The wild beasts will soon devour you.” And it seemed as if a stone had been rolled from his heart since he no longer needed to kill her. Such a relief for the Good Man, that he only had to leave a little child to a lonely, terrifying death in the forest rather than kill her with his own hands.
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