Friday, July 16, 2010

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Nowadays, it's very trendy to take digs at Disney, but the fact remains that he is one of the world's last great storytellers. He gets blamed for "ruining" fairy tales, when all he did was bring them back into the public eye and breathe new life into them. So I thought it not inappropriate to start with the story he started with (Incidentally, if you don’t like Walt Disney, this might not be the blog for you). His film remained very reliable to the original, so my story remained very reliable to his. I wanted the dwarfs to have names, but I couldn’t give them the names from the Disney version for fear of legal action, so I made up names.

As I said, we remain fairly reliable to the Grimm in this version, save for two somewhat grisly elements of the original. The Queen actually eats what she believes to be Snow White’s heart and, when the story ends, the Queen is forced to wear metal shoes, turned red hot in a stove and dance at Snow White’s wedding. Yuch! Thanks for your discretion, Walt!

nce upon a time and long ago there was a good and noble king who was married to a good and noble queen and they ruled a good and noble kingdom by the good and noble forest. And they were very, very happy except for one thing: They longed to have a child. For years they had hoped and prayed for a child, but to no avail. Then one December day, when the trees were all wondering why they had to lose their leaves before the freezing wind came, the queen was sitting by the window, doing her needlepoint (which is a thing queens do in these stories), when she looked out the ebony-framed window and said, very simply, “Please, Lord, send me a child.”

As soon as she had said that, she slipped with her needle and pricked her own finger. Three drops of blood fell on the black window pane. And in that moment, the queen knew that she would have a child with lips as red as blood, hair as black as ebony, and skin as white as snow. She also knew that she would never live to see her child grow.

Indeed, the fair queen died giving birth to the princess. Granting his wife’s last wish, the king named the child Snow White. As predicted, the young princess had skin to match her name, red, red lips and hair that would make a raven want to get out of the business entirely.

Soon after Snow White was born, the king remarried. His new bride was beautiful of face and figure, but was NOT good and noble. She was very vain. The only possession she brought to the castle when she arrived was a large mirror, which she hung in her chambers. And every morning, Snow White’s stepmother would stand in front of the mirror and say: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Who is the fairest of them all?” And every morning, the mirror said,
“Of all the maidens I have seen,
The fairest of all is you, my queen."
It could’ve just said “you are,” but most mirrors talk in verse, which is why you should never ask a mirror anything about oranges.

The years passed as they have been known to do. Snow White’s father died and her stepmother, the Queen was now the sole ruler of the kingdom. She ruled not kindly, not cruelly, but inattentively. She paid little heed to the needs and wishes of her subjects, preferring to spend her time searching the countryside for lovely maids and subjecting them to hard work and toil to rob them of their beauty. For you see, to the Wicked Queen, being beautiful was the only thing that mattered. And she did not tolerate anyone being more beautiful than she.
But Snow White was growing into a beautiful young woman in her own right. And with each passing year she looked more and more like her beautiful mother. Her skin had grown more pure and pale, her lips deeper and redder and her hair blacker than black.
How much more black could her hair be? The answer is none. None more black.

Anyhoo, seeing her stepdaughter changing day by day into a more and more beautiful girl angered the Queen and she immediately put the princess to work as a scullery. Snow White was forced to work as a maid in her own home. Did Snow White despair? Did she lose hope? Did she cry and bemoan her fate? Well, if you’ll stop asking so many questions I’ll tell you! Sheesh!

She did not. For you see, beautiful though she was, the most beautiful thing about her was her spirit. Her heart. Her endless love and joy.

So she would sing as she worked. One day, she was gathering water from the well (which her father had always told her was a magic wishing well and Show White had no reason to doubt him) singing her wishing song. It was a beautiful song sung in a beautiful voice and it went something like this:

If I wish it long enough
Hard enough
Strong enough
If my wish is pure enough
My dreams will come true

If I hope with all my heart
Then I’ll start
To feel the part
And my wish will guide my heart
Home at last with you.

I won’t tell you what she wished, because then it wouldn’t come true. But while she was singing, she heard a tiny sound. She looked around and there, in the middle of the castle courtyard, was a tiny bluebird. All alone. With a look on his face that Snow White knew very well. Loneliness.

“Are you all right, little friend?” Snow White asked. The bird chirped sadly in answer, but Snow White knew exactly what was wrong. “Are you lost?” she asked and the bird seemed (to Snow White at least) to say “yes.” Snow White held the little bird gently in her hand and spent fully half an hour searching the trees for the bird’s family, and sure enough she found them. The bird flitted away happily and Snow White continued to sing.

So it was that though her face was covered in soot and her clothes torn to rags, the day finally came when the Queen asked her mirror who was the fairest of them all and the mirror replied:

Lips red as blood,
Hair black as night,
Skin white as snow—
It is Snow White!

Again, the mirror could’ve just said “Snow White,” but it was mostly just glad that her hair wasn’t orange.

So the Queen called her faithful huntsman to her chambers and gave him his instructions. He was to take Snow White into the forest, far away from the castle so that her screams would not be heard, and kill her. Then the Queen gave the Huntsman a box into which he was to put Snow White’s heart and bring it back to her as proof that he had done as she asked.
The Huntsman was shocked by this assignment. He was no murderer. He hunted to provide food for the castle, but he had principles. He only killed old animals who had led a full happy life and were having trouble walking. But to kill such a beautiful little princess as Snow White was inhuman. Of course, he had no choice. It was kill Snow White and bring back her heart, or he himself would die.
The next day, the Huntsman invited the young princess on a trip into the woods. There the girl frolicked, played with some animals and picked wildflowers. It was her intention to make a gift of them to her stepmother, little knowing the Queen’s treachery. When he felt the moment was right, the Huntsman stalked up to Snow White and raised his knife above her. And it’s likely he would’ve done it…but at the last moment, the princess turned around and looked up at him. She did not scream, she was too afraid. She just stared into the Huntsman’s eyes.
The knife fell from his hand. He couldn’t go through with it. Snow White was very frightened and very confused. The Huntsman told her all about the Queen’s orders and her terribly jealousy. He begged Snow White to run away and never come back. It was the only way she could be safe. The Huntsman himself would have to kill a deer or a boar and use its heart to fool the Queen.
So Snow White ran into the woods. She ran and ran and ran, blinded by her tears, until she could run no further and then she collapsed onto the forest floor and cried herself almost to sleep. She could not believe it. She had never done anything cruel to anyone, and now her own stepmother, the only family she had left in the world, wanted her dead. It was more than Snow White could bear. More than anyone could bear, I’ll wager.
Just when she was ready to give up all hope she heard a familiar sound. She looked up and there, on a branch above her, sat the little baby bird she had helped in the courtyard. He was speaking to Snow White in a way that she could understand but that you or I could not.
(Animals often talk in stories like this and princesses and pretty girls are known for being able to talk to animals…Yeah, I know, but just go with it, okay?)
“Why are you crying, Snow White?” he seemed to say.
“I’m lost and alone,” said Snow White. “And I’ve nowhere to go.”
“I can help you. I know of a cottage near here where you can stay.” And with that, the little bird flapped away toward the cottage. Snow White followed as quickly as she could, for fear of losing him. Sure enough, they came at length to a clearing. A little creek trickled through and across a small wooden footbridge, Snow White saw a quaint little cottage. She had lost sight of the bird so she called out “thank you” to the sky and ran toward it.
Snow White was so happy to have found shelter, she completely forgot her manners and walked right in. She turned the knob, pushed the door in and stepped inside. She was thinking clearly again and had done it in the right order.

It had never occurred to her, however, that the cottage the little bird had found for her would be occupied already.

Now she saw that whoever lived here was very untidy. And very small. The tables and chairs were almost half the size of normal furniture. Miniature shoes and shortened tools littered the floor. Half-sized cups and dishes. The only thing full-sized were the cobwebs, and those were oversized. As were the cobs living in them.

“Oh my,” thought Snow White. “I don’t know who lives here, but they need a mother very badly.” But Snow White was too tired to worry about that right now. “I’m sure they won’t mind if I just lie down for a little while,” she thought. “I’ll be happy to help them clean this place in the morning.” With that Snow White ascended the stairs and found the bedroom. It contained seven tiny beds. Snow White would’ve thought this strange had she not been so tired. So, with a yawn three times bigger than anything in the room, she lay down across three of the beds and fell right to sleep.
Never suspecting that the owners of the house would be on their way home at that very moment.

Snow White had seen the tiny things and assumed that the cottage was occupied by children. Orphans, she guessed, who had run away from home, like she had. But she was quite wrong. For the owners of the cottage were dwarfs. Little people. And since dwarfs are well known to be miners, it should come as no surprise that they had been working all day in their diamond mine. The day’s work was done, however, and they were coming home again. But when they got there and found the door wide open and a light inside, they panicked.

“Who could be inside?”

“Is it a robber?”
“Maybe a monster!”
The dwarf who screamed was called Lefty and was known for overreacting like this. Once his friends, Bildor and Russell, had calmed him down and convinced him to come down from the tree, they began seriously to worry. They didn’t have any friends who could’ve stopped by for an unexpected visit, so it was safe to assume that the party within was of an unwelcome sort. But imagine their surprise when they went upstairs and saw a pretty girl sleeping in their beds instead. They all stood over her, looking at her, amazed at how beautiful she was when Snow White suddenly woke up.
“I’m sorry to burst into your home like this,” said Snow White. “It’s just that I have nowhere else to go. My stepmother, the Queen, wishes to kill me—”
“AAAAAAAAAH!” said Lefty.
“…and I have no home,” continued Snow White once she was assured that Lefty would be okay. “But if you let me stay here, I’ll be happy to look after you. I’ll clean and cook and—”
“No,” said Gustav the Dwarf, “you’re a princess.”
“That’s right,” said Louis the Dwarf. “You are unaccustomed to such hard work.”
But Snow White explained about her stepmother’s cruelty and how she had been cleaning her own home for some time now. In fact, she told them, after cleaning an entire castle every day, a tiny cottage would be a welcome relief. The dwarfs still didn’t like the idea of this pretty young girl picking up after them, but they agreed to let her stay and do as she liked because, frankly, the only idea they liked less than making her clean up the house was them having to do it themselves.

So that night, Snow White slept in the bedroom and the dwarfs made themselves comfortable downstairs. And all eight of them slept soundly, because they had no idea what was about to happen to them.

The next morning, far from where Snow White was spending her morning cleaning house, the Queen stood in front of her mirror and said, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall: Who is the fairest of them all?” To her great surprise, the Mirror once again told her that it was Snow White. Well, actually it said,

The Huntsman lies,
Snow White survives.
She is fairer than you…
By a factor of five?

 Well, they can’t all be great.

When the Queen learned of her Huntsman’s treachery, she vowed to kill Snow White herself. She knew, however, that she would need to disguise herself before she approached the princess. So she came up with a plan. First she asked the Mirror where Snow White was.

“Deep in the forest
The Seven Dwarfs dwell.
Snow White is here
And she’s doing quite well.”

See? That one was much better.

The next day, the Queen arrived at the Dwarfs’ cottage disguised as an old woman in tattered clothes and carrying a basket of apples. Knowing that the Dwarfs would be in their mine all day, she assumed that Snow White would be all alone, and so she was. As she drew nearer the cottage, she heard Snow White singing her wishing song:

If I wish it long enough
Hard enough
Strong enough
If my wish is pure enough
My dreams will come true

If I hope with all my heart
Then I’ll start
To feel the part
And my wish will guide my heart
Home at last with you.

Optimism makes bad guys nauseous, so after assuring herself that she would not be sick at the unbridled happiness of the song, the Queen approached the princess and engaged her in conversation.

“All alone, my dear?” she asked.
“Why yes I am,” said Snow White, because no one had ever told her not to talk to strangers. And, ironically, her only enemy in the world was not a stranger, but was in fact her own stepmother. So, it probably wouldn’t have done her any good if she had known not to talk to strangers. Anyway, back to the story already in progress.
They spoke of this and that for some time when finally, the Queen let out a cry of despair and staggered against the wall of the cottage.
“Just my poor old heart, dearie,” she said as the girl led her inside and brought her a chair. “Thank you for your kindness. Here. I was selling apples today, but you may have this one if you like.” Now, as has been said, Snow White had no idea that she shouldn’t be talking to this old woman, but she didn’t understand that this was the Queen who was trying to kill her. Nor did Snow White know what kind of apple it was. So she thanked the old woman, took the bright red apple and took a bite.
But then the Queen began to laugh. For the apple Snow White had just taken a bite out of had been coated in a secret potion. As soon as she had swallowed the bite of apple, Snow White fell instantly asleep and could only be awakened by Love’s First Kiss. But she slept so soundly, she appeared dead, so the Queen knew that she had no chance of being kissed.

But there was one thing the Queen hadn’t counted on: The baby bluebird! Ever since she started living with the seven dwarfs, the bluebird had been looking after Snow White. And he saw everything that had happened. He flew as fast as he could to the mines to tell the dwarfs what had happened. Sadly, however, they were too late.

When the dwarfs arrived home that night they were shocked at what they saw. The front door open, and lying outside the house was Snow White. They rushed to her, but they were too late. Snow White had eaten the apple. She was dead.

The dwarfs were very sad. They had come to love Snow White in just a few days. She had been kind to them and they loved her very much. And now she was gone. They knew that they had to give her a proper funeral, but couldn’t find it in their hearts to bury her. You see, Snow White was so beautiful, even in death, that the dwarfs couldn’t bear to think that they’d never see her again. So they constructed a coffin made out of glass and Gimble and Heinrich placed Snow White inside and kept constant vigil by her side.

Some time later, a handsome prince rode up to the cottage of the seven dwarfs. He had heard stories about this princess who lay in a glass coffin in the woods and wanted to see for himself. When he looked upon Snow White, he could almost not believe she was dead. She was so beautiful. Respectfully, he asked the dwarfs if he might be allowed to give Snow White a kiss. They could see that he cared for her as much as they did, so they agreed. And they lifted the lid off the coffin and the prince gave Snow White a single gentle kiss.

And you know something? It worked! Snow White woke up at once and looked for the first time into the eyes of her true love.

Now, this prince lived in a land far away from that in which he found Snow White. And when she awoke, the prince took Snow White to that far away land. So that every time thereafter that the queen asked her mirror who was the fairest in the land, it would say that she was, and she never suspected that Snow White still lived. As for the seven kind dwarfs, they became butlers and servants and lived and worked in the castle, taking care of Snow White and playing with the many children she bore. And they all lived happily ever after.


If you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Walt Disney's animated masterpiece
  • "Faerie Tale Theatre" (TV) starring Vanessa Redgrave and Vincent Price
  • "The 10th Kingdom" (TV) features a brief appearance by Snow White (Camryn Manheim)

 NEXT WEEK: Jack and the Beanstalk

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