Friday’s Fairy Tales: Snow White

Goodnight - Aphrodite
Image: Aphrodite

As sometimes happens with fairy tales, “Snow White” is based on a true story.  Margarete von Waldeck was a 16th century Bavarian noblewoman who grew up in Bad Wildungen with a stepmother who despised her and sent her off to Brussels to get rid of her.  Prince Philip II fell in love with Margarete, but his father, the king of Spain, didn’t approve and had her killed with poison.  The dwarves came from Margarete’s brother’s use of child labor in his copper mine.  The work caused severe deformities in the children, and so they were called dwarves. The poison apple came from the spoiled fruit that an old man would give to the children, especially if he believed they had stolen from him.

The first written version of the story was by the Grimm Brothers, published in 1812, and it was considerably darker than both the true story and the Disney version.  Instead of a stepmother, it’s Snow White’s mother who treats her so horribly, and, instead of ordering the huntsman to bring back Snow White’s heart, she tells him to bring back the liver and lungs because she wants to eat them.  Even more gruesome is that when the Prince finds Snow White, she’s not sleeping, but dead, and the Prince knows that when he carts off her body.  It’s not until during the trip that the coffin gets bumped, the piece of poisoned apple gets dislodged from Snow White’s throat, and Snow White comes back to life.  The “happily ever after” involves her mother being forced to dance to death in a pair of heated iron shoes after she comes to the wedding, which she was invited to attend. I’m not really sure which of the two is more evil, but I don’t see Snow White as being the innocent she’s portrayed to be.  I would love to read a modern day retelling that depicts Snow White as the one who’s evil instead of the stepmother.

Speaking of retellings, here’s the list:

2 thoughts on “Friday’s Fairy Tales: Snow White

  1. I had no idea that Snow White was based on a true story nor how dark the Grimm Brothers’ version is (though, let’s be real, most of their stories are). That image of her mother dancing herself to death is going to be lodged in my brain for days to come.

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    1. It’s amazing how many old fairy tales involve dancing to death. If I remember right, it was a common punishment in stories because dancing was associated with the Devil as well as Pagan rituals.

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