Friday, 8 June 2012

Snow White

On Thursday, my DH and I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman.  I really enjoyed it, though he compared it somewhat unfavourably with the Game of Thrones.  Certainly, there were some parallels, but for me they are completely different genres - one is epic drama, the other is a fairy tale.

What does that mean: a fairy tale?  I think there is something about fairy tales being more archetypal and multi-faceted.  They often don't make a lot of sense at an overt level, yet have many different layers and ways of being understood.

Take Snow White, for instance.  Kenny Klein, in his book Fairy Tale Rituals, discusses Snow White as being about a seductive faery changeling, who could be all things to all men - each sees her as the perfect woman, though each would have a different idea of beauty and desirability.  So, it is about what makes us attractive, and about varied male perspectives on sexuality, and how a fey could satisfy any and all of them.  The book uses this understanding to suggest a ritual for finding true love.

On the other hand, from a more psychological, archetypal perspective, I had always previously thought of this fairy tale as being about the difficult relationship that can sometimes result between mothers and daughters.  As Kenny Klein points out, in some versions of Snow White it is not an evil stepmother, but Snow White's own mother, who tries to kill her.  Whether actual or step, the point is that an older female feels challenged by a younger woman coming to sexual maturity.

The evil Queen perceives that men only value women for their youth, beauty, and sexuality.  So, the threat of losing these means losing her sense of self, her feeling of being powerful.  It echoes with more modern reality tv shows like Hotter Than My Daughter, where mothers face both their desire for their daughters to be beautiful, and their own wish to remain the sexual focus of the men around them.

In this reading of the fairytale, it makes sense that the evil Queen glamours herself as an old crone to entice Snow White into eating the poisoned apple.  For that is the last guise that Snow White would imagine the Queen would take on, being the antithesis of all that the Queen holds dear.

Interestingly, in this new re-telling, there is far less of a focus on Snow White as sexual or even beautiful.  More emphasis is placed on her life-giving, rejuvenating, and healing abilities.

For example, with the dwarves, Snow White doesn't keep house for them, as she does in older tales.  Instead, they prize her because, in her presence, they regain their health and vitality - ridding themselves of gout and coughs, amongst other ailments.  The whole land, in fact, is wedded to the Queen - turning black and dead under the evil Queen's reign, and flowering anew with the coronation of Snow White.  In this, the tale is closer to pagan ideas of the Summer and Winter king, the corn god who dies and is planted in the earth to grow again in spring, and the way that the land is dependent on the health and vitality of the king, as found in the Fisher King tale.

It's curious to find so female-oriented a pagan theme in this movie, and may go a ways to explaining why, near the beginning of the film, Snow White is heard to recite a modern day version of the Lord's Prayer.  Some tidbit had to be thrown to the Christian Right to make this film palatable to them, and with this the whole matriarchal pagan emphasis is slightly disguised.  I guess it also helps that Snow White is almost asexual in this version - sharing a chaste kiss with her childhood sweetheart, and then being given two kisses in her sleeping state.  In fact, unlike in some traditional versions, it isn't a kiss that wakes her, but rather the tears of a good man.

There is something about fairy tales that lends themselves to this kind of telling and re-telling, with subtle differences or altered interpretations.  And that's one of the things I most love about them.


  1. I agree about fairy tales, they seem to be able to change and yet stay the same, as if the faeries can transform themselves in different versions of the story.

    I'll look out for this film. Not sure if it has reached my part of the world yet.

    1. Hi Hamadryad, I'm not sure if it's the faeries transforming, or what we need from them at a particular time... :)

      Hope you enjoy the film when it arrives - it just premiered here last week!