We have this false idea that fairy tales are about weak and passive heroines, damsels in distress. So we are always fighting against a fairy tale legacy that doesn’t exist.
The Snow White few people know and another of my favorite stories as a child. I think I loved that they’re sisters and again that their story isn’t the “typical” fairy tale. I like the roses and I liked that my favorite Snow White was so much more interesting than the one everyone thought of – the sweet, childlike Disney heroine.
It’s hard to write a fairy tale legacy post about Snow White and Rose Red. Because if you’ve read the fairy tale, it’s so clear there is nothing to counter. These are not girls who need to be given agency. They are not passive or one dimensional heroines who need to be redefined.
Like a lot of the fairy tale heroines they are innocent and exceedingly kind. They embrace hard work and they love unselfishly. The delicious twist in Snow White and Rose Red is that they get to set the prince free from his curse, sort of.
But it doesn’t begin there. It begins with sisters who love each other and their mother. The power and joy of love outside of a romantic context.
And then enters the bear. On a cold night in the midst of winter there’s a knock at the door. And a bear, of all things, stands outside. They invite him in; help him get warm by the fire. And an unlikely friendship begins. Because not every fairy tale includes instalove.
Of course there’s a villain. And the girls are sweet to him too. He rails at them and curses at them and is horribly ungrateful. And every time they meet him the story tells us it’s “their friend, the dwarf.”
Because if there’s any fault in Snow White and Rose Red, it’s that they live without anger or resentment. Which is terribly wonderful but not at all realistic. Again and again, they help the dwarf.
Until all paths cross. The sisters, the dwarf and the bear. Who is, of course, a prince cursed by the dwarf. And, fine, he technically sets himself free. Because the girls would be tarnished by killing the dwarf. But they are no less brave for having not done the killing themselves. And perhaps they are no less strong for continuing to help their friend, the dwarf. Because, no matter how awful he is, he is genuinely in trouble each time. And isn’t that part of being a hero – to not turn away from someone in trouble, no matter who they are?
And in the end, each girl gets her prince. Because of course, they marry the prince and his brother. Which is another thing I like about this fairy tale. There isn’t one man every girl in the kingdom desires. There is a boy and a girl and each person ends up with the one they are best suited for. Their mother comes to live with them at the palace. And perhaps they all live happily ever after in gardens full of roses.
Disney has never adapted this story, which is likely why it isn’t one of the more common fairy tales in our culture. It would be difficult for them because, then what do you do with two Snow Whites? So, I’m a little glad they will likely never adapt it. Though there have been retellings in various novels, it will always belong to each of us in our own way without elements of it defined by one company’s imagination.
Less familiar with this story? SurLaLune has an annotated version of the Brothers Grimm tale from Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy book.