Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Snow White

Here is the German version of Snow White. She is seven. She is seven, her mother dead, her stepmother cruel, her father gone or indifferent. She is seven, and she is the fairest in all the land.

This suggests things rather disturbing—is it a kingdom full of perverts? The unspeakably ugly? Why would a woman grown have such jealously for the beauty of a child?

But jealously she has, and plenty of it, enough to send the child fleeing into the woods, turning to seven strangers for protection. And is it any wonder, then, that she welcomes to her door, three times, a kindly old woman with death in her hand basket?

She is a child home alone. She learned to read last year, perhaps. She has already found kindness in seven men who gave her a home; why not in three women who give her gifts, as well? No one claimed she was a bright girl, only pretty.

And why, after near misses with the belt and the comb, would the dwarves leave her alone to accept the apple?

Here is the German version. She bites the apple. She dies. One day a prince comes. He does not kiss her—thank God for small mercies—he does not kiss the little girl. He has her carried away to his home.

Here is the Italian version. He has her carried away to his home. She is not seven now, or we are not told that she is. She is carried to his home and carried to his bedroom.

He calls her his wife, this little girl, this beautiful corpse, this stiff and quickly rotting blow-up doll. He calls her his wife.

Now dead bodies, they smell. This is not Sleeping Beauty, remember. It is not an endless nap but death. And dead bodies, they smell. So. You have met the stepmother. Now see the second villain of the piece, this wicked, wicked woman, the mother-in-law to a rotting pile of once-lovely flesh.

“Son,” she says, “this is creepy.”

“Son,” she says, “the dead belong in the graveyard, not the bed.”

“Son,” she says, “Ew.”

And this horrid, dreadful, unreasonable woman, on a day when the prince is gone, has the body carted out to the garden, or tries to. The girl is moved; the apple is dislodged; the girl is revived. A miracle. She and the prince are married the next day. She and the prince live happily ever after.

We could talk about the German pedophilia. We could talk about the Italian necrophilia. We could talk about the international insistence that the woman who opposes any prince, however unreasonable he may be, is always, always the bad guy. We could talk about a lot of things. Honestly, I don’t know where to start.

So let’s start here. Snow White is seven in the German version. This is one of only two fairy tales I have ever read that gives a specific age for the princess. The other is Sleeping Beauty, which varies from fourteen to sixteen, depending on the country of origin. Snow White is one of only two stories, and Snow White is seven. It doesn’t, in context, seem all that peculiar.

So let’s talk about age. That’s always fun. Let’s talk about children forced into a sexualized femininity they are in no way prepared for. Let’s talk about women who cease to be women when they get too old—women who become nothing but mothers, and consequently the villains opposing heroic sons—women who cling desperately to their youthful beauty because it is all they have. Let’s talk about age.

Or let’s talk about the necrophilia. Why not? I said there was a difference between sleep and death, but really, beyond the ew factor, does it matter? Either way you’ve got your little human sex toy, something you can pull into bed and play with for months before she can even think to complain, and, well, it’s too late then, isn’t it? She’s yours now, one way or another. Who else, especially in that culture, would have her?

And let’s talk about how age and necrophilia are really the same thing here, how they’re both all about women—or little girls—as objects. You have to be sexy the minute you’re born. And you stop mattering the moment you’re not. If you’re not a limp dead doll for Prince Charming to play with, well. You’re still only there for him to look at.

And this isn’t entirely fair, as far as ways to view the world go. Sorry—I’m mad today. Mostly things are a lot better than necrophiliac pedophiles. But sometimes you read fairy tales, and you expect something beautiful—I should know by now what not to expect in fairy tales—and instead you get handsome princes in bed with dead seven year olds. And I know I’m mixing versions of the story. Whatever. The point is, you try to read a fairy story and you get this crap, and then you go outside and get looked carefully up and down by a middle aged man slowly driving a Porsche past, and you’re exhausted and slightly ill in your sweatshirt and baggy jeans, and you just feel like you’re never going to be more than a pretty body, dead or alive. And then you feel like if you ever are more, maybe it’ll just be worse.

And we don’t quite sexualize second graders yet (although you should read some things that have been written on the subject of school dress codes), but we shouldn’t be doing it to thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year olds either. And there shouldn’t, ever, be a society where it’s so important to be beautiful that killing the opposition occurs to you as a solution. But people have to be pretty, or they’re not worth much. And it’s scary. I wouldn’t kill for it, but it’s scary.

So I don’t know what to say, really. I’m angry. Of course—that’s kind of the whole point of this series. But it’s a sort of vague, directionless anger, and I don’t know how to do anything about it, besides sitting here letting it build. So.  I’m angry. Let’s leave it at that.


  1. It always creeped me out that Snow White was seven years old in the Grimms. Although I've read that the fact that she is able to fit the stay laces that the witch puts on her is evidence that she must have spent several years with the Dwarves and grown into her womanly form...although in that whole time the Queen never asked the Mirror who was the most beautiful? Either way it's weird and creepy

  2. Fairytale age doesn't always work like in our world. In fairytales of my culture (Russia), the hero sometimes grows up incredibly fast, "in hours instead of days", and starts a hard journey at age of seven or similar - but the text makes it clear he is adult. Such heroes normally have unusual strength, which is also described in hyperboles; and Snow White has unusual beauty - also stands out of the row. So maybe she is adult in seven years old, and it is done to express these characters are unlike "normal" people.