First literal versions of Snow White

Snow White is one of the youngest European fairy tales. The most famous version of Snow White was written by the Brothers Grimm but there were stories about ladies sleeping in glass coffins told in the earlier literature as well.

In the 1630´s Naples Italian author Giambattista Basile wrote a story about a girl who slept in a glass coffin. She was killed by her mother who had hit her head too hard with a comb. Basile´s fairy tale collection Il Pentamerone stories for the little ones were filled with grotesque tales which often made fun of the Italian court of the time.

In 1782 popular German fairy tale writer Johann Karl August Musäus published a book called “Folkmärchen der Deutchen” (German folk tales). Book included a story called “Richilde” and it is believed that this story was the inspiration for Brothers Grimm´s story.

Richilde

Richilde was a proud and beautiful woman who owned a magical mirror which she had received as a baptizing gift. She had a stepdaughter called Blanca (referring to the colour white). Each day Richilde would go to her magic mirror asking who is the fairest of them all? and each time the mirror would answer you, my queen.

On Blanca’s 15th year birthday, the mirror answers to the queen that Blanca is the fairest of them all. Richilde becomes outraged. She orders poison from her doctor and prepares a gift basket and sends it to Blanca.

Blanca lives in a castle of her own where she has dwarfs as her servants. Dwarfs recognize the poison and save Blanca´s life. Richard attempts again and again until one day Blanca opens a letter that is filled with poison and she falls into a coma.

Dwarfs build a glass coffin and Blanca´s body is taken to the castle´s crypt. The handsome prince is on a pilgrimage and he hears about a beautiful princess in a glass coffin. There is no true love´s kiss in this story. Prince wakes Blanca with a relic he has brought with him from the holy land.

Prince and Blanca fall in love and together with the dwarfs, they start planning revenge for the evil queen. Prince visits the queen´s castle and starts to flatter her. Vain queen wishes to marry the young prince. Weddings are being organized but soon the queen finds out that her step-daughter is alive and she is the one who the prince wishes to marry. Dwarfs have prepared burning steel slippers and the queen is forced to wear them while dancing the wedding waltz with one of the soldiers. She is locked into the highest tower to think about her evil deeds while Blanca and the Prince live happily ever after.

Fairy Tale Motifs

Dwarfs were most likely inspired by gruesome customs of the 18th-century European aristocrat families who “collected” divergent people. Tsarists of Russia was even known for organizing a Wedding ceremony for one of her little chamber maidens. Another popular character to appear in fairy tales is the evil stepmother. We can find her in fairy tales such as Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. Stepmothers in the fairy tales are known for trying to turn the life of their step-children into living hell. Here are some methods from the stories of Brothers Grimm how stepmothers have tortured their step-children:

  • turning into an animal
    - marrying to a beast
    - poisoning with an apple
    - poisoning with a comb
    - poisoning with a shirt
    - drowning
    -burning
    ​- abandoning to the forest

Snow White by Brothers Grimm

During one beautiful midwinter day when snowflakes were falling from the skies like feathers. There was a queen sewing by the window. She hurt her finger to the needle and three drops of blood dripped into the snow. Queen watched the snow thinking:
“I wish I had a child. Red as blood, white as snow and black as the wooden frames of my window”

Soon after that she had a baby girl who had lips red as blood, skin white as snow and hair black as Eben wood. Queen died and the king married again. The new queen was beautiful and a proud woman and she owned a magical mirror. Each day she asked:
“mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all”
and each time the mirror would answer:
“you my queen”
King died and the evil queen treated Snow White as her servant. One day mirror said that Snow White was the fairest of them all. Queen got outraged and ordered one of her hunters to bring the liver and lungs of Snow White. Hunter felt sorry for the young princess and helped her to escape. Snow White hide in the cabin of the seven dwarfs where she became their servant. Queen found out she was alive and disguised as a witch gave her a poison apple. Snow White fell into a coma but everyone thought she was dead. Dwarfs build her a glass coffin which they took to the top of a mountain. The moment the handsome prince lifted the coffin to carry it away, the piece of poisoned apple fell between her lips and princess Snow White was awakened.

Albert Ludwing Grimm

Many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales were not orally collected folktales like brothers wanted people to believe. Most of them were collected from the books from the library of Kassel and the majority of the Grimm fairy tales were not even German but of Italian or French origin. What it came to Snow White brothers were honest for once and they admitted that the inspiration for the story came from Musäus´s “Richilde”. Another story that inspired the Brothers Grimm version came from a fellow German writer called Albert Ludwig Grimm (who was not related to the Brothers). In 1809 three years before the first fairy tale collection of the Brother´s Grimm was published Albert Ludwig Grimm published his book called “Kindermarchen” (stories for children). There was a play in the book, very similar to Snow White. In the play, stepmother orders two hunters to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. In the woods, hunters escape when they see seven dwarfs approaching holding torches in their hands.

Dwarfs Great Minors of the Mountains

In Brothers Grimm fairy tale dwarfs are minors who mine copper and iron. Inspiration for the dwarfs most likely came from old pagan German myths such as the story of Nibelung and Norse Edda poems.
In the fairy tale dwarfs are introduced with a repetition:

Who has been sitting in my chair?” one of the dwarfs asked
“Who has eaten from my plate?” the second dwarf asked
“Who has taken a bite from my bread?” the third dwarf asked
“Who has eaten my vegetables,” the fourth dwarf asked
“Who has used my fork?” the fifth dwarf asked
“Who has cut with my knife?” the sixth dwarf asked
“Who has drank from my glass?” the seventh dwarf asked”

Snow White of the Brothers Grimm is kind and obedient. In 19th-century fairy tales, the noble lady was always good-tempered and good-hearten. She takes care of the dwarfs and becomes their servant. She cleans and cooks for them. Nature always plays a big part in Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Dwarfs don´t take the glass coffin into a castle crypt. Instead, they take it to the top of a mountain. Each night and day one of the dwarfs looks after the coffin. Snow White loves birds so there are always birds flying around her as well. Usually crows, doves or owls.

Russian Snow White

There is an interesting folk tale version of Snow White found from Eastern Russia. In this version of the fairy tale evil queen uses a group of beggars as her “mirror” asking them: Have you ever seen anyone as beautiful as me?
The answer of the beggars does not please the queen.

Baby in that cradle is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen

Outraged queen orders beggars to leave empty-handed. She takes the baby to the edge of the forest and leaves her there. One of the beggars, an older lady, finds the baby and adopts her. Snow White grows to a beautiful young maiden. When the old woman dies girl is forced to find a new home for herself. She finds a beautiful small cabin hidden in the woods. There she meets eight brothers who promise to treat her as their sister. Brothers are not dwarfs in this version of the story. They are dragon killers and each day they go fight against the dragons. One evening dragon attacks the cabin. Clever Snow White boils water in the cauldron and drops some heavy stones there. She invites the dragon to eat with her but when the dragon enters inside Snow White throws the burning stones to the dragon's mouth and kills it. Brothers find the dead dragon and they become even more attached to Snow White and the following nights they kill more dragons together.

Stepmother finds out that Snow White is still alive and she sends a poisoned shirt for her. Snow White puts the shirt on and falls down to the floor. Brothers believe that she is dead and take her into the forest in a coffin made of gold and glass. The Son of a priest is riding by and sees the beautiful girl. He steals the coffin and takes it to his bed-chamber where he sleeps next to the dead girl.

Son of a priest gets thinner and soon he himself starts to look like a corpse. He goes to see the local witch who promises to help her. First, she turns the man´s home into a banya (Russian sauna). The room is heated and the poison in the shirt starts to disappear. Snow White wakes up very dizzy after being asleep for a week. Son of a priest wants to marry Snow White but she can not agree without talking to her brothers first for they are now her guardians. Brothers are thrilled when they find out that Snow White is alive. The evil queen is on her way but the brothers manage to kill her.

Alexander Puskin

Russian Snow White has lots of elements from traditional Slavic folklore tradition. Unlike her western counterpart, she is a very active character who does not wait around for her prince to come. There are elements of necrophilia that makes this version ten times darker than the Brothers Grimm version. Brothers who are dragon killers can be seen as an allegory of Russian´s ancient past where warriors of distant tribes were sometimes referred to as “dragons”. This fairy tale was written by Russian fairy tale author Alexander Puskin in 1830. It is believed that he had based his story on the French translation of Brothers Grimm Snow White. At that time Puskin was the father of small children and was very fond of creating fairy tales for Russian children.

Disney´s Snow White

The most famous film adaptation of Snow White was made by Walt Disney in 1937. Young Walt Disney had an ambitious dream to create a full-length animation film. Hollywood movie industry referred to the film as “Disney´s folly” while it was on production. To get a loan for the film Disney had to pledge his own house among other things. But it was all worth it because Snow White became a huge financial success with a $ 1.48 million budget bringing $480 million in the box offices worldwide.

Disney´s animation was based on the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White but the biggest difference was that Walt Disney gave individual personalities to each of the dwarfs. They became Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey. There were over 700 animators working on Snow White and over 20 million drawings were made. The film was a critical success and recommended for both children and adults.

Disney´s Snow White is sweet and kind-hearted in her nature but she also has a sassy side of her that people often tend to neglect. This comes out, especially in scenes that she shares with Grumpy. Snow White is also the first official Disney princess in the Disney princess merchandise.

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Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

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Niina's Fairychamber

Niina's Fairychamber

Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.

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