Fairy Tale Friday: The Curious Case of Two Snow Whites Part 1

More than likely, the Snow White you are familiar with is the one who lived with seven dwarves and ate a poison apple. In the original Grimm fairy tale collection, this is story #53. However, there is also tale #161 that features a completely different “Snow White” and her sister, Rose Red.

At first glance, this is all very confusing. At least, that is, if you look at the names in English. In German, the two Snow White’s do not in fact have the same name. In tale #53, her name was originally written as “Schneewittchen.” In the title and text of #161, it’s spelled “Schneeweißchen.” Both of these words translate to Snow White, but are clearly different in the original text. I also noticed when looking at translations of the original stories, the translators refer to #53 as “Little Snow White” and #161 as “Snow-White” in order to differentiate the two further.

Though the two S.W.’s appear to share a name, they and their stories bare little resemblance. 

Tale #53 – “Little Snow White”

This is the story closest to the Disney movie version. A lady wishes for a child “white as snow, red as blood, and black as the wooden doorframe.” She has said baby, then as is the custom in these stories, promptly dies. There’s a stepmother who is jealous of Snow White’s beauty and consults a magic mirror. Then things deviate from the film.

Evil Queen orders a huntsman (or other servant, depending on the version) to take the child into the woods to kill he. He’s to bring back her lungs and liver (or heart) as proof. But he takes pity on Snow White and lets her go, and kills a boar to provide the organs for the queen. She eats them, because she’s classy like that.

Lost and alone, Snow White stumbles onto the cottage belonging to seven dwarves. The original Snow is less of a Holly Homemaker and more of a Goldilocksian home-wrecker. In the movie, she cleans up after the dwarves and they’re happy to have her. In the story, she’s a messy, greedy little child that eats their food and messes with their stuff. But hey, she’s pretty, remember. So they forgive her and then she starts keeping house for them.

The magic mirror tells the jealous queen that Snow White is alive, but she doesn’t jump straight to the poison apple. After disguising herself as a peddler, the queen first sells Snow a corset and does the laces so tight she can’t breathe. The dwarves come home in time to cut the strings and save her. Then, the queen returns and gives her a comb. As soon as it touches Snow’s skin, she is poisoned, but the dwarves remove it and she wakes up.

Finally, the queen creates a poison apple that is half-red and half-white. To Snow’s credit, she’s grown suspicious of strangers and their gifts, and only decides to eat the apple after seeing the disguised queen take a bite. However, only the red half is poisoned, and the queen takes a bite of the white half. Snow takes her own bite and falls down dead.

The dwarves try to revive her, but this time they can’t. They don’t want to put her in the ground, so create a glass coffin and put her body on the mountainside. She doesn’t decay (which is nice for them considering in real life they’d soon wish they’d buried her…). A prince wanders onto their property and is so taken with Snow White he begs the dwarves to let him have her. They agree and the prince has his servants carry her away. One of them trips and they drop the coffin, which dislodges the apple from Snow’s throat and she wakes. (Note – no magic kiss involved. That’s Sleeping Beauty’s deal.)

The next time the evil queen consults her mirror, it tells her that there’s a new queen fairer than she. Evil queen thinks about skipping out on the wedding feast, but her curiosity gets the better of her. She recognizes Snow White as the new queen and is so stunned she is easily captured. As punishment, they heat up a pair of iron shoes (that they just happen to have sitting around, I guess?) and evil queen has to wear them. The heat makes her “dance” until she dies.

On a side note, one source I found said that in the very first written version it was actually Snow White’s biological mother who tried to have her killed, but the Grimm’s changed it in later versions to soften it for children. Likewise, it was her mother who led her into the woods in the first place, but purposely left her behind in the hopes that wild animals would kill her.

Come back for next week’s Fairy Tale Friday and we’ll take a look at the other Snow White, #161.

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