(Belated) Fairy Tale Friday: The Curious Case of Two Snow Whites Part 2

Oops! I’ve been off at the Stuttgart Volkfest (folk fest) this week, which is the second largest beer festival in Germany. I was so distracted by the carnival rides, 1/2 meter sausages and liters of beer, it seems I missed yesterday’s post. So here’s your belated part 2 to about the Snow White source material(s).

Last week, we took a look at the Snow White story that Disney used as their basis for their film and the differences in naming the two characters. For this post, I want to start off pointing out their fundamentally different appearances. The Snow White of Grimm tale #53 is specifically described as “skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as [ebony]” (depending on the translation). Snow White of tale #161, however, is most often interpreted as having white-blond hair as the basis of her name. She is shy and quiet compared to her sister, Rose Red, who loves to run around in the meadows and be outside.

One interesting thing I found when researching this post is that unlike many of the Grimm’s tales, they were not the first to record this story. Caroline Stahl wrote a shorter version of the story called “The Ungrateful Dwarf” in a collection calledĀ Fables, Tales, and Stories for Children. This source says the collection was specifically intended to promote good morals in children, which is why this one isn’t nearly so gruesome as the ones with a long oral tradition told around the fire.

I couldn’t find the full text of Stahl’s story for comparison, but it appears to have been about only the middle segment involving the dwarf, and the bear storyline was added by the Grimm’s. Because this story was not a direct transcription of an oral one, that makes it the only story the Grimm’s brothers actually created themselves.

The two girls are inseparable. They and their mother (no mention is made of a father) live in a cottage near the woods. The girls go out and play all the time and never have to fear anything bad happening. The animals are tame and eat from their hands. (On a side note, I was struck by how different this portrayal of the forest is from so many other fairy tales, where it is a dark and scary place to avoid.) They feel so safe, in fact, that sometimes they sleep out in the forest on a bed of moss and their mother never worries about them.

One of these times, they awoke to see a shining child sitting at their feet. He didn’t speak, but when he saw that they were awake he rose and nodded goodbye before disappearing. Now that it was morning, the girls could see that they’d been sleeping very close to the edge of a drop off, and believed the boy to have been an angel looking after them as they slept.

Their cottage was small, but the girls kept it immaculately clean. During the long winter nights, their mother would read them stories by the fire. One of these nights, there’s a knock at the door. Rose-Red opens it and finds a bear on the other side. At first they were afraid (they were petrifiiiiiied), but then the bear spoke and asked to warm himself by the fire. The girls helped to knock the snow from his fur so he could get dry, and they passed a pleasant evening together. He comes back every night that winter and becomes good friends with the family.

But when spring comes, he tells Snow he’s got to go and guard his treasure from dwarves. The girls go out to gather firewood, and happen upon a dwarf with his beard stuck in a tree. He’s very rude to them, but they help free him anyway. Unfortunately, that means cutting his beard and the dwarf is furious and wishes bad luck on them.

They encounter him and his unfortunate beard a second time by the river. He was fishing and the beard is caught in the line. When a big fish bites, he is nearly pulled into the water. The girls try to untangle him, but to keep him from being drowned, they must once again cut a piece from his beard. He curses them again and says he can’t be seen by his people looking like this, and storms off with a sack full of pearls thrown over his back.

The third time they meet the dwarf, it’s after and eagle has him in its talons. He’s about to dragged off to be bird-food, but the girls grab on and weigh him down. The eagle gives up and drops him. Of course, he isn’t the least bit grateful, berating them for how his coat has been damaged. He scampers off with a bag of precious stones, and the girls go about their business in town.

On their way back, they see the dwarf again, but this time his stones are emptied out onto the ground. They are so beautiful that the girls stand staring and he gets angry at them and starts to threaten. Just then, a bear shows up, and despite the dwarf offering him a bribe, the bear strikes him down dead. The girls were frightened, until the bear speaks and they recognize it as their friend. Suddenly, his bear skin falls away and reveals a man. He explains that he was a prince cursed by that dwarf, and only his death would free him. The prince wants to marry Snow White, and luckily, he’s got a brother, so Rose Red gets a prince out the deal, too. Yay!

So, as you can see, the two Snow White stories bear (hehe) little resemblance to one another, except perhaps that there’s a dwarf involved. I’ve seen some articles circulating that talk about a live action remake of the Disney Snow White movie, but that it would also include her sister. It’s a funny sort of mashup, and makes me wonder how aware the writers are that the two Snow White’s aren’t the same person. Or maybe they’ll bring the bear in too and make the two stories equal partners. Only time will tell!

 

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