Saturday, September 22, 2012

Snow White and Rose Red

Arthur Rackham
Snow White and Rose Red always sticks out in my mind not primarily for being an Animal Bridegroom tale, for there are many of those, but for being an extremely rare example of positive familial female relationships. Sisters and mother all live in complete harmony from beginning to end of the tale, in direct contrast to all the other tales that gave Freud the fodder for his Oedipal theories. I always loved it for this reason and was disappointed to learn that this isn't truly a part of folklore.

The Grimms' story was based off of a tale from the early 1820s by Caroline Stahl, "The Ungrateful Dwarf," added to their 1837 edition of Children and Household Tales. According to Jack Zipes, there are no known oral tales related to this story, so Stahl's story really is the first of its kind.
Warwick Goble

In Stahl's version, the bear is not a main character, and he does not turn out to be a prince in disguise in the end who marries Snow White. The story purely revolves around Snow White's encounters with a dwarf, and after she does him favors time and time again, she never thanks her, through words or his obvious riches. After this pattern happens three times-the first to which Snow White was the only witness, the latter two her sister Rose Red was with her-the girls once again encounter the same dwarf, about to be devoured by a bear. The dwarf tries to distract the bear by pointing out how young and juicy the sisters are, but the bear devours the dwarf instead and went on his way.

Even more disappointing, in my mind, is the fact that the relationship between Snow White, Rose Red, and their mother was all completely added by Wilhelm Grimm. All we know about the sisters from Stahl's story is that they are two of "many, many" children, no mention of their personalities. Though the story shows them working together on several occasions, there is none of the love and loyalty from the Grimm's characters, who, whenever they went out, "always held hands...and when Snow White said, 'Let us never leave each other,' Rose Red answered 'Never, as long as we live.'"

Zipes points out that this is an example of the Grimms' domestication of fairy tales to become example tales for children. The first story already had an implied message against being greedy, and the sisters' relationship under Wilhelm's treatment becomes a little over exaggerated and almost suffocatingly saccharine...although I still enjoy seeing sisters and mothers get along in a fairy tale! Which version do you prefer?
Hermann Vogel


  1. I dunno. I think I lean more towards the bear-is-a-prince one, but I like it either way. My best friend and I liked to act it out when we were kids.

    I don't think we ever found the prince, though. *big sigh*

  2. I don't mind them being two of several children. In fact, this kind of suggests, to me anyway, that there is an undercurrent of closeness between the two. At the very least, Rose Red and Snow White share the experience out of the other possible brother and sisters that could have.

    Perhaps, as with many fragmented tales that were collected and refined for literary publication, the closeness or loyalty between the girls is implied. A lot of times, in these skeletal versions of old tales, the excesses get worn away, and we, the new readers, have to piece together the significant elements by what is Not Said rather than by what is.

    Might you have a link to the original so I can investigate my theory further?

  3. You're right, the close relationship could be implied, it's hard to read a text accurately without biases from the versions we're more familiar with.

    I don't have a link-I read the tale from The Great Fairy Tale Tradition, edited by Jack Zipes. It doesn't appear that the full text is available anywhere online.

    1. Thank you for the title. I'm sure I can find it at the university library.