Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Magic Mirror: A Romanian Snow White

The more I learn about Snow White tales, the more I'm convinced it is the most violent tale group. Even when compared to the obvious ones like Bluebeard, in which the husband murders multiple wives-that one shocking plotline is the premise of all Bluebeard tales. Yet with Snow White, there seems to be no end to the ways storytellers have come up with to torture the beautiful young girl. Take the Romanian tale, "The Magic Mirror":
W C Drupsteen

Once there was a beautiful woman who possessed a magic mirror, who always told her that she was the fairest woman in the land. When her daughter grew older, the mirror told her that her daughter's beauty had surpassed her, and she hated her daughter and was determined to kill her.

The woman baked a salted cake. She took the cake and a jug of water, and took her daughter into the forest. After they had gone a ways, the girl began to get hungry, and begged her mother for something to eat. "If you want something to eat, take this cake, but you must cut out your eye first," said her mother.

The mother gauged out her daughter's eye and kept walking. After a while, the salted cake made the daughter extremely thirsty. She begged for water, which her mother would only give if she gauged out her other eye, so the girl was now blind. She pushed her daughter over a slope that ended in a savage river and hurried home. The mirror conceded that the mother was now fairer than her blind daughter.

The daughter, after giving thanks to God for her safety, was instructed by the Virgin Mary to wash her eyes in a fountain, and her sight was restored. She fell asleep and was found by twelve robbers. They each wanted her for themselves, but decided to let her decide. When she woke up, they told her they were each willing to take her as a wife, but if she did not desire any of them, they would take her home and treat her as a sister. She chose the latter and went home with them.

The next day when they went out, they warned her not to answer the door for anyone. Yet by this time the girl's mother had discovered that her daughter was alive and well, and now more fair than her again. So she instructed an old hag to take a poisoned ring to her daughter in the woods.

The girl did not let the old hag in, but as she hadn't been instructed not to accept anything through the door, she took the ring. The ring made her faint and she fell down in a deathlike sleep. When the robbers returned they discovered the ring and removed it.
Jennie Harbour

The mother sent the hag again, with enchanted earrings, which also were poisoned. When the robbers discovered the earrings, the mother decided to enchant a flower, for the robbers wouldn't notice such a natural thing. And as the daughter often wore a flower, they could not undo the magic the third time, and set her body in a bier made of firs, evergreens, and flowers, and put her in the open air of the forest.

Soon the prince of the land found the beautiful girl's body, and, unable to restrain himself, kissed the dead girl fervently. He ordered them to bring her down carefully, lest anything happen to the precious statue. One of the king's men had decided to take the flower as a gift for his own beloved, and when it was removed, the girl woke up. The prince was delighted and took the girl home to marry her.

Yet her mother discovered she was alive once again. After her daughter had delivered her first baby, the mother came to be the new midwife. When the prince had gone to sleep, she put a knife in the baby's heart, and was about to kill her daughter as well, when the prince woke up and said, "don't you dare, you witch!"

"But I must murder anyone more beautiful than me!" the woman cried. The emperor jumped in between his wife and her mother and saved his wife; the story of her mother was found and she was put to death, and the couple was able to live undisturbed for many, many years.

****

I find several aspects of this story, from a 1845 collection, to be fascinating. First of all, the heartless violence of the natural mother who does not initially hire anyone to get rid of her daughter (no huntsman here), but determines right away to personally get rid of her daughter. But though she could have killed her right away (she clearly had no qualms about that), she prolongs the episode, causing her daughter to hunger and thirst, gauging out her eyes one by one, and THEN sending her to her supposed death.

Possibly more shocking is that a band of twelve male thieves-exactly who you would expect to present the most danger to a young, beautiful girl, end up protecting her. In this version they provide a fascinating contrast to the prince, who cannot control himself. The twelve men, who could easily have overpowered one young girl, restrain their desires even though they each want to marry her. You don't get that sense of sexual desire from the versions with dwarves! They love her and treat her as a sister, whereas the prince blatantly objectifies her, calling her lifeless body a "precious statue" (yes, that was a direct quote!!). I found myself disappointed she ended up with that creepy guy and wishing she had fallen in love with one of the robbers.

And then, after the wedding when many other versions end, the mother gets one more chance to be cruel. She kills a helpless baby, her own granddaughter-a piece of evil which is never undone, as many spells often are at the end of a fairy tale.

Tale found in Surlalune's Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World.

On a totally different note: who else is psyched about the new French Beauty and the Beast movie?? Once Upon a Blog has great coverage (as always)

3 comments:

  1. Hi Kristin!
    Sorry to comment on an older blog post, but I was just curious if Heiner had a citation of where she got this story from. I'm very curious to find a version in Romanian to check how a particular word has been translated and I'm having trouble through internet sources (I don't speak Romanian, which probably doesn't help, but I know a fellow student at my university who does). I can always send an email through to HAH through Surlalune if need be, too!

    Thanks,
    Rose

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  2. Not a problem! The original source cited is:
    Schott, Arthur and Albert. "Walachische Marchen". Stuttgart and Tubingen: J. G. Cotta'scher Verlag, 1845.

    Hopefully that means something to you! Heidi translated it herself in 2010 for the book, so hopefully she can be of more help ;) Good luck with your research!

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    ReplyDelete