Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Snow White and Rose Red: Thoughts and Facts

Once upon a time

I had quite a few "first" fairy tales in mind. In the end, I settled on one that everyone ought to know. 'Snow White and Rose Red' is much loved by fairy tale enthusiasts. It's like the secret treasure of the fairy tale community, who take pride in knowing it exists at all (at least I feel a certain sense of childish superiority).

For whatever reason, 'Snow White and Rose Red' has rarely been seen in popular culture. The only reason I know the tale is because of this blog. Some fairy tale fanatics think it deserves the Disney treatment, but I would argue that the chance has already come and gone (then again, there's always Frozen 2).

I chose 'Snow White and Rose Red', because it was a welcome change. The mother isn't an evil step-mother and the sisters aren't rivals for the prince's hand.


The earliest known version of 'Snow White and Rose Red' is called 'The Ungrateful Dwarf', which was written by German writer Caroline Stahl and included in her 1818 publication of Fables, Fairy Tales and Stories for Children.

Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm published their first edition of Children's and Household Tales in 1812. The brothers credit Stahl as one of their sources for several tales. It wasn't until 1837 did Wilhelm Grimm introduce his adaptation of 'The Ungrateful Dwarf'. 'Snow White and Rose Red' appeared in the third edition of Children's and Household Tales and was also included in an 1850 mini collection.

When you read Stahl's original tale, there are telling differences:
  • It is mentioned that Snow White and Rose Red have many siblings
  • Snow White is alone when she first encounters and helps the dwarf
  • The bear features only as a wild animal who kills the dwarf
  • The happy ending sees the girls and their family live prosperously from the dwarf's treasure



Wilhelm Grimm reinvented Stahl's 'The Ungrateful Dwarf' as a story about two sisters, which is rare to see in traditional fairy tales. Many scholars (most notably Jack Zipes) believe that 'Snow White and Rose Red' is a reflection of the Grimm brothers' family ideals. Jacob and Wilhelm were the eldest of six children. They were academically gifted, worked well together and had an unbreakable bond. Tragically, their father died when Jacob was eleven and Wilhelm ten.

Their history seems to go a long way to explaining Wilhelm's creative decisions for 'Snow White and Rose Red'. The sisters in the tale are missing a father, but together, they work hard to support their poor mother and are never wanting of better lives. In the end, their generosity is rewarded: both transcend their low social standing and marry into royalty.

These are characters designed to lead a heavenly example of how truly good children should behave. With their unconditional love, tireless work ethic and ability to befriend any woodland animal, Snow White and Rose Red are typical, perfect, old-fashioned, classic Disney princesses. What's not to like about them?

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale

The following is my summary of the fairy tale 'Snow White and Rose Red', which was documented by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm in their fairy tale collections.

This is a story about two sisters, who lived in a cottage with their widowed mother. Though poor, they had a small garden with two rose bushes. One bloomed white roses and the other bloomed red roses. The mother adored these flowers, because they brought to mind her daughters. It was only natural to name the two girls Snow White and Rose Red.

Snow White was shy and sweet. She liked to spend time at home, where she could lend her mother a helping hand. Rose Red liked to run in the countryside, where she could chase butterflies and pick flowers. Together, they kept the cottage beautifully clean.

No harm ever came to the girls, who loved Mother Nature and were loved by Mother Nature in return. They walked hand-in-hand, picking wild berries and playing with woodland animals. Sometimes, they would make the mossy forest floor their bed for the night.

One morning after a night in the forest, the girls opened their eyes and saw a radiant child. The child looked upon them kindly and wandered away through the trees without saying a word. Before long, the girls realised that they had been sleeping on the edge of a cliff. Their mother later said that the child must have been a guardian angel.

On a snowy winter night, the family gathered around the fireplace. The sisters spun thread and their mother read to them. An urgent knock came at the door, which the mother asked Rose Red to answer immediately; she worried it was a traveller in desperate need of shelter. When, instead, the head of a great black bear appeared in the opening, the family were incredibly afraid.

The bear assured them that he meant no harm and was only looking for somewhere warm and dry to spend the night. The mother welcomed the bear and invited him to sit by the fire. She told her daughters there was nothing to fear.

Upon the bear’s request, the sisters brushed the snow off his fur. They played and joked with the bear, who soon became a dear friend. For the rest of winter, the bear returned to visit the family every evening.

When day grew longer than night, the bear told Snow White that he would not be able to visit again until summer had past. He explained that he must protect his treasure from thieving dwarves, who take advantage of the soft earth in warmer seasons. The bear walked away and a bit of his fur caught on the door latch. Snow White was not sure if she imagined it, but she thought she glimpsed shining gold beneath his pelt.

One day, the sisters were in the forest gathering brushwood for their mother. They came across a fallen tree and found an angry little dwarf, whose long beard was stuck in the trunk. He demanded help from the girls and complained that they were too nosy, dumb and ugly. Snow White freed the dwarf with her sewing scissors, but the dwarf was outraged to lose the tip of his beard. He ran away with his sack of gold.

When the girls were looking to catch some fish at the stream, they found the same dwarf. His beard had tangled with his fishing line and if the sisters did not help, the dwarf would get pulled into the water. They cut a little more of his beard off. The dwarf, fuming over the loss, ran away with his sack of pearls.

A few days later, the mother asked her daughters to run errands in town. On the way, the sisters saw a large bird of prey dive to the ground and pick something up in its talons. The sisters recognised the screaming, flailing creature as the dwarf and rushed to pull him from the bird’s grip. The dwarf was furious that his clothes had gotten torn in the struggle. He ran away with his sack of jewels.

That evening, the sisters were walking back from town, having purchased the ribbons and lace for their mother. They crossed paths with the dwarf and marvelled at the glittering jewels he had piled onto the ground. The dwarf lost his temper, but before he could toss more insults their way, the great black bear bounded between him and the girls.

The dwarf quailed before the bear. He pleaded for mercy and insisted that the girls would make a better meal. The sisters, however, had already ran away in fright. Without hesitation, the bear struck the dwarf down and killed him instantly.

No sooner had the bear found the two girls did he reveal who he truly was. As the thick fur coat fell away, the bear was replaced by a prince in golden clothing. The prince told the two sisters that the wicked dwarf had stolen his treasure and transformed him into a bear. Only the death of the dwarf could break the spell.

Snow White married the prince and Rose Red married the prince’s brother. They lived happily in the palace, which also became home to the sisters’ mother. All the treasure retrieved from the dwarf was shared and two beautiful additions were made to the royal garden: a white rosebush and a red rosebush.

Read the complete story by purchasing a collection of Brothers Grimm fairy tales that has been professionally translated from the original German. The following books were consulted to write this summary:

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Brothers Grimm: The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Jack Zipes (London: Vintage, 2007).

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, ed. Lily Owens (New York: Gramercy Books, 2006).

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The annotated Brothers Grimm, ed. Maria Tatar (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012).