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.

Facts

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

 

Thoughts

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?

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