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Envy

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series The Fairy Tale Project

Like other fairy tales that changed over time as their audience shifted from adults to children, the many versions of Snow White vary greatly. When we think about the audience of Snow White, we can see how the Brothers Grimm version is similar to that of the Disney version. Since both of these were created during the time period when fairy tales were aimed solely towards children, we can see that the tone is very different than both the earliest version of the tale as well as the more current versions. It seems that in recent years the audience of fairy tales has changed once again. The early Disney movies were clearly aimed solely at children – most taught a lesson and had a happy ending. Recently, however, we see that many tales have become much more sophisticated. The audience has broadened. While some are geared toward both adults and children, some are clearly only meant for adults.

Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” is a perfect example of a version that is not meant for young audiences. Since it was written from the perspective of the queen, Snow White was presented as anything but innocent. Though very shocking, I found this version to also be an interesting way to turn the story around. It makes you think about your perception and how in most cases Snow White was viewed as the victim, but from the point of view of the queen, she was the evil one who needed to be destroyed – or perhaps that was just her way of manipulating the truth. As the queen said, “they have told the people bad things about me; a little truth to add savor to the dish, but mixed with many lies” [ref]Tatar, Maria ed. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York., W.W. Norton., 1999.[/ref]. In many ways, I think this speaks to our daily lives. We tend to believe what we want to believe when perhaps it is only just a little bit a truth mixed in with a bunch of lies.

Gaiman’s tale resonated with me while reading what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar had to say about the patriarchal culture in which most of these stories were written. They point out all of the flaws of the culture that lead to the queen feeling powerless and desperate to be beautiful 1. Perhaps they are putting too much weight on this. The queen was simply caught up in her own vanity and used that as an excuse to abuse those around her. I am not ready to indict an entire gender over this. I will not attempt to point out the various good points in the men of these stories as that is not really the point. There is good and bad in all people. For me, instead of shifting the focus onto some patriarchal bias, we would do better to consider the real problems in all of the versions of Snow White – envy and pride.

Whatever her excuse, the queen let her envy get out of control to the point of becoming murderous. For me this is more of a story about self-control and contentment than it is about beauty or self-esteem. Maybe the real lesson here is that while there will always be someone who is younger, smarter, better looking, richer, or more successful than you, this doesn’t give you cause to try to destroy them or even to be angry or jealous of them.

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