"Snow White" is a German fairy tale known across much of Europe, and is today one of the most famous fairy tales worldwide. The Brothers Grimm published it in 1812 in the first edition of their collection Grimms' Fairy Tales. It was titled in German: Sneewittchen (in modern orthography Schneewittchen), and numbered as Tale 53. The Grimms completed their final revision of the story in 1854.
At the beginning of the story, a queen sits sewing at an open window during a winter snowfall when she pricks her finger with her needle, causing three drops of blood dripping into the freshly fallen snow on the black windowsill. Admiring the beauty of the resulting color combination, she says to herself, "Oh how I wish that I had a daughter that had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony". Soon after that, the queen gives birth to a baby girl who is as white as snow, as red as blood, and with hair as black as ebony. They name her 'Snow White', but sadly, the queen dies after giving birth to her.
After a year has passed, the King takes a new wife, who is beautiful but also unutterably wicked and vain. The new queen possesses a Magic Mirror which she asks every morning: "Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?". The mirror always replies: "My Queen, you are the fairest in the land." The queen is always pleased with that, because the magic mirror never lies. But, when Snow White reaches the age of seven, she becomes as beautiful as the day and even more beautiful than the Queen and when the Queen asks her mirror, it responds: "My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you."
This gives the queen a great shock, and she becomes yellow and green with envy, and from that hour her heart turns against Snow White, and with every following day she hates Snow White more and more. Envy and pride, like ill weeds, grow in her heart taller every day, until she has no peace day or night. Eventually, the queen orders a Huntsman to take Snow White into the deepest woods to be killed. As proof that Snow White is dead, the queen demands that he returns with her lungs and liver. The huntsman takes Snow White into the forest. After raising his knife, he finds himself unable to kill her as she sobs heavily and begs him: "Oh, dear huntsman, don't kill me! Leave me with my life, I will run into the forest and never come back!". The huntsman leaves her behind alive, convinced that the girl would be eaten by some wild animal. He instead brings the Queen the lungs and liver of a young boar, which is prepared by the cook and eaten by the Queen.
After wandering through the forest for days, Snow White discovers a tiny cottage belonging to a group of seven dwarfs. Since no one is at home, she eats some of the tiny meals, drinks some wine and then tests all the beds. Finally the last bed is comfortable enough for her and she falls asleep. When the seven dwarfs return home, they immediately become aware that someone sneaked in secretly, because everything in their home is in disorder. During their loud discussion about who sneaked in, they discover the sleeping Snow White. The girl wakes up and explains to them what happened and the dwarfs take pity on her, saying: "If you will keep house for us, and cook, make beds, wash, sew, and knit, and keep everything clean and orderly, then you can stay with us, and you shall have everything that you want." They warn her to be careful when alone at home and to let no one in when they are away delving in the mountains.
Meanwhile, the Queen asks her mirror once again: "Magic Mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?" The mirror replies: "My Queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White beyond the mountains at the seven dwarfs is a thousand times more beautiful than you." The Queen is horrified to learn that the huntsman has betrayed her and that Snow White is still alive. She keeps thinking about how to get rid of Snow White, then she disguises herself as an old peddler. The Queen then walks to the cottage of the dwarfs and offers her colourful, silky laced bodices and convinces the girl to take the most beautiful bodice as a present. Then the Queen laces it so tight that Snow White faints, causing the Queen to leave her for dead. But the dwarfs return just in time and Snow White revives when the dwarfs loosen the laces.
Next morning the Queen consults her mirror anew and the mirror reveals Snow White's survival. Now infuriated, the Queen dresses as a comb seller and convinces Snow White to take a beautiful comb as a present. She brushes Snow White's hair with a poisoned comb and the girl faints again, but she is revived by the dwarfs. And the next morning the mirror tells the Queen, that Snow White is still 'a thousand times more beautiful' than its mistress. Now the Queen nearly has a heart attack in shock and rage. As a third and last try, she secretly consults the darkest magic and makes a poisoned apple, and in the disguise of a farmer's wife, she offers it to Snow White. The girl is, at first, hesitant to accept it, so the Queen cuts the apple in half, eating the white (harmless) part and giving the red (poisoned) part to Snow White. The girl eagerly takes a bite and falls into a state of suspended animation, causing the Queen to triumph. This time, the dwarfs are unable to revive the girl, because they can't find the source of Snow White's poor health and, assuming that she is dead, they place her in a glass coffin.
Time passes, and a Prince traveling through the land sees Snow White. He strides to her coffin, and enchanted by her beauty, instantly falls in love with her. The dwarfs succumb to his entreaties to let him have the coffin, and as his servants carry the coffin away, they stumble on some roots. The tremor caused by the stumbling causes the piece of poisoned apple to dislodge from Snow White's throat, awakening her. The Prince then declares his love for her, and soon a wedding is planned. The couple invites every Queen and King to come to the wedding party, including Snow White's stepmother. Meanwhile, the Queen, still believing that Snow White is dead, again asks her magical mirror who is the fairest in the land. The mirror says: "You, my Queen, are fair so true. But the young Queen is a thousand times fairer than you."
Appalled, in disbelief and with her heart full of fear and doubts, the Queen is, at first, hesitant to accept the invitation, but she eventually decides to go. Not knowing that this new queen was indeed her stepdaughter, she arrives at the wedding, and her heart fills with the deepest of dread when she realizes the truth. As a punishment for her attempted murders, a pair of glowing-hot iron shoes are brought forth with tongs and placed before the Queen. She is forced to step into the burning shoes and to dance until she drops dead.
In their first edition, the Brothers Grimm published the version they had first collected, in which the villain of the piece is Snow White's jealous mother. In a version sent to another folklorist prior to the first edition, additionally, she does not order a servant to take her to the woods, but takes her there herself to gather flowers and abandons her; in the first edition, this task was transferred to a servant. It is believed that the change to a stepmother in later editions was to tone down the story for children.
The most famous version of Snow White is the 1937 American animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney. Disney's variation of Snow White gave the dwarfs names and included magical, moving trees and a singing Snow White. Instead of her lungs and liver, as written in the original, the huntsman is asked by the queen to bring back Snow White’s heart. Snow White is much more mature (about 14). And she is discovered by the dwarfs after cleaning the house, not vandalizing it. Furthermore, in the Disney movie the evil queen tries only once to kill Snow White (by a poisoned apple) and fails. She then dies by falling down a cliff, after the dwarfs had chased her through the forest. In the original, the queen is forced to dance to death.
Another notable variation is the 2012 feature film Snow White and the Huntsman, directed by Rupert Sanders. In this version of Snow White, Snow White becomes a warrior in order to overthrow the queen and the huntsman is presented as her mentor and possible love interest.
Many later versions omit the queen's attempted cannibalism, eating what she believed to be the lungs and liver of Snow White. This may be a reference to old Slavic mythology which includes tales of witches eating human hearts.
From other European traditions
Many other variations of the story exist across Europe. In some of these variations the dwarfs are robbers, while the magic mirror is a dialog with the sun or moon.
In a version from Albania, collected by Johann Georg von Hahn, the main character lives with 40 dragons. Her sleep is caused by a ring. The beginning of the story has a twist, in that a teacher urges the heroine to kill her evil stepmother so that she would take her place. The origin of this tale is debated; it is likely no older than the Middle Ages. In fact there are possibly two Albanian versions of Snow White: one where her stepmother tries to kill her, and another where her two jealous sisters try to kill her. "The Jealous Sisters" is another Albanian fairy tale. In both fairy tales the death is caused by a ring.
Paralleling the stepmother's question of her magic mirror, the Indian epic poem Padmavat (1540) includes the line: "Who is more beautiful, I or Padmavati?, Queen Nagamati asks to her new parrot, and it gives a displeasing reply...";
Nourie Hadag from Armenia is the daughter of a woman who asks the Moon who is the most beautiful in the world, and the response is always "Nourie Hadag". The mother plots to kill her daughter.
Other writers who have made use of the theme include Donald Barthelme (in his novel Snow White), Gregory Maguire (in his novel Mirror Mirror), Jane Yolen (in her story "Snow in Summer," published in Black Swan, White Raven), Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald (in their story "The Queen's Mirror," published in A Wizard's Dozen), Anne Sexton (in her poem "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," published in Transformations), Gail Carson Levine (in Fairest), Jim C. Hines (in his Princesses series, which portrays Snow White as a witch who uses various mirrors as the focus of her magic, with the 'dwarves' being elemental spirits that she can summon to aid her at the cost of taking seven years from her life every time she calls upon them) and A. S. Byatt (in her essay "Ice, Snow, Glass," published in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall).
Snow White's father is the principal character in the novel Tainted Glass written by Brian Carufe. The story is a prequel/retelling of the tale with the girl's father cursed into the Magic Mirror of lore.
In 1987, ABC debuted a sitcom based on the home life of Snow White and Prince Charming called The Charmings. The characters found themselves transported from their Enchanted Forest home to the Los Angeles suburbs, where they tried to adapt to life in the modern world.
The 1987 fantasy film Snow White (starring Diana Rigg as the Wicked Queen and Sarah Patterson as Snow White) was released direct to video using the Cannon Movie Tale logo. Other fantasy films were released in the series. It is currently available on Region 1 DVD from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Filmation Studios produced a film called Happily Ever After in 1988, starring Irene Cara as Snow White. As if a sequel to the 1937 Disney film, Snow White meets with the Seven Dwarfelles, the dwarfs' cousins. Released theatrically in 1993, the film was commercially a failure; the company had planned to create more unauthorized sequels to Disney films.
In 1994, the Tatsunoko animation studio adapted the story into a 52-episode TV series, Shirayuki-hime no Densetsu ("The Legend of Princess Snow White"), aired in Japan on NHK. Tatsunoko's production incorporated several prelude episodes emphasizing the romance between Snow White and her prince before launching into the story proper.
Also in 1994, an animated version entitled Snow White by Enchanted Tales was released by Sony as part of their Enchanted Tales Collection.
A segment of the 2005 Turkish anthology filmIstanbul Tales made up of five stories based on popular fairy tales is based on this tale where the daughter of a mobster meets the eighth dwarf in underground tunnels.
Another unofficial sequel of sorts was released in theaters in Belgium and France in January 2007: Blanche Neige, la suite (Snow White: The Sequel), an animated film for mature audiences. It was directed by Picha, who is known for his animated films of a sexually explicit nature.
MGA Entertainment released Bratz Kidz Fairy Tale to which one of the main four characters (Jade) portrays Snow White alongside other fairytale heroines.
In the mini series The 10th Kingdom, The series takes place years after Snow White's encounter with the Evil Queen and marrying her prince. The ghost of Snow White is played by Camryn Manheim who tells Virginia, a young woman from New York, that she is destined to defeat the new Evil Queen and help Snow White's grandson Prince Wendell White become king.
A present-day take on the story provides the setting for the 2011 ABC fantasy series Once Upon a Time, in which Emma Swan, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, played by Jennifer Morrison, holds the key to breaking the curse on a small Maine town where everyone is a storybook character whose memories and happiness have been stripped away by the Evil Queen. Snow White is played by Ginnifer Goodwin (and by Bailee Madison as a child), Prince Charming is played by Josh Dallas, and the Evil Queen is played by Lana Parrilla.
The 2012 silent Spanish film Blancanieves is a retelling of the story set in 1920s Andalusia. It stars Maribel Verdú as Encarna aka La Madrastra (the Stepmother) and Macarena García as Carmen aka Blancanieves (the Spanish name for "Snow White").
The famous animated film, Shrek, by DreamWorks, features a magic mirror, similar to the one in Grimm's original tale.
In Rooster Teeth ProductionsRWBY, Weiss Schnee (played by Kara Eberle) is a white-haired girl who carries the Myrtenaster, a rapier that channels the energy of Dust. Weiss is a princess and an heiress of the dwarven-operated Schnee Dust Company, a large company involved in Dust mining. She is an allusion to Snow White, which is reflected in her name, translated from German as "white snow".
In 1987, the French artist Mylène Farmer's song "Tristana", is somehow a faithful adaptation of Snow White, in Russian version.
Japanese band Sound Horizon released a song "The Princess Sleeping in the Glass Coffin", retelling Snow White in their 7th Album "Marchen". In this version, Snow White laughs madly during the torturing of her stepmother, so the prince ends up regretting the marriage.
In 2001, a sadistic version of the Disney Snow White appears in German metal band Rammstein's video for the song Sonne where Snow White is portrayed as a dominatrix and drug addict (who shoots up gold dust as a drug).
The “Talking Mirror” in the Spessart Museum in Lohr am Main
In 1986 Bartels, a German scholar, published an analysis suggesting that the folktale of Snow White was based upon Maria Sophia Margaretha Catherina von Erthal, who was born in Lohr am Main in 1725. Like Snow White, Maria Sophia was a noble girl, but whereas Snow White's father was a king, Maria Sophia's father, Philipp Christoph von Erthal, was only a superior magistrate, representing the Prince Elector of Mainz in Lohr. The castle of the Prince Elector of Mainz in Lohr was his official residence and home of his family. After the death of her birth mother in 1741, Maria Sophia’s father remarried in 1743. The stepmother, Claudia Elisabeth von Reichenstein, was domineering and employed her new position to the advantage of her children from her first marriage. A mirror now called “The Talking Mirror” is located the Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle, where Maria Sophia was born. It was a product of Lohr Mirror Manufacture (Kurmainzische Spiegelmanufaktur). These mirrors became a favorite gift at European crown and aristocratic courts.
Snow White and Rose Red
There is another Brothers Grimm tale called Snow White and Rose Red which also includes a character called Snow White. However, this Snow White is a completely separate character from the one found in this tale. The original German names are also different: Schneewittchen and Schneeweißchen. There is actually no difference in the meaning (both mean "snow white"), but the first name is more influenced by the dialects of Low Saxon while the second one is the standard German version, implying a class difference between the two Snow Whites.
Modern uses and adaptations
The adaptation Once Upon a Time displays Snow "Mary" White and Red "Ruby" Lucas as close friends.
In 2013 the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a trademark to Disney Enterprises, Inc., for the name "Snow White" that covers all live and recorded movie, television, radio, stage, computer, Internet, news, and photographic entertainment uses, except literature works of fiction and nonfiction.
^Karlheinz Bartels: Schneewittchen – Zur Fabulologie des Spessarts. Second Edition, Lohr 2012, publisher: Geschichts- und Museumsverein Lohr a. Main, the local historical society, ISBN 978-3-934128-40-8; cf. an academic review by Theodor Ruf: Die Schöne aus dem Glassarg. Schneewittchens märchenhaftes und wirkliches Leben. Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1994, p. 12ff, 49ff; ISBN 3-88479-967-3
^Werner Loibl, Schneewittchens herrische Stiefmutter (The domineering stepmother of Snow White), Lohrer Echo, 28.08.1992 with further references.
^Werner Loibl, Die kurmainzische Spiegelmanufaktur Lohr am Main in der Zeit Kurfürst Lothar Franz von Schönborn (1698-1729), p.277f, in the catalogue: Glück und Glas, Zur Kulturgeschichte des Spessarts, Munich, 1984; Loibl is the foremost expert in the history of 17th and 18th-century glasshouses in Germany, according to Dedo von Kerssenbrock-Krosigk, formerly Curator of European Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, NY), since 2008 Director of the Hentrich Museum of Glass (Düsseldorf, Germany). Cf. now the history of the 17th- and 18th-century glasshouses in Lohr and in the Spessart written by Werner Loibl: Die kurmainzische Spiegelmanufaktur Lohr am Main (1698 - 1806) und die Nachfolgebetriebe im Spessart, 3 volumes, Aschaffenburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-87965-118-4.