Snow White – the fairy tale

One of the most popular fairy tales in the Western world, Snow White was the first to be turned into an animated colour movie, and the first full-length Disney movie ever, in 1937. That movie is now a classic, as the story itself has been for centuries. It goes so far that the dress this Disney Snow White wears has become iconic in itself, a synonym for ‚princess‘.

Disney's classic fairy tale princess

The folk tale as told by the Brothers Grimm

The first mention of the story in written form dates from 1812, when it was put down in the collection of fairy tales by the German brothers Grimm. Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, authors, linguists and folklorists, travelled to many villages and small towns in rural Germany, collecting folk tales and writing them down to form their famous collection of ‚Household and Fairy Tales‘. ‚Little Snow White‘ formed part of that original first edition and the Disney version has stayed quite close to it, although the Grimm’s version does not feature light-hearted songs or (rather silly) names for the dwarves.

Other ways in which the famous Disney version differs from the Grimm’s original are most obvious towards the end. Snow White is not awakened by a kiss, but rather through a servant’s clumsiness in carrying the glass coffin: he stumbles and the coffin falls, thereby dislodging the bit of the poisonous apple from Snow White’s throat, which brings her back to life, allowing the prince to make his declaration of love. The step-mother also doesn’t get off lightly in the orginial: she is made to dance at Snow White’s wedding in iron slippers that have been heated in the fire until she falls down dead.

original illustration of the Brother Grimm's collection of fairy tales

Different versions of the fairy tale

Snow White’s story was not only told in Germany, however: many different versions existed all across Europe, and although  the names and some of the accessories change (a ring for the poisoned apple, the moon for the mirror, etc.), the basics are the same:

  •  an older woman, jealous of a younger woman/girl’s beauty, out to destroy the competition
  • the attempt to kill and/or abandon the girl, either through herself or a servant
  • the girl’s rescue by a group of males (dwarves, knights, dragons, et. …)
  • three attempts of the female adversary to take out the girl
  • the apparent success at the third attempt, usually with a poisoned item (apple, ring, etc. …)
  • the rescue at the last minute by the hero and the consequent marriage of the heroine and hero
  • punishment for the (evil) older woman

Because the story is so well-know, so popular and has such a deep resonance in so many cultures, it has also very often been used in popular culture, either very openly and obviously, or as the hidden, underlying plot of a story that superficially seems to be about something else. Many modern adaptations, film versions and derivative stories exist of Snow White, keeping the classic tale alive and carrying it into the 21st century.

book cover of a modern fairy tale adaptation


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