Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Huntsman

(I apologize for my tardiness. I don't mean to make excuses, but I have two tests this morning and this important thing slipped my mind.)

The Woodsman is a character who goes through changes in the different versions of Snow White. In the Disney version of Snow White, the woodsman is a burly character who somehow strikes me as unintelligent yet kind deep down in his heart despite being a hired hand. In this version, the Woodsman seems like a man who would otherwise certainly commit murder, but is overcome by the beauty and innocence of Snow White and lets her go for this reason. The scene with him has an emotional intensity to it.

In the DEFA version of Snow White, the Huntsman is very different. He is thin, seems intelligent, and actually looks and seems like a scoundrel. The scene where the Huntsman lets Snow White go is very different than in the Disney version. The scene is extremely unemotional. He seems to be going through a rational process when he decides not to kill her. Snow White also has to 'convince' this Huntsman to not kill her. While in the Disney he comes to the decision on his own.

The Grimms version of Snow White leaves much to the imagination, and that is why two very interpretations came to be. Snow White does ask the Huntsman not to kill her, but is only one sentence. He also has virtually no personality at all, except that he feels great moral relief when not having to kill Snow White, suggesting the more emotional Disney version might be a more genuine adaptation.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


In watching the DEFA version of Snow White, there was one dwarf in particular whom I took to be the equivalent of Disney's "Dopey." (The German name escapes me at the moment!) In both films, all of the 7 dwarfs are portrayed as both lovable and loving, genuinely caring, and safe. Further, they are efficient, industrious, and intelligent. I attribute this last characteristic to the lot of them as they are the group responsible for saving Snow White time and time again. They not only detect someone dangerous is lurking in the woods, attempting to harm Snow White, but they are able to quickly find the object that has inflicted her, putting her in a momentary dead-like state. What is especially endearing about Dopey and his alter ego in the DEFA version, however, is the fact that he retains this innate intelligence that is obviously the result of a caring heart and soul, and is able to contribute to the saving of Snow White despite his mental capacity showing signs of limited capacity. In Disney's film, a more overtly sweet and loving relationship between Dopey and Snow White is portrayed, as we see him return again and again for kisses... simply silly in love with the young girl, making the audience laugh-- more precisely, maybe is the word giggle?-- often. In the DEFA version, "Dopey" is funny, too, but as more of a jester-like comical character. The rest of the dwarves are always keeping him in check, as he is the one distracted or left behind, but only out of natural curiosity and a playful attitude. In this version, Snow White herself seems more distant (less motherly and more maid-like, perhaps) in her relation to the dwarfs. Accordingly, her relationship with them is not quite as deep as is Disney's princess with her own dwarfs.

The Dwarves in the Snow White Tales

In both, “Snow White” and “The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest” (in the Grimms book), the dwarf/gnomes expect Snow White to do things for them without question.

In “Snow White”, she is made to do chores in exchange for food and a roof over her head. This is pretty reasonable. The gnomes in “The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest” seem much more arrogant and demanding. She has only a small piece of bread to eat and upon meeting them, they demand she share it with them. They then demand that she sweep their back porch. After Snow White does these things without question, they bestow gifts upon her for being “so polite and kind”. Later, the other daughter is cursed after she refuses to take orders from the gnomes. She tells them, “Do your own sweeping! I’m not your maid.” (Exactly what I would have said). They describe Snow White as “obedient” and the woman’s daughter as “wicked”. Snow White’s role in the “Snow White” tale is very reminiscent of the old-fashioned housewife stereotype. She has to have the dwarves’ dinner ready and waiting for them when they return.

In this way, the dwarves/gnomes represent the patriarchy. Women are expected to be subservient and meek, performing all tasks asked of them by men, even complete strangers. If you dare to question them or stand up for yourself, you are “wicked” and “greedy”.

The Wicked Queen

In Snow White, the wicked stepmother, or queen, is known for her beauty and vanity. Despite some variations, in all of the Snow White stories the queen wants Snow White killed because she is vain and wants to be the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Disney treats the evil queen's beauty interestingly, because she is vampy and sexual, but her hair, arguably one of the most important features a beautiful woman has, is never shown. She keeps her head completely covered by a sinister looking perversion of what looks like a nun's habit. It is only when she transforms herself into a hideous old woman that we get to see her hair, although at that point it is grey and stringy. The film opens with a shot of the queen looking into a mirror. It highlights the shape of her body and the cruel beauty of her face, as well as the covering over her head. By highlighting her sexuality and beauty, but hiding her hair, Disney makes the queen seem less womanly. She is a perversion of femininity, not only in her actions, but in her very physical makeup. After she becomes the old woman, she remains a perversion of femininity because her beauty and her hair are still absent. As an old woman, she is a an abberation of youth. At no point in the story does the queen appear totally human, with all the parts that would make her a complete woman. She is an unnatural woman on the inside, so she is presented as an unnatural woman on the outside.

In the silent film we watched in class today, the evil queen begins the film as an ugly woman who desires beauty. Instead of being vain and beautiful from the get-go, she has to ask an old witch to make her beautiful. The first thing she notices after her transformation is her long, thick hair. The operatic braids she lifts with excitement represent the ultimate in femininity. It wasn't until she became beautiful that she could have ultra-feminine hair. This version of the Snow White story emphasizes the queen's desire to be as truly female as possible, if femaleness is defined by beauty. It is different from the Disney version of the story because gaining beauty does not make the queen any less human. It actually makes her seem more feminine and complete by beauty standards. Her evil actions do not match her appearance in this story. The two different depictions of the queens in the films highlight Disney's propensity to make the characters look on the outside how they are on the inside. Disney's queen has to be beautiful to make the story work, but she doesn't have to be truly female. The traditional way the queen's beauty is portrayed in the silent film contrasts the way Disney portrays their villain.

Reflections of a Killer Queen

The presence, or absence, of the mirror, as well as its gender, in the Snow White tales makes an important distinction in the stepmother's paranoid narcissism. The Grimms' "Snow White," the 1812 version anyway, does not kill off Snow White birth mother which makes her narcissism and worry that her daughter will replace her within the household and her desire to kill her daughter much scarier. She utilizes a genderless magic mirror, which "she knew would always tell the truth" and informs her that even at the age of 7, Snow White has surpassed her in beauty. The mirror's very real and implants the jealousy in the queen's mind. Perhaps the Grimms didn't endow this magical entity with any sort of gender clues because its observations have such dire consequences: the ideal female has already been violated by making Snow White's own mother the one who desires her death and an upright male voice would never order such a thing.
Walt Disney endows his Wicked Stepmother's magic mirror with a male, Jewish voice, thus provoking both wise deception and a promise behind its observations. It's a mask that covers nothing, yet the Queen trusts it so. The fact that Disney made the mirror a male voice gives its observations more weight since more than likely, it is for men that a woman's beauty matters. It's also interesting to point out that a man would never feel threatened, especially by a woman, by telling a woman that she isn't the most beautiful thing in the world. A woman, on the other hand, knows better: they know how dangerous it is to their welfare to fight against anyone in power; they're supposed to be meek, docile creatures.

The Magic Mirror

To continue along with the discussion we started today in class, I'd like to further examine the "character" of the magic mirror, since "it" is one of the primary drivers of the plot, more so than Snow White, the prince, or the dwarves, and arguably more than the queen/stepmother (who may or may not be the same person). In all written texts, the magic mirror has no gendered voice, it is simply an inanimate object overtaken by some magical force. The same is true for the 1916 film version. The mirror has no voice, as indeed no character has a voice in this silent film. And while silence is only due to the contemporary filmmaking technology, let's pretend that this silence was instead thought-out and chosen a such. In my opinion, a silent mirror is in some ways more in keeping with the queen's psyche argument. We may not hear it, but the queen certainly does. The mirror does not need to speak because its visual image tells all. The mirror reflects its fair queen, but her reflection pales in comparison to Snow White's and that is obvious. No words even need to be spoken, for it is all internalized.

But what does internalized mean? If we want to continue with the queen's psyche argument, the Disney version could be seen as the voice of patriarchal society, which is the queen's own voice because she's been indoctrinated within that society. Therefore, the male voice refers us to the ways in which men in our society get to judge what is beautiful, so that women can only consider themselves beautiful when a male affirms their beauty. In contrast to the queen's psyche theory, however, the Disney mirror, rather than simply being magical as in the 1916 version, is also demonized with fire and smoke. "He" is a mask, not a person in and of himself, but an outward guise to hide a person's true appearance. So while he inhabits the most human form of any of the mirrors in film Snow Whites, the magic mirror is still not fully human, but rather some illusion to be summoned. It is also important to note that the queen's reflection is entirely lost in the mirror so that only the mask and smoke are featured. This separates the mirror from the queen's character to such an extent visually that it would be very difficult to extend the queen's psyche theory much further than I already have.

In the 1961 DEFA film, the mirror is portrayed with the queen's reflection, while its frame lights up and a female voice comes forth when asked its question. The magic mirror being coded female eliminates the patriarchal judge of beauty evident in the Disney version. Instead, the prince is the only male character who decides what is beautiful. The mirror then becomes more of an expression of female jealousy. She (the mirror) is perhaps entirely representative of the queen's own feelings, while at the same time being separate from her (the queen at one point asks her serving woman what the mirror said and the mirror possesses knowledge of Snow White's whereabouts that the queen isn't conscious of). The feminized mirror provides an objective female voice that tells us what beauty is, perhaps regardless of patriarchal society's views.