Snow White vs. Schneeweißchen: Comparing and Constrasting Disney and Grimm

Snow White is a classic story that almost everyone knows. If you ask any person today, nearly everyone could tell you about the apple that little Snow White bit. It’s iconic; at least, to anyone who’s seen the Disney film. Surprisingly, few people associate Snow White and all its images to the original Grimm Tale, “Little Snow White” (also known as Sneewittchen or Schneeweißchen). While this is surprising, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Disney film has made the original tale more known as people research the origins of Snow White. Now, when researching the original tales, there are some similarities between them and the movie from 1937 as well as numerous differences. There’s many reasons behind this, of course, but first we should learn what those similarities and differences are.

Now, the similarities is probably easier to start with. Of course, in both tales, we have an ‘evil’ queen and Snow White. We’ve got 7 dwarfs and a prince. We’ve got a huntsman. All of those characters have the same type of personality and nearly the same plot (with only minor differences, such as the Queen in the movie being the stepmother as opposed to the mother). We’ve got similar plots (the Queen wants Snow dead, she orders the huntsman to kill her, then the huntsman refuses, Snow finds dwarfs, Queen ‘kills’ Snow, and Snow is revived later). In fact, there’s a lot that’s the same between the two versions; that comes as a bit of a surprise to me, seeing that everyone tends to treat Disney and Grimm as polar opposites.

Not that there aren’t numerous differences. As previously said, the Queen in the Disney version was a step-mother, as opposed to being a biological mother in the Grimm version*. Another notable difference is how Snow was ‘killed’. In the Disney movie, Snow White takes a bite of a poisoned apple, and that’s that. The Grimm tale has much more to it. First, the Queen ties laces too tight around Snow (presumably a corset); when that fails, the Queen digs a poisoned comb into Snow’s hair; when that fails, the Queen then brings forth the iconic poisoned apple. So, instead of the Queen trying to kill Snow once, in the Grimm tale, she tries 3 times. Another difference is the way Snow is revived (focusing solely on the apple death and reviving, seeing as the Disney version did not include the other two ‘deaths’). In the Disney version, a simple kiss from the Prince (‘loves first kiss’) cures her. In the Grimm version, however, a servant slaps her on the back after numerous days of carrying her and her coffin, which dislodges the apple caught in her throat. Yet another difference is how the Queen dies. In the Disney movie, her own attempt to kill the dwarfs ends in her death, while in the Grimm version, the Queen is killed by dancing to death in hot iron shoes. Brutal.

Now, these differences are very diverse, and there are always more (such as the singing, the names of the dwarfs, etc.). But, I think it’s plenty enough at this point to signify why Disney made these changes. The Grimm tales were blunt and are ‘renowned’ as being dark, gritty, and, well, grim. Disney wasn’t looking to make dark movies – they wanted to wow with colors and pretty, silly story lines. So, they fuzzed up the edges a little. Instead of abuse from a biological mother, it’s a step-mother (apparently that’s better than just normal old abuse). Instead of killing Snow White 3 different times, they killed her once and added some nice, pretty songs in place of all those deaths. Instead of having a brutal scene at the end where the Queen danced to death in iron slippers that were super-heated, the Queen died off camera, presumably from a rock crushing her (now, while that last one is still terrifyingly grim in nature, it’s probably not as bad as watching someone dance themselves to death while slowly burning alive). Disney was catering to children and families, and so he touched up the stories so they adapted better to his wish. Who can blame him? You cater to the audience you want.

*In the original version, the queen was written by the Grimms as a biological mother; in the third edition, she is a step mother. So, this might not be entirely ‘different’ depending on which edition Disney based this movie on.


Cinderella: The Story Of Reality (Metaphorically)

The story of Cinderella’s been told in thousands of different ways. Most of these versions did include a version of Cinderella where she starts out poor (or, at least, in poor living conditions) and then ‘magically’ made all of her dreams come true. Now, stated so basically, this motif seems far too fantastical to be true in real life. After all, no one truly expects a fairy to pop up and give them all they want, or a tree to give you a beautiful dress if you shake it. Simply put, it’s not at all realistic that ‘magic’ will give you what you want in life, for the reason that many do not believe magic is real. However, I wish to contest this theory.

Whenever the definition of magic is truly analyzed, we find that, yes, it can be seen as “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”[1]. In this case, many believe that it’s impossible. Supernatural forces simply don’t happen in real life. However, what if that’s not the definition we use when analyzing magic? What if, instead, we use the classification of “wonderful or exciting”[1]? Well, many things can be seen as wonderful. Gifts my mother give me are wonderful; stories we’ve read can be wonderful; we use wonderful and magical almost synonymously in modern times. So, can something wonderful happen to help us get ahead in life, a metaphoric ‘rags to riches’ moment?

Well, this brings me to the other half of the motif. You see, the magic in Cinderella’s story was not the only thing that saved her from her life as a servant. Had the prince never fallen in love with her and married her, then Cinderella would still be stuck in her little house with her wicked family. Since he did marry her, however, she became a princess and completed the pattern of rags to riches. So, can being married to someone lead you to a life of happiness and riches?

Well, of course. When you marry someone, your money is shared; thus, the richer the man you marry, most usually, the richer you both are. So, when Cinderella married the prince, it was at least believable in the span of the motif that she would be rich due to her marriage to the prince (although not as believable that they had actually fallen in love quite that quickly).

Thus, when considering magic to be something wonderful, thoughts go to Cinderella’s marriage. Weddings are always considered something wonderful; two people are joining together to form one union in the basic of love. Some people even describe it as magical. So, in the motif of ‘rags to riches through magic and marriage’, it’s actually perfectly reasonable to believe that both marriage and magic can get you there. I believe that’s why so many different Cinderella stories have been made in the past. There’s so many wonderful – and, synonymously, magical – moments in the world that one can use to describe what happens to Cinderella. Say a waitress gets the tip she’s been waiting for that gives her enough money to go to the college of her dreams, or a girl forced to work in a flower shop meets a man whom she falls in love with who frees her from her contract to the store and allows her to open her own dream shop. The possibilities are really endless when using a different definition of the motif; and, of course, all of them are perfectly reasonable and realistic – if magic is just wonderful happenstance instead of supernatural influence. Otherwise, being rich is just another fairy tale.

[1]”Define Magic – Google Search.” Define Magic – Google Search. Web. 20 Sept. 2015. < magic&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8>.

Hansel And Gretel: From Grimm To MGM

There are numerous differences and very few similarities between the MGM movie and the original Grimm tale of “Hansel and Gretel”. While the basic plot and basic characters remain the same, the MGM version took quite a few liberties with the characters by changing their overall personalities, as well as extending the story well past the fairly short plot of the previous version. The MGM version also took the less ‘socially acceptable’ parts of the plot and mostly erased them.

For the close similarities, we look to the characters and basic plot. Hansel and Gretel are both the main characters in each version, and both of their parents are present. We also see the witch playing much the same role she played in the original tale. However, in the original Grimm story the mother was angry at the lack of food and resolved to abandon the children in the woods because, if they didn’t, they “shall all have to starve to death”(Zipes, 44). In the MGM version, the mother was angry over a mistake the children made (allowing the donkey in the house, which led to the loss of food and milk) and ordered them to go to the woods to pick berries. This difference seems small, but when compared to the mother in the original story, it is easy to see the edits the directors made; the children are the ones who wander into the wrong part of the woods, instead of the less desirable truth that the mother wanted to abandon her own children due to their lack of food.

The differences in these versions are endless. Hansel in the MGM version pressures his sister to go into the woods, whereas in the tale, Hansel and Gretel are led there by their unwilling father (who plays a far less important role in the MGM movie). Another difference, partially mentioned above, is that the mother in the tale does not appear to love her children, while the mother in the movie fully regrets having told them to go pick berries (although they went fully of their own accord down the wrong path). The mother in the movie regrets her choice and shows that she loves her children very much; the other mother does not appear to love her children, wants to abandon them, and is dead at the end of the tale.

That difference leads to the final point: the reasons for these changes. The directors of the film probably made these differences so that people would watch the movies and enjoy them, and would hopefully remain unoffended. In a directors eyes, no one would ever want to watch a movie about child abuse (the mother abandoning her children), cannibalism (the witch eating the children), or any other matter of unsavory business. As such, the director would choose to change seemingly minor things about the tale in movie form; the mother loves her children; the witch eats gingerbread instead of the flesh itself of children. These differences are simply because the Grimm brothers wanted to preserve the tales as they had been told with little editing. Unsavory topics didn’t offend people as much in the past. Now, however, we would shy away from topics such as these. This is also why the movie had songs in it, whereas the tale had none. The music was meant to distract from the main plot and to keep the audience interested. Now, whether it did its intended purpose? Well, I suppose that’s another topic for another day.

What Is A Fairy Tale?

During the short time spent in this class so far, we’ve discussed a number of things, from sex in Sleeping Beauty to something as simple as our favorite fairy tales. However, whenever we discuss the differences between fairy tales and other types of stories that are seen as synonymous with the tales (legends, myths, ect.), there appears to be a very strict base or form that fairy tales take on.

Whenever we’ve discussed fairy tales in class, we tend to bring up the same criteria: fairy tales usually rely on brevity with a stunning lack of detail; they must have some sense of magic in them, magic being defined simply as something impossible in reality (and, in the case of fairy tales, something that goes unquestioned); and, usually, a fairy tale makes us challenge a previously held belief or take a side on a certain discussion (good vs. evil, life vs. death, ect.). We’ve had numerous readings which reaffirm these criteria. Max Luthi writes of how legends use miracles and time differently from fairy tales, such that “in the local legend, the miracle fascinates, moves, frightens, or delights us; in the fairy tale, it is a matter of course” [1]. This supports the magic and lack of detail (words are not wasted on describing miracles, which are so happenstance in the world described that they can hardly be called ‘miracles’ anymore). Examples of these criteria are easily found in the Grimm tale “Briar Rose”, such as when she wakes from her 100 year sleep, undergoing no change from the passing of time. Indeed, the prince in the tale “was so astounded by her beauty that he leaned over and kissed her” [2]­­­­, despite the fact that after 100 years, her beauty should have faded quite a long time ago.

Clearly, these criteria for ‘what a fairy tale is’ appear to fit. However, there are some limitations to these definitions. For example, what would ‘modern fairy tales’ be classified as (tales such as adaptations of old fairy tales, or new stories unrelated to the Grimms or other authors)? Can they still be called fairy tales if they are merely adaptations of the originals? And, what happens when you analyze the synonymous nature of myth and legend to fairy tales; do such terms still mean fairy tale, despite the innate differences between the story types?

Despite these numerous questions, the criteria still remain true for the analysis of fairy tales. Perhaps they can be expanded upon, but for now, the magic, imagination, and form of a fairy tale define the genre well.

[1] Lüthi, Max. “The Seven Sleepers.” Once upon a Time; On the Nature of Fairy Tales. New York: F. Ungar Pub., 1976. 45. Print.

[2] Grimm, Wilhelm, and Jacob Grimm. “Briar Rose.” The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Trans. Jack Zipes. First ed. Princeton UP. 164. Print.