Snow, Glass, Apples is a retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s beloved children’s tale, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. It was originally released in 1994 as a benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and consequently released as part of a few anthologies, one of which is Smoke & Mirrors also by Neil Gaiman.
Snow, Glass, Apples is narrated from the point of view of Snow White’s stepmother Queen, the conventional fairy-tale villain. However, in this story, Gaiman deftly altered roles. Snow White is not the beautiful, kind princess with the lovely hair and rosy-white skin who was forced to flee to the forest and hide because she was driven out by the jealous Queen; instead, Snow White is depicted as a malevolent creature who preyed on her own father. Yes, she is still pale-skinned and she had those lovely red lips, but readers will discover that those are not badges of beauty but of something else – something more corrupt and horrifying.
“Her eyes were black as coal, black as her hair; her lips were redder than blood. She looked up at me and smiled. Her teeth seemed sharp, even then, in the lamplight.”
On the other hand, her stepmother, the Queen, is not at all the wicked one. Instead, the Queen is pictured as the benevolent, devoted partner to the King and who, upon discovery of Snow White’s true nature, becomes absolutely terrified of her. Still, because she loved her husband and her kingdom, she resolved that she had to do something in order to repel Snow White.
“If it were today, I would have her heart cut out, true. But then I would have her head and arms and legs cut off. I would have them disembowel her. And then I would watch, in the town square, as the hangman heated the fire to white-heat with bellows, watch unblinking as he consigned each part of her to the fire. I would have archers around the square, who would shoot any bird or animal who came close to the flames, any raven or dog or hawk or rat. And I would not close my eyes until the princess was ash, and a gentle wind could scatter her like snow.
I did not do this thing, and we pay for our mistakes.”
The Queen tells her tale by way of flashbacks. She describes how she met the King, their courtship, and eventually, their marriage. She recounted her life in the castle, the horrors which Snow White put her through, and how this conflict with her stepdaughter began – and ended.
While Snow, Glass, Apples remained true to the original fairytale with respect to structure –Snow White was forced out of the castle by her own stepmother Queen, finds solace in the forest and is taken in by a bunch of friendly dwarfs, woken from (an apparent) death by true love’s kiss from her gallant Prince Charming, etc. – the factual milieu and character motivations are completely different. In this retelling, the Queen pursues Snow White not out of jealousy but in a determined effort to protect the kingdom and its people – yes, from Snow White herself. The Queen is bestowed with traits that will elicit sympathy instead of hate from the readers.
On the other hand, Snow White is a menace to the townspeople and desires to return to the castle not for anything else but to exact revenge and murder the Queen. Even the love story between Snow White and Prince Charming is peppered with depravities and malice as, just like Snow White, the Prince Charming is not your conventional knight in shining armor, either. He is as wicked and corrupt as his lady love, and finds sexual satisfaction – as with the other characters –in deviant behavior.
“At first the prince seemed excited. He bade me remove my shift, and made me stand in front of the opened window, far from the fire, until my skin was chilled stone-cold. Then he asked me to lie upon my back, with my hands folded across my breasts, my eyes wide open – but staring only at the beams above. He told me not to move, and to breathe as little as possible. He implored me to say nothing. He spread my legs apart… “Please,” he said, softly. “You must neither move, nor speak. Just lie there on the stones, so cold and so fair.”
I love this story because Neil Gaiman was able to take a traditional fairytale and cleverly twist it to create a perverted, haunting tale, one that will stay with you for a long time after reading it. This story incorporates themes that are not standard fare for children’s stories such as vampirism, necrophilia, pedophilia, and incest. It was told simply and straightforwardly, but it will nonetheless provoke the imagination in a manner that will first shock you, then bother you, and then finally, blow you away.
I have always pictured Snow White as the Disney princess who sang with the birds and animals of the forest and gaily worked with the seven dwarfs. I have always imagined the Queen with her magic mirror, the poison-laced apples, and as the wicked old hag she turned into when she ventured into the forest to find Snow White. But after reading Snow, Glass, Apples, I am given another perspective of this timeless tale, and the thought deliciously haunts me until now.
“The goose-grease begins to melt and glisten upon my skin. I shall make no sound at all. I shall think no more on this.
I shall think instead of the snowflake on her cheek.
I think of her hair as black as coal, her lips as red as blood, her skin, snow-white.”
You may read the story online by clicking on this link.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars