The Elements of Snow White

The Grimm Brothers fairy tale Snow White is one of the most famous and the story has been adapted many times over. In order to analyze and review the adaptations as I read and watch them I’ve put together a list of elements found in the original tale.

Tale 53: Little Snow White 

a photo of Rachel Weisz as Snow White
Rachel Weisz photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Disney Dreams

C H A R A C T E R S
The Princess Little Snow White has skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony. At age 7 her beauty surpasses everyone in the land and she becomes “fairest of all”.  Her vain and envious stepmother tries to kill her four times. Everyone loves her, except the wicked queen.

The Queen Snow White’s mother chose her name when a drop of her blood fell on new snow during her pregnancy. The queen dies in childbirth.

The Wicked Queen The king remarries when Snow is a young child. His new queen is beautiful, but cruel. When she loses her title of “fairest in all the land” to Snow, the wicked queen tries to have her killed.

These three together are representations of the Triple Goddess. Snow is the maiden, and represents youth, beauty, promise. She runs in the woods and wild animals do her no harm. The queen is the mother, she fulfills her part by birthing Snow. The wicked queen is introduced as another mother but she wants to be the maiden and thus becomes the crone. In some versions of the story Snow’s mother uses magic (the purview of the crone) to become pregnant, moving from maiden to crone to mother and then death, because she’d already used up her crone years. Snow ends the tale moving from maiden to mother.

The King Snow White’s father remarries and then disappears from the story.

The Huntsman The wicked queen enlists the huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her but instead he sets her free. He kills a boar and gives the wicked queen its lungs and liver, claiming they are Snow White’s.

The Seven Dwarfs The dwarfs live in a cottage in the woods and mine nearby caves. They give Snow White a place to stay when the huntsman tells her to flee.

The Prince The prince comes upon Snow White’s coffin in the woods and falls instantly in love with her. He convinces the dwarfs to let him take her coffin, and body, home to his kingdom. When she awakens, he marries her.

a still from the film Snow White and the Huntsman
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

O B J E C T S
The Mirror A powerful magic object that belongs to the wicked queen, the mirror proclaims  when asked who is fairest in all the land.

The Laces The queen uses a corset in her second attempt to kill Snow White. Disguised, she tricks Snow into letting her tie her laces and pulls them so tight Snow can’t breathe. When the dwarfs find her they loosen the laces and Snow is saved.

The Comb A poisoned comb is the queen’s third attempt to kill Snow White. Disguised again, she tricks Snow into letting her brush her hair and style it with a poisoned comb. When the dwarfs find her they remove the comb and Snow is saved.

The Apple A poisoned apple is the queen’s final attempt to kill Snow White. Disguised once more, she tricks Snow into taking a bite of the apple. When the dwarfs find her they cannot awaken her.

The Coffin Snow is so beautiful, even in death, the dwarfs cannot bury her in the ground and instead place her in a glass coffin. The prince stumbles upon the coffin and falls so in love he convinces the dwarfs to let take it to his kingdom. The coffin is broken in transit, the apple is dislodged from Snow’s throat and she awakens.

Dancing Shoes As punishment for Snow’s attempted murder, the wicked queen is sentenced to wearing shoes made of hot iron and dancing until she drops dead.

a still from the ABC series Once Upon a Time featuring Prince Charming waking Snow White with True Love's kiss
Charming awakens Snow White with True Love’s Kiss (Once Upon a Time; “Pilot”)

T H E M E S
“Fairest of All” The wicked queen is obsessed with being the fairest in the land. To maintain the title she resorts to manipulation, sorcery, alchemy, disguise and of course, murder. In contrast Snow doesn’t seem to care, or even know, how fair she is.

Sorcery and Alchemy Snow White’s naming references druidic magic. In some cultures eating a creature is a way to gain it’s power; when  the wicked queen eats what she believes to be Snow’s lungs and  liver she could be trying to gain Snow’s fairness. The wicked queen has a secret room to work in and uses poison to try and murder Snow White.

Disguise and Misdirection The wicked queen disguises herself three times in her attempt to murder Snow White. The huntsman disguises a deer’s heart as Snow’s. The wicked queen attends the wedding of the prince and Snow not knowing the new queen is her stepdaughter. It results in her death.

The Number Seven Snow surpasses her stepmother’s beauty at age seven. There are seven little men living in the woods.

True Love The prince falls for Snow even though she is “dead” when he meets her and Snow falls for him just as instantly when she wakes.

Leave a Reply