Snow white and Rose Red

Snow White and Rose Red

Of all the fairy tales I remember reading as a child, it was Snow White and Rose Red by the brothers Grimm that touched my six year old heart the most. I had forgotten about this: that there was a favourite fairy story that made me feel wonderful.

It’s a little-known tale, not as popular as many others, not yet wrecked made into a film by Disney. I chanced upon it in the library this afternoon and the memories came flooding back, so I took it home to read to my daughter.

It is interesting to revisit a childhood tale once you’re a RRRF (Recently Reawakened Radical Feminist) , and to wonder what it was about this or that particular storyline that moved or you, and what made it different from all the others, but also to criticize it from the radically altered perspective of your new worldview.

I still found myself in awe of the gorgeous pictures: the red and white roses, the dark and fair sisters, the mother’s beautiful cottage, (not the same as the modern picture above); but I found that the tale itself, though not without its merits, was dotted with (metaphorical) black flies. I had to make a new story up to go with the pictures because I wasn’t in the mood today for brainwashing my little girl with patriarchal propaganda.

Nevertheless, what was it about this tale that stood out? The two girls are married off in the end, just like all the others, but why didn’t Snow White and Rose Red blend in with all the rest of the passive princesses?

The first reason, I believe, is that there were two of them. It’s pretty hard to come by a fairy tale of two girls that like and love each other, and who are both active agents. You do get sisters, but often wicked step-sisters or bland 2D stooges. My young mind had thirsted for a tale of two girls sharing experiences together.

In the opening paragraph they make a promise never to part from one another until they die.
This is revolutionary stuff we’re talking about. Two sisters vowing to look out for each other in old age, two females whose love for one another is so powerful that they can’t ever imagine being seperated. Not many stories capture the passion of young girls for one another, and their desire to be together.

Their mother is a widow and lives in a beautiful country cottage in a wood. We are supposed to believe she is discontent and sad in her “lonely cottage”… But she looks like she’s having a blast. She is effectively a single mother, and perhaps my six year old self didn’t notice or care how she became single. All I saw was a woman living independant and alone in a paradise with no man to serve. Flowers dot the window boxes next to the rose trees, and chickens roam beneath fruit trees in the garden. In the evening, the mother puts on her glasses and reads the girls a story beside the hearth. Try as an artist might, the image of this trio can never come across as “lonely and sad”, only ever harmonious and peaceful.

Moving swiftly on, Snow White and Rose Red are polar opposites, both exist as patriarchal fantasies. Girls and women can never be fully-rounded human beings in men’s stories, they can only posess traits. Rose White is pale and fair, quiet and gentle. Rose Red is lively and loves running about in the forest.

One night, as their mother is reading to them, they hear a knock at the door. “Quick open it, ” says the mother. “It might be a traveller who has lost his way” . Hmm, an unlikely reaction, but possible.

At the door there is a bear asking to warm himself by the fire. He comes the next night and the next and the children enjoy pulling his fur and rolling on his back, to which he cries:

“Leave me alone children!
Snow White and Rose Red
Would you beat your lover dead?”

Eh? Why is he talking about lovers and shit to children?
Snow White and Rose Red manage to get some adventures in (without the bear) before the climax, when the bear reveals himself to be a MAN who has been put under a spell by a dwarf. But he’s not just any old garden-variety man, he’s a prince!

Snow white marries him. In the version I have here before me the (female) editor has added the line “when she grew up” but I’m not certain whether that line is in the original or whether the prince just went ahead and married her when she was still a child. Either way, we can safely say that the age gap was enormous.

But what about their pact to stay together for life? It’s not entirely destroyed by the interloper. Rose Red gets to marry his brother. (It did not pass me by that the prince chose Snow white, the gentle, good girl and not the lively spirited one, which is surely to brainwash girls into being docile and meek. Lively tomboys only get the second choice, the brother).

And their mother? According to the tale she “lives happily ever” after in the King’s castle.
But I very much doubt that she was happy there. Her status would have been low in the pecking order, and as an underling she would have had to tow the Royal party line. She wouldn’t have been able to work, grow her own food or have any independance. It’s likely that the prince’s mother was still alive which means she’d have been living in her son in law’s parent’s home. Not pleasant for any woman I should imagine. And I doubt she’d have a room of her own. I just hope she wasn’t duped into selling her cottage in case she or one of the girls needed an escape plan if it turned out that one of the husbands was abusive.

Not to worry, the entire ending was completely modified by me when I read it out today. In the cherryblossom version, the bear was endlessly grateful to the girls that the spell had been broken and that was The End.


23 thoughts on “Snow white and Rose Red

  1. Good ending, cherryblossom.

    I think you will find it is really the story of Persephone and Demeter, but an old version where Hecate is the grandmother. The bear prince, or green man mates with Snow-white/Persephone in the spring. The idea is, that she will have a baby conceived at Beltane which will be reborn at the winter solstice. In the oldest legends this child, who is the sun personified, is a girl child. How people must have longed to see the promise the winter solstice brought; that spring will return, when they were living through the ice age.

    Here is a comment I wrote on the subject of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, at radfemspeak

    Thanks for this Maggie.

    The misrepresentation of women in Disney’s movies is so cruel to little girls. These films are made to be captivating and beautiful, so often the opposite of children’s real lives. Which makes them hope for impossible things, and misdirects their energies toward beautifying or being mean, rather than achieving. Disney makes women appear to have powers as individuals, that they just don’t have. Against men our real power is in our ingenuity and in strong female alliances, but female alliance is something they never show. Male alliance, however, is there for all to see, in friendships and in force of arms. Boys are going to have buddies, girls are going to be alone, with their dreams and schemes, or stalked by some horrible beast or frog, who may become a prince!.
    The only good part of Disney is the animals, who are allowed dignity and emotion. I am entranced by the wonderful animation though, the quality of the animation in “Snow White” is amazing.

    You can talk a child through Disney’s versions of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by explaining what the stories originally meant. They are corruptions of the ancient goddess religion. The Grimm brothers, who collected the tales from ancient oral and written folk sources, were, in their own time, made to add kings and fathers to traditional tales, many of which had had only Queens, mothers, daughters, etc.

    The stories were collected from many different regions; some of the best known Disney adaptations are essentially the same tale told in different ways. The cruel step mother in Snow White is the goddess of winter and therefore death, Snow White herself is Persephone or Brigid, or St Lucia. She represents the new sun that rises out of the winter solstice (glass casket, in Cinderella glass slipper). Apples, pumpkins and spinning wheels are sun symbols. Sleeping beauty slept for a hundred days, (misinterpreted as years) roughly the length of winter and awoke in the spring.
    In Patriarchal paganism it is a boy who becomes the risen sun, but the sun is a girl in the most popular of the folk tales that the Grimm brothers, (academics and linguists) began collecting in the 1800s.


  2. Thanks guys πŸ™‚

    zeph that was absolutely fascinating. I’m going to look it up on radfemspeak. It’s shocking that in 2011 companies like Disney are trying their damdest to weaken women in stories more than ever before. And have you SEEN the tinkerbell fairies!!We are going downhill aren’t we.

    I do vaguely remember Millet writing in Sexual politics on how patriarchal religions usurped the Great Goddess, and that Mary was probably a remnant of the Goddess herself and had to be adapted as an important figurehead by the church otherwise the masses would have rejected Christianity for being the dryasdust soulless faith that it is.

    As with religions, you do get “glimpses” in fairy tales of the original story because there are loose ends that just don’t seem to tie up in the patriarchal versions. Like what you say about symbols. There is no context to the symbols in the stories we read today (or see on-screen), so you get the feeling that the tales lack depth and are generally unsatisfying.

    I’m from Wales, which has a pagan past, and now I live in japan which is still very much predominantly pagan, (The Shintou Religion) and I do feel that it’s a female way of viewing the world because the natural world is at the centre and I suppose that killing all the pagan women was the only way Christianity could have prospered. Who would choose going to church to watch a boring minister speak when you could go to a wise woman’s house and hear her fascinating insights into the universe as you sat next to the fire sipping a cup of healing herbs.

    The worst story ever is the little mermaid. Giving up her voice to be with the prince. Her voice!!!

  3. Yes, and the way the Grimm brothers were made to add on kings and fathers who did not originally exist, and therefore totally skew the stories away from their intent.

    So you have Amaterasu near you, also a personification of the sun. πŸ™‚

  4. yes, the sun is female in Japan. The tradition of Kagura, which is a theatrical dance performed in order to coax the sun from her cave, originated in my area.
    That’s got to be my next post

  5. “How people must have longed to see the promise the winter solstice brought; that spring will return, when they were living through the ice age.”


    Cherryblossomlife I think you will find the source of most fairy tales is China.

    A somewhat feminist retelling of one of the central motifs in fairy tales.

  6. thanks FAB and jilla,
    This post has turned up some really though-provoking comments. Now I’m really interested in the symbols in fairy tales.

    zeph , loved that post. Men’s insistence on wiping out the truth, either scientific truths (as the case is with trans) or historical truths, says more about men’s inferiority complex than anything else.
    I wish they would just leave us alone TBH. I think what they hate about women is our ability to be content and at ease in our lives: our solidness, and our capacity to “be”. Women don’t need to destroy nature or men in order to feel complete. Men try to “get in on the act” in every single area of women’s lives, including children.

    Patriarchy= I destroy therefore I am.

  7. CBL the “Beast” in the various tellings of Beauty and the Beast is a monkey-son-in law in Japanese culture. Ha.

    There is a university in about the middle of Japan which is Japanese and Asian mythology gold, and a huge collection written in English by a woman scholar. Her name was Mayer, I think.

    • hah hah, I did that accidentally too, to one of my posts. I was looking at the thing in the grey tools at the top, thinking it would reveal the list of ‘likers’, and nope, you end up liking your own post!
      Can’t be undone…

  8. Thank you for this. I remember reading “Snow White and Rose Red” as a kid, and understanding that Rose Red got the brother because she wasn’t quite as worthy as her docile sister (just like Jo, in Little Women, ends up not with Laurie but with the old German dude). As a Rose Red type myself, I got the message loud and clear.

  9. Hi phonaesthetica,
    Yes.. I think that’s part of the “lesson” girls are supposed to learn when they’re fed the New Updated Patriarchal Version of Snow White and Rose Red.
    Have you read the comment on here by Zeph at April 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm? She goes into detail about the history of the tale.

  10. Wow, great post! I do remember Snow White and Rose Red. I love it that you made up your own story to go with the pictures, LOL!

    Also, zeph’s reply “Disney makes women appear to have powers as individuals, that they just don’t have. Against men our real power is in our ingenuity and in strong female alliances, but female alliance is something they never show. Male alliance, however, is there for all to see, in friendships and in force of arms. Boys are going to have buddies, girls are going to be alone, with their dreams and schemes, or stalked by some horrible beast or frog, who may become a prince!”

    I think that this aloneness theme goes very deep and does a lot of harm. As girls we have to fight all kinds of horrors (molestation from adult males, slightly older boys bullying girls, including in sexual ways by trying to see underpants, etc.) Of course, we are too young to handle this, so feel powerless. Then we are given role models that value silence (little mermaid) and niceness (beauty and the beast). This means we cannot tell about our abuse. (And usually aren’t believed if we do). We are taught to wait patiently and “someday my prince will come.” (we will be stalked). That prince is supposed to keep us safe from all the nasty stuff that we know only too well. It also includes an upgrade from poor or middle class to rich. This too is supposed to keep us safe. This goes in at a very young age.

    This is a recipe for keeping women oppressed, keeping us hopeless, keeping us apart. It is all such bullshit!

    Disney and the Disney enterprise is the child version of Hefner and the Playboy enterprise!

  11. Thanks KatieS, it’s insiduous brainwashing isn’t it. And it’s just as detrimental to little boys in the sense that no matter how feminist the mother, she simply cannot override the cultural brainwashing.
    Which is why we need men OUT of the decision making seats

  12. Yes, little boys are brainwashed and a feminist mother cannot change that. It is that they are brainwashed by male culture all around.

    I do think it’s detrimental to little boys, draining them of their humanity for one thing, but don’t quite see eye-to-eye with you that it that it is just as detrimental as it is to girls. I think it’s much worse for girls, from my experience as a girl growing up with brothers, for one thing, and from seeing other girls with brothers.

    I do think it is detrimental to the mother, since she feels responsible for the everything her kids do, including the boys. This is very deep conditioning even if the woman knows better, there can still be guilt feelings. There is the heartbreak of being powerless to do anything to stop the sexism from infecting one’s child, female and also male.

    I agree that we do need men out of the decision-making seats, for sure! If men started to stand up against sexism in great numbers, and stand against it clearly and loudly, then their sons would have a chance.

    • Oh, yes, I agree with you there.. It’s not *just* *as* detrimental to boys is it!!!
      I suppose I was just musing on what I believe is my *hope* for the male half of the species. I have quite a lot of brothers.. I was the eldest and only girl. I actually remember their transformation–from loving, beautiful, golden-hearted boys.. who used to bring me cups of tea, and generally just treat me wonderfully—into what they eventually became as adults… porn-sick, violent alcoholic, angry men.
      My heart bleeds for what my brothers could have been if they had been raised in a matriarchy

      It’s awful for the mother too, as you say,.. because male psychologists and psychoanalysts *blame* *her* if her son is a rapist or murderer.

      Yeah.. it has nothing to do with all that easily availbale rape porn or the low value society places on females, or the barely-there conviction rate for men’s crimes, does it [roles eyes]

  13. That’s the Grimm version, though.. in the original, there was no spell and no tickling the bear– the bear kills the dwarf and goes on it’s way, a happy bear, and the girls go on their way with the well-earned treasure of adventurous sisters πŸ˜‰

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