It seems that there can hardly be anything more sweet and innocent than fairytales, with beautiful princesses, cuddly creatures, wizards and knights without fear and blemish. Weirdly enough, fairytales seem to have become the cultural element that transcends cultures, since many plots traditionally considered to belong to one specific culture, can be found in another one.
Moreover, after a detailed analysis of these cultures, one is likely to find out that the two cultures in question do not have any evident points of contact other than the given fairytale. A graphic example of such phenomenon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which can be found in such cultures as German, African and even Slavonic, is definitely worth taking a closer look at.
Known mostly in the interpretation of the Grimm Brothers, the tale of Snow White has actually been transformed greatly, sometimes for the sake of keeping the story engaging, sometimes to make the moral of the story more obvious, but mostly to keep the audience’s shock level to the minimum (Kawan).
In a step-by-step comparison of such elements of the tales as the leads, the plot, the settings and the supporting characters, the difference between the original tale, the Grimm’s’ version, the Slavonic and the African interpretations is bound to come out. To start with, the specifics of the settings should be discussed. Speaking of the plot, the basic storyline is there in all four versions; the narrator tells about a girl whose skin is white as snow and who is beautiful beyond all possible reasons.
As a matter of fact, in the original, there are quite a number of details about the plot, the characters, and almost every other element – unlike in Grimm Brothers’ interpretation, where everything that the author says must be taken for granted. The original version told by Giambattista Basile, in fact, even combines several storylines from different tales, like the Sleeping Beauty, the Bluebeard, etc. (Windling para.4-5).
As for the lead character, Snow White is described in quite the same way in every story, give or take some insignificant facts: in each of the four stories, she is an orphan whose evil stepmother is plotting her murder. Again, the folk version of the tale seems to offer much more details.
In Grimm brothers’ interpretation, the reader does not even know the name of the girl – it is only her nickname that is left; Snow White seems more like a nickname. In the original, the narrator says at the very beginning that her name is Lisa (Windling para.3).
Speaking of the lead character’s personality, however, one must admit that the original focuses on the character description and development considerably less than Grimm’s version. Finally, the rest of the characters are described very vaguely; even in Grimm’s version, the key motivation of the evil queen is envy.
Surprisingly, at this point, the African version offers much more substance than the rest of the tales (Schmidt). Not only does the evil queen envy the beauty and innocence of Snow White, but also wishes to take her revenge on the stepdaughter: “The wicked old queen was never sorry, always plotting for an evil come-back, striving tirelessly, obsessively, for the destruction of Snow-White” (aSGuest49429 para.4).
Finally, the Prince Charmin, who happens to be one of the dwarfs, in contrast to the rest of the versions, also appears to be a bit more complex than in other tales, where he and Snow White never share a line: “You see, in this particular version of the Fairy-tale, Snow-White falls in love with one of the Dwarves, but, it turns out, he was only her helper … not her rescuer!” (aSGuest49429 para.4).
Hence, it is clear that, even though there is a plethora of differences between the stories, they actually manage to keep the same tone, as well as most of the characters, and provide decent moral.
As a matter of fact, only the Slavonic interpretation seems to be taken way too far from the original story (Kropej); however, the story does not suffer from that much – when a plot takes a weird curve, it is leveled out with either a lot of heart or a peculiar character development (Lang). Generally, the original seems the gloomiest and the least enjoyable, mostly because it is so dark and frightening.
So much for the comparison of the fur versions of the Tale of Snow White, there is still a lot to discuss concerning the specifics of the story. Like any other fairy tale, it follows the traditional cliches of the genre.
Following the pattern described by Propp, the Tale of Snow White has the following staples: the absence of a family member – the readers soon wave a good-bye to Lisa’s mother, even though she has a decent part to play in the story. There is the villain, i.e., the stepmother, the Prince Charmin saves the day, etc.
The composition of the folk story that was re-told by Giambattista Basile is quite stiff, even though it might seem a little bit complicated, in contrast to most fables. There are no “sudden actions” (Orlik 129), and the story flows in a very smooth and a natural way – or, at least, as natural as it can possibly get in a fairy tale.
As it has been mentioned previously, the original tale has the patterns from several other stories. However, when put together, these storylines flow well together and fill in many plot holes that the rest of the versions unfortunately share with Grimm Brothers’ interpretations, such as why the stepmother would suddenly start hating Snow White (according to Grimm Brothers’ story, the queen confuses the girl for her husband’s mistress), etc.
Finally, speaking about the theme of the original narrative, one must admit that Holbek’s principles work in the weird realm of the original Snow White just as well as in any other fable. For example, it is clear that the tale was originally created by adults and for adults (Holbek).
At the first glance, the story is rather innocent; however, when it comes to such details as the fact that Snow White is mistaken for the baron’s mistress, it becomes obvious that viewer discretion is advisable. In addition, the fact that a clearly fictional story is told as a real one shows that Holbek’s principles work with Snow White perfectly well (Holbek 42).
Although snow White is known mostly as the brainchild of the Grimm Brothers, it is clear that the story patterns can be traced in a number of cultures. When being interpreted into a different culture, the story of Snow White underwent many transformations, up to the point when her beauty and purity were the only features that informed the reader that the story was about the same character.
However, easily recognizable patterns still remain in their places, which can be considered the ultimate proof that folklore, especially tales, incorporates a set of cliches that bring completely different cultures together.
aSGuest49429. Africa’s Snow-White, n. d. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
Holbek, Bengt. “The Language of Fairy Tales.” Nordic Folklore: Recent Studies. Eds. R. Kvideland and H.K. Sehmsdorf. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. 40-62. Print.
Kawan, Christine S. A Brief Literary History of Snow White. New York, NY: Walter de Gruyer, 2008. Print.
Kropej, Monika. Snow White in Western and South Slavic Traditions. New York, NY: Walter de Gruyer, 2008. Print.
Lang, Andrew. Snowflake Slavonic Story, 1889. 24 Feb. 2013. Web.
Orlik, Axel. “Epic Laws of Folk Narrative.” Ed. Dundes, Alan. The Study of Folklore. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1965. 129-141. Print.
Propp, Vladimir. The Morphology of the Folk Tale. Trans. The American Folklore Society. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1968. Print.
Schmidt, Sigrid. Snow White in Africa. New York, NY: Walter de Gruyer, 2008. Print.
Windling, Terri. Snow, Glass, Apples: The Story of Snow White, n. d. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.