Märchen Monday: Schneewittchen (Snow White)

You probably think you know today’s Märchen very well. And because it is so popular, you’re probably right! But there are some differences between the Grimm brothers’ retelling of Schneewittchen (Snow White) and the popular version. So if you’ve never read it, I recommend that you do so before we begin. It’s available in seventeen languages on GrimmStories.com (Link).

Märchen Memories

Schneewittchen is one of the most famous Märchen in the world — and it has Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to thank! Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you surely know about it. My younger brother has never watched it; but he knows all about the dwarfs, the apple, and the kiss. It is hard to write about Schneewittchen without referencing this particular movie. Sometimes I wonder if this Märchen would be as obscure as Die Gansemägd (The Goosegirl) today, if it weren’t for Disney.

Although Disney movies tend to change the original stories very dramatically, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is fairly accurate. Before reviewing the Märchen for this series, I recalled only one of them: The kiss. In the movie, the prince kisses Snow White awake; in the story, he simply dislodges the piece of apple still in her mouth. But Disney mostly omitted scenes and details that might have been been redundant or boring.

Going Back to Grimm

To be perfectly accurate, it is not the prince who dislodges the piece of apple in Schneewittchen’s mouth, but rather his servants. When he is bringing Schneewittchen’s body with him, he commands his servants to carry her coffin. On the way, they stumble over a bush, and the movement causes the piece of apple to slip out. At this moment, we see the servants serving the same purpose as the horse in Die weiße Schlange — The White Snake (Link). Both represent the Body of Christ, which carried the Cross and bore our sins. To be sure that we make connection, the Grimm brothers specify that the servants are carrying the (spiritually) dead Schneewittchen auf den Schulter — on their shoulders. Our Lord is traditionally depicted carrying the Cross on His shoulder.

Another wonderful detail is the three birds who mourn Schneewittchen. Erst eine Eule, dann ein Rabe, zuletzt ein Täubchen — first an owl, then a raven, finally a dove. I already knew the dove is a traditional symbol of the Holy Ghost; and I recalled the associations between owls and wisdom, and between ravens and death. What I learned after more research was fascinating. The raven is a traditional symbol for sinners, but the Nachtrabe (literally: night raven) is also a symbol for Christ Himself (Source). As the Nachtrabe chooses night over day, Our Lord has chosen the Gentiles over the Jews. Note now that Nachtrabe in Grimm, like night-raven in English (Source), could refer to any nocturnal bird (Source).

With a Taübchen to represent the Holy Ghost and a Rabe to represent Christ, we can conclude that the Eule represents God the Father. The Father is more than wise; He is omniscient. All three Persons of the Holy Trinity visit Schneewittchen, for all three love the souls they save.

Lesenswerte Worte (Words Worth Reading)

Do you have a favorite line from Schneewittchen? I do! It is the description of the queen after she succeeds in poisoning Schneewittchen with the apple:

Da hatte ihr neidisches Herz Ruhe, so gut ein neidisches Herz Ruhe haben kann.

My translation: Then her envious heart was peaceful, or as peaceful as an envious heart can be.

The GrimmStories.com translation: “Then her envious heart had peace, as much as an envious heart can have.”

The Grimm brothers rarely moralize in their Märchen, so that line jumped out at me.

Next Märchen Monday: Die Bienenkönigin (The Queen Bee)

Read it here — Link

6 thoughts on “Märchen Monday: Schneewittchen (Snow White)

  1. Zagorka

    Dear Christina,
    as this is a language learning blog… some remarks:

    Lesenswerte Worte – Worte is the nominativ plural. Worten is the dativ plural and would be used in case of “with words”

    and it is the Bienenkönig-i-n
    Ich genieße Deinen Märchen-Montag immer!
    Liebe Grüße

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      Vielen Dank für die Korrekturen, Zagorka! Ich habe das Post bearbeitet. Normalerweise sehe ich die Schreibung deutscher Wörter zweimals nach, aber ich kann noch ein Paar Fehler machen!

  2. Zagorka

    Liebe Christina,
    Fehler sind nicht schlimm 🙂

  3. The last line of the story packs no punches! But I noticed that the French dropped it entirely; instead of having red-hot shoes, it just says she was so angry that she lost her mind.

    1. Sorry, that should be ‘pulls no punches’ (or ‘packs a punch’). Perhaps I should add English to the languages that I’m learning.

    2. Cristina @Linguavert

      “So angry that she lost her mind” is so tame! I wonder if the French translations of all Märchen with terrible deaths for the villains take the same sanitized route.

      On the other hand, of all the Grimm villains so far, Scheewittchen’s stepmother actually does seem like the type to lose her mind . . . out of great envy! But being forced to dance in glühende Pantoffel makes a great contrast to the idiom of dancing with light heels. (The latter is an English expression, and I haven’t found a German equivalent; but we all have bodies, so the meaning should be universal.) The evil queen is going beyon dancing with heavy heels at Scheewittchen’s wedding; her stepdaughter’s great success actually tortures her as much as red-hot iron shoes would!

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