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).
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