Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow White :: Disney vs. Grimms, Round 1

A shamefully long musing on the subject of the Grimm verison's archetypal imagery vs. Disney's... less profound approach. It makes more sense to chop it into multiple blog entries of digestible length. I am going to post the whole thing over the week. Before I get flamed, this is not to diss Disney (that sounds great pronounced). In fact, to dis-diss Disney, I might add that I adore the Snow White movie in its own right. Dis is a Dis-claimer. Movie clips from several features are also coming up in the next entries.

A Little Red Riding Hood whom the wolf did not dare touch, a Cinderella whose stepmother did not intend for her to work, a Sleeping Beauty who awoke thanks to vomiting… A tale of archetypes and breakout, the fight of beauty against beauty, the female exile then re-socialization: Snow White’s tale is known to all, yet it never ceases to surprise with unexpected discoveries. Let us see how many of these did Disney uncover, overlook, distort, and magnify in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The classical Grimm
version starts with a beautiful image of Snow White’s mother sewing and dreaming herself a child, but Disney grossly disregards the importance of the mother figure. The Bettelheimian approach, resting on Freudian tenets, suggests that the death of the mother and the simultaneous appearance of the evil stepmother is but one act. This metaphoric death/rebirth symbolizes the crumbling of the pre-adolescent’s mother image. According to this theory, in Snow White’s perception the good mother ceased to be the nurturing figure that used to provide protection, warmth, and unquestioning acceptance. In her stead the little girl now sees a woman, self-centered, merciless, and hostile. Since the "real mother" no longer exists, she is as good as dead, therefore the woman claiming to take her role has got to be a stepmother. The unparalleled beauty of the Evil Queen gives all the more credence to this approach, by emphasizing the rivalry between the two women. The Grimm fairy tale conserves this ancient tension between mother and daughter, parent and child, carrying the “split mother image” interpretation within. Disney, however, failed to perceive the duality in the situation, pronounced the Evil Queen to be an actual stepmother, and omitted the real mother figure altogether.

The mother’s dream creation is of central importance not only in this tale, but in the myth world as well. From the Biblical figures of Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary through the Hungarian origin myth of Emese’s dream, we find instances of the woman’s yearning for a child and eventually becoming pregnant due to a dream or apparition. Snow White’s mother longs for a child and in her mind she envisions the beautiful daughter. Her act of dream creation becomes even more powerful by the addition of a few objects representing the child’s coloration. The scene almost becomes an ancient fertility ritual with the drop of blood, a symbolic sacrifice, sealing the agreement between gods and human.

In this very simple scene that Disney did not even consider worth including in the feature, there are four archetypal images present. Stay tuned, and from the next entry you'll find out what these are.

Just kidding. Firstly, the needle piercing the skin of the woman and shedding her blood, especially if followed by impregnation, is often a metapho
r for the sexual intercourse. It is interesting to note that at the time there is no male present.

Second, the act of sewing itself (often traded for weaving or spinning) is an archetypal female activity, often associated with storytelling and the narrative power of the female voice. In the ancient Greek myth of Philomela, the raped girl’s violator cuts out her tongue so as to deprive her of her voice; however, the woman weaves a tapestry depicting her ill fate and sends it to her sister. Thus she is able to speak through images, and ultimately, through the act of weaving. On a more practical note, when gathered to do their work, women would share stories and entertain each other while sewing, spinning, or weaving. In this way they significantly contributed to preserving myths, hence storytelling is doubly associated with these activities. In an Irish, presumably earlier version of the tale (as grouped by Aarne and Thompson) the same motif is observable: an adult Snow-White-in-exile is depicted “sitting at the window, sewing” as her father’s banner is seen coming.

Thirdly, the power of the uttered word (“abracadabra”, or “I will create, as I say” in ancient Aramaic) is also encapsulated into this brief opening scene of the tale, so succinctly worded by the Brothers. The Good Queen’s wish, as if by a magic spell, grants the fulfillment thereof.
This leads to the fourth ancient image present: the male belief in a supernatural power of the woman over nature. Wood, blood, and snow, these elements in connection with earth, water, and air, are bound in this ritual, and they bow to the woman’s desire. It is quite remarkable that the male element of fire is not at all present in this open window winter scene.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, really very great! Never thought there was so much behind this fairy tale. Especially the last 3 archetypal images are very interesting!