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The Female Hero's Journey

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Snow White was originally collected by the Brothers Grimm in Germany although it has many variants throughout the world. It is one of the most well-known versions of the female hero's journey.

To read the complete text of the story, please click here:

Little Snow-White

Prophecy of birth:
"Once upon a time in mid winter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a beautiful queen sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony wood. As she sewed, she looked up at the snow and pricked her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red on the white looked so beautiful, that she thought, "If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as this frame." Soon afterward she had a little daughter that was as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood, and therefore they called her Little Snow-White."

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Like so many other fairy tale heroines, Snow White has a troubled family life. When the queen finds out from her magic mirror that Snow White is more beautiful than she, she decides to kill her.

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The queen tells a huntsman to take Snow White out into the forest, kill her and bring back her heart. This is the "Call to Adventure" for the heroine. Like many other heroines, she is called by her captor to death.

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"The huntsman took Snow-White into the woods. When he took out his hunting knife to stab her, she began to cry, and begged fervently that he might spare her life, promising to run away into the woods and never return. The huntsman took pity on her because she was so beautiful, and he thought, "The wild animals will soon devour her anyway. I'm glad that I don't have to kill her." Just then a young boar came running by. He killed it, cut out its lungs and liver, and took them back to the queen as proof of Snow-White's death. She cooked them with salt and ate them, supposing that she had eaten Snow-White's lungs and liver."

This act of deception is similar to many myths, such as that of Kronos and Rheia.

Snow White walks bravely through the woods. In many tales, including the three on this site, the "Belly of the Whale" stage of the journey is a terrifying journey through the woods. The "Green World" is seen as something dangerous and uncivilized as opposed to the Romantic ideal of nature. It makes sense considering that, at the time they were developed, a journey away from the comfort of a fortressed village could very often result in an attack by a wolf or an enemy kingdom.

Snow White finallly comes upon the seven dwarves house. She eats their food and lies down to sleep.

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The dwarves discover Snow White in their bed, but they let her stay because she is so beautiful. The dwarves tell her that she may stay with them if she will take care of their house. This is a "Confinement in Domestic Enclosure", but unlike many other stories, Snow White welcomes it for protection from her mother.

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When the queen goes before her mirror and learns that Snow White is still alive, she disguises herself as an old woman and goes to the dwarves' cottage selling bodice laces. She tricks Snow White into letting her lace her bodice up and she ties it so tight Snow White faints.

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The dwarves (supernatural aid) come to Snow White's rescue and cut loose the bodice laces. The queen tries again, and this time she sells Snow White a poisoned comb. Snow White instantly falls to the floor when the woman puts the comb in her hair.

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The dwarves come home and pull the comb out of her hair and she wakes up. The queen still won't give up so she creates a poisoned apple. It is half red and half white and the poison is all on the red side.

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Again disguised as an old woman, the queen comes to the house and offers Snow White the apple. Snow White is pretty suspicious at this point, so she only agrees to eat it if the old woman has half. Her mother takes the unpoisoned half and Snow White dies instantly.

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In myths and fairy tales, tests and ordeals often come in threes as is the case in Snow White. At this point in the journey, Snow White is at the "Symbolic death" stage. Like other stories, such as those of Odin, Orpheus, and Sleeping Beauty, the hero experiences death or the appearance of death before completing their journey.

When the dwarves find Snow White, they weep and place her in a glass coffin, but her body continues to look like it might wake up any minute.

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A prince comes to the dwarves' house, sees Snow White in the coffin and falls instantly in love with her. He takes her home with him to his castle and refuses to do anything unless her coffin is near him. One servant, who is sick and tired of carrying a coffin everywhere, takes her out of the coffin and knocks her on the head. The piece of apple that she had eaten dislodges from her throat and she comes back to life. This is the resurrection stage of the journey. She and the prince are married the next day ("Ultimate Boon").

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Snow White's mother is invited to the wedding, but when she comes they put a pair of iron shoes into the fire until they glow and make her put them on and dance in them. She can't stop until she has danced herself to death. This is the "World Transformed" stage of the journey. It also represents the cycle of life as Snow White, representing youth and life, triumphs over her mother, the death crone.

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Caution! Random conjecture ahead!

Reading fairy tales, one often wonders about the recurring theme of symbolic death, especially among beautiful young women. Edith Hamilton has this to say about the Greek myths of Adonis, Hyacinthus, and Persephone and I think it applies in this story as well:



"Such charming tales of young people who, dying in the springtime of life, were fittingly changed into spring flowers, have probably a dark background. They give a hint of black deeds that were done in the far-distant past. Long before there were any stories told in Greece or any poems sung which have come down to us, perhaps even before there were storytellers and poets, it might happen, if the fields around a village were not fruitful, if the corn did not spring up as it should, that one of the villagers would be killed and his - or her - blood sprinkled over the barren land. There was no idea as yet of the radiant gods of Olympus who would have loathed the hateful sacrifice. Mankind had only a dim feeling that as their own life depended utterly on seedtime and harvest, there must be a deep connection between themselves and the earth and that their blood, which was nourished by the corn, could in turn nourish it at need. What more natural then, if a beautiful boy had thus been killed, than to think when later the ground bloomed with narcissus or hyacinths that the flowers were his very self, changed and yet living again? So they would tell each other it had happened, a lovely miracle which made the cruel death seem less cruel. Then as the ages passed and people no longer believed that the earth needed blood to be fruitful, all that was cruel in the story would be dropped and in the end forgotten. No one would remember that terrible things had once been done. Hyacinthus, they would say, died not slaughtered by his kinsfolk to get food for them, but only because of a sorrowful mistake."



Mythology, p.93-94



It's possible that parts of Snow White could be remnants from an earlier, less civilized time. Even if it was not originally about human sacrifice, I think it's probably safe to say it is a shadow of a much darker tale.



The story has been made more and more palatable, even from 1812 when the Grimm brothers first published it. In 1819, the evil antagonist changed from Snow White's own mother to a jealous stepmother. Also in the 1819 edition, the poisoned apple is dislodged when a servant stumbles while carrying the coffin to the prince's castle instead of getting angry and whacking Snow White on the back of the head. Finally, in the Disney version in 1937, the witch dies at the hand of nature and the dwarves, not through torture at the hands of Snow White and her prince. If these major changes have been made in just the last 200 years, I thinks it's reasonable to think that Snow White was significantly darker in the distant past when the first permutations of the story were being told.



The emphasis on the purity of Snow White reminds me of the pure virgins who were sacrificed to pagan gods and the final scene where the evil queen is forced to dance until she dies is eerily similar to "The Rite of Spring."

For more information about Snow White, try this:

A Scholarly Snow White