Honoring the Heroine: Snow White (1955)

Snow White is a fairy tale as German as it can get. Meaning: It is not just the German version of a story, the fairy tale most likely originated in Germany itself. But there is no denying that the Disney Version influenced German adaptations, too. Even the 1955 take, which is one of the oldest (and still my favourite) or the numerous German movies based on the story, there are noticable traces, especially in the portrayal of the dwarves. If you are curious, well, you can (legally!) check it out yourself here. For a better viewing experience, someone uploaded it at YouTube, too. It’s even a dubbed version, though I have to point out that the dubbing is okay at best, some voice acting performances are shaky and for some reason there is a narrator in places where previously wasn’t any narration and missing in other places. This version has also been rescored with additional songs and they even changed the song of the dwarves for some reason. The one in the German version is quite charming, the replacement song falls firmly in the “what were they thinking” category. But one can still enjoy the funky costumes, the shots of the landscape and the, well, simplicity of the story, which follows the original fairy tale quite closely. It is pretty much a one to one telling except that Snow White is older – in the original, she is seven years old and yes, that’s messed up – and the final fate of the Evil Queen is different.

Snow-White-1955-Banner

Before we get into the character of Snow White, here is a short list of the story elements from the fairy tale left out of the Disney take, but which are still present here: For one, there are three attacks on Snow White while she is living with the dwarves instead of just one. First she is suffocated with a corset which is bond too tightly, then she falls victim to a poisoned comb and finally she eats the apple. Also, there is no kiss. Snow White survives because the apple piece is stuck in her throat. When the dwarves want to bring her glass coffin to the castle of her prince, they stumble, which jostles her so much that the piece is falling out again (yeah I know, medicinally this is nonsense).

One change which is not from the fairy tale itself is a larger role for the hunter. In this movie he is imprisoned as punishment for helping Snow White and, after other servants free him, goes to the Prince for help. Which is actually a good way to explain how the Prince learned of Snow White’s fate in the first place. In the fairy tale, this isn’t an issue because the Prince and Snow White haven’t meet beforehand. He basically just happens to come across the story of the sleeping beauty in the glas casket and then falls in love with a corpse. But in pretty much every adaptation, they encounter each other beforehand. Using the hunter is a good way to tie up loose ends, and has lead to his role having increased over the years, sometimes even to the level of co-lead. This adaptation also adds other servants who help the hunter out.

Meanwhile the dwarves are clearly influenced by the Disney version. They sing on their way to work, they dance around, they wear hats in different colours, they have funny names, they are as close to the Disney take as possible without the risk of getting sued for copyright infringement. And the finale fate of the Queen in this movie was clearly inspired by Disney, too. In the original tale, she gets invited to Snow White’s Wedding and then forced to dance in glowing hot shoes to her death (yeah, those original fairy tales were truly grim….)

But what about Snow White? How is she portrayed? Well, somehow the same and yet different. This Snow White isn’t really forced to work in the kitchen, she is simply trapped in the castle. Her story is more of someone from a loveless but otherwise overly sheltered environment being suddenly pushed into the world and having to fend for herself. And gaining experiences during it, as reflected in the three visits of the Queen. During the first visit, she doesn’t mistrust her at all, the second time around, she is more careful, refusing to let her into the house, and the third time, she is initially trying to turn the Evil Queen multiple times. The only reason why she is eventually convinced to eat the apple is because the Evil Queen poisoned only the red part of it and demonstrates to Snow White that it is save by eating the green half.  This is very different from Disney’s Snow White, who stays completely innocent and trusting during the whole movie.

As a character it would be a lie to claim that this Snow White is particular interesting. She is more the run-of-the-mill girl, a little bit of a blank slate, but it is easy to relate to her. She is also hitting exactly the right point of being nice while not being overly submissive. For example, when the Queen demands a necklace from her, this Snow White protests and tries to hold onto it. But to be completely honest, I usually wouldn’t have picked her for an article, because like most versions of Snow White she is lacking agency. I mostly decided to write about this particular adaptation because if one looks for something close to the source material, this is most likely the best version you can get. And while Snow White could use more agency, the movie does a really good job to make the audience sympathise with her. It is still her story, and not the story of anyone else.

Quote: “I hope we are lucky enough to see a deer. You believe we will hunter? Or a nightingale. Or an owl, staring at us with eyes as big as saucers!”

Under the YouTube version of the movie, there are a lot of comments from people who saw the movie as child and enjoyed it, and that is pretty much my experience with it, too. For an adult audience I doubt that it has the same draw, but I guess one can still enjoy the somewhat unique mixture of costumes and setting. Small warning though: There is a black servant figure in the movie which, while not overtly racist,  seems to be only there to look “exotic” (and is naturally not played by a black actor, remember, it is a German production from the post-war era).  Overall though, there is just something laid-back and wholesome about the movie. It fleshes the characters out just enough that you care about them and has just enough suspense to keep the audience engaged. So maybe give it a watch if you are in the mood for something simple.

12 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Snow White (1955)

  1. I will definitely have to check out this version (and the movie versions of the Little Mermaid you recommended sound very intriguing, I will have to check them out when I have some real downtime).

    So I have a unique request for you regarding Honoring the Heroine – I am writing a children’s book series, and I just published the first book, Chelsea’s New Beginning. The whole series will center around a Golden Retriever named Chelsea, and I have huge plans for this. As you can tell by the name, she is female. Yes, I am looking for more exposure, but I’ve followed you for quite a while after seeing you comment on the Unshaved Mouse, and I just love your take on things. I would be very interested to see your analysis on a character I created myself.

    Here is the website – you can order the book from there. The eBook is the cheapest and fastest option if you’re on a budget, but it is also available in hardcover and paperback format.

    https://www.danielkeithaustin.com/

    • I have looked into it and while I would love to give you more exposure, there are a couple of reasons why I can’t. For starters the availability of your book. I admit, I kind of balked at the notion of having to register with anything involving my banking data at a website which follows the rules of the United States regarding Data protection. The website is also not particularly clear which kind of payment it accepts. I guess I would learn this AFTER I register, but there is a good chance that I do only to then discover that I need either a credit card or paypal and me, being a backwards German, doesn’t own either.

      In addition, I am not a dog person. I would have read the book if it were more easily available, but it is pretty unlikely that I would have found it particularly engaging. It’s simply not my kind of story. Reading 101 Dalmatians was already quite a drag for me, and there I had at least the academic interest of being able to compare it with the Disney adaptation.

      And finally, picture books are outside of what I usually discuss. That is not a slight against them, they are just outside the kind of fare I tend to discuss at my blog (when I find time to discuss anything, you might have noticed that lately I have barely kept up with fairy tale month over here). I am also not sure if I would be able to even judge an English picture book correctly. Picture books are largely about the ability to engage with children on their level, and I know that it can be really tricky to hit the right vocabulary for the right age group. I am barely able to do this in German, I don’t have the language skill to judge this in English. And it is easily the most important aspect of a picture book (after English, that is).

      I am sorry. I would have loved to do something for such an avid reader of my work and returned the favour. It just is neither possible, nor do I have the ability to give you the kind of feedback you deserve.

  2. Well, it is available on Amazon now too, I discovered that fact on Wednesday. And at some point I am going to make it available in German (I’m going to have it translated in as many of the major world languages as possible). But I understand.

    • Well, since it was now accessible for me, I took a look at the first chapter…here some random thoughts…

      As expected, I can’t really judge the language used. It strikes me quite wordy for starter readers. In, you are using too much word to describe a very simple situation. Ie in the very beginning you are using three sentences to basically describe the same thing: It was a nice weather (and the sentences used seemed to me quite cliche…if you had used one of them, that wouldn’t have mattered so much, but three in a row, that is overkill).

      I liked the idea with the different collars, but I think you could have taken it further. Ie: “The puppy with the blue collar did X. The puppy with the red collar did Y. The puppy with the green collar did Z.”.

      Granted, I might be completely off there, but since the book is apparently intended for early readers, this kind of repetition is a good thing.

      Also, the whole thing with the brothers and sisters is too complicated, mostly because you never bothered to establish how many male and how many female puppies there are. Based on the pictures I suspect two females, but even after multiple readings, I am not sure.

      At one point one of the dogs “giggled”…do dogs giggle? Just asking, because if you want your dogs to be as “doggy” as possible, you should only use words which fit to their behaviour. And only give them words which fit into their experience. “Whale” is something they wouldn’t know, the moment might be funnier if you put something in which they might have seen. I don’t know, a cow or whatever they might have encountered in their young life.

      Sorry I am so critical….I am trying to figure out what you are going for. For a picture book for small children, the pictures are too small and not descriptive enough. For an early learner, the language is too complicated, you need to use simpler words and sentences and focus on the core information you want to convey, without any flourishes. And for an older ready, the story wouldn’t appeal in this form.

      God, I feel like I am discouraging you…..sorry….

      • No, I’m open to criticism and honest opinions so long as they’re given in a tactful way.

        I’ve had other people tell me the same thing about my book being too “wordy” (and also that it may be too long)…I personally don’t feel like you can put that many limits on what makes a standard children’s book because different kids enjoy different things and have different preferences. Much like Disney, I’m trying to appeal to all ages. I will say though, that my books are not going to be aimed at preschool or younger – maybe kindergarten at the youngest, and even then, I understand they may not know some big words and may have shorter attention spans, and in that case they can enjoy the pictures and have their parents read the book to them. Older kids can consider this book a good learning exercise, and if they don’t know what a certain word means they can always ask an adult. That’s what I did when I was learning to read, and in my books I do aim to choose words that are easy for some kids to say.

        Another reason I’m not aiming my books at preschoolers is because they will deal with some heavy things life deals us with – there will even be deaths at some points. In this first book alone, abandonment and loneliness will be addressed – I don’t outright say that animal shelters sometimes have to kill pets, but I do allude to the fact that some dogs who are placed in animal shelters never get adopted again, and point it out as a very real possibility for the friend this puppy (later named Chelsea) makes during her stay there. And in a future book, Chelsea will meet a man who is so severely autistic that he cannot talk at all and he injures himself. Just one example of how heavy the books are going to get at times, as enjoyable as I plan to make them.

        Sometimes I’m not sure where to draw the line on descriptions, I try to show and not tell, and sometimes I struggle with that. If I ever do a revised version of this book I may look at that first paragraph some more and make the descriptions a little simpler, or at least make into one longer sentence. I guess I didn’t think about how many of the puppies were girls and which ones were boys because it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. From page 4 on, we focus in on one of the puppies and her story is the one we stick with for the rest of the series, and we never see her siblings again for the rest of the book, and I don’t currently have plans to have any of them show up again in the rest of the series. I guess if I had any thought process of it at all, that readers could make up their own minds about which ones are male and female, even write fanfiction about it. I feel like if I have to explain everything, then the audience has no room to speculate or read between the lines, and that takes the fun out of it.

        As for the “whale” part…we never see what goes on inside that house they’re brought up in, and it could have a TV that exposed a few of the puppies to some things they wouldn’t encounter otherwise. You brought up 101 Dalmatians earlier – do you remember in the movie where Rolly says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a whole elephant?” while they were watching the TV as a family? How does he know what an elephant is? I was just inspired by that part when I wrote it, and I also thought it was funny to take it a step further by having one of the puppies ask what a whale is. If the puppy who first said “eat a whale” either saw a whale on TV or heard the expression on TV, then it could imply that the other puppy doesn’t watch TV or wasn’t in the room when that first puppy saw that whale. Which brings me to this: I do have Chelsea be a dog that’s not interested in TV, but that’s just her. It doesn’t mean all her siblings are uninterested in TV – some dogs are just really into it, and other dogs just don’t care. Realism does play a huge element in my book series, but the animals are also anthropomorphic, which also explains the “giggling” thing. I do still have them act like real dogs, but to a degree, just because I still want them to be relatable to a human audience.

        I think it would benefit you to at least look at my YouTube channel, Chelsea The Golden Retriever. I also have a Facebook and Twitter page of the same name. I might see if I can ask the admin of my website if she can put a different part of the book as a preview rather than the beginning, since I’ve had some people make a big deal about the “flaws” I apparently wasn’t aware it had. Really, that beginning is there to show that Chelsea came from a little of puppies and she goes into a family that ends up rejecting her later. The later parts are more interesting anyway.

      • Oh, I wasn’t actually thinking that you were aiming at pre-schoolers, I thought you were going at around seven to eight year old…old enough to read a book, but maybe still getting frustrated by the more complicated stuff. If you want to reach an older group, meaning the 10 to 12 year old, it being a picture book would most likely be off-putting for that age group, they tend to feel too adult for this stuff (but happily still read books which have simple drawings in black and white in them).

        I guess my point/recommendation is that when you work on your books you should first be completely clear about what age group you want hit. They have different demands, so to speak, and you must adjust language and design accordingly. Maybe picking up some books which were written for the intended age group and taking a look at them will give you a better idea.

        Be also aware that writing is a process. Lindsey Ellis just did a vid about how it took her ten years to publish a book, and a huge chunk of it are related to the various rewrites she was forced to make over time and why she had to make them. Writing isn’t easy, not at all, which is why none of my works ever made it to the public, except for one short story I won a small competition with (as one of many).

      • I have two words for you: self publishing. That’s what I did. If you want any of your works to make it to the public, I believe this is the way to go – I don’t believe in constantly rewriting your work to please companies that will screw you over and get nearly everything from your work and you get next to nothing anyway. Will it be much more difficult to reach people without all that marketing they provide? Yes. In that case, you will have to learn it yourself and find the right people to help you if you want to reach as many people as you can. I’m currently learning that process myself – it’s not really about how good you are, it’s about who you know.

      • Oh, I don’t mind self-publishing, but I also believe in the worth of a good editor. Writing is something which you learn only by doing it, and you need honest feedback along the way. That is really difficult to find.

      • You are lucky. I have had the hardest time finding editors who are truly critical. Finding those who help with spelling and grammar is possible, but someone who really dares to tell you the truth – nearly impossible. Honestly, I am kind of embarrassed when I read my early works. There is a reason why I rewrote pretty much every article I moved from Fanpop over.

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