Why do we keep telling ourselves these fairy tales? What is it about Snow White’s travails with the Wicked Queen that so captivates us? Snow White and the Huntsman is the second Snow White themed movie to be released this year, and Once Upon A Time, a television show based primarily on the Snow White narrative, was one of the most successful new shows of this past television season. Do we look around us now and see a world blighted by our greed and vanity and long for a pure-hearted savior to rescue us?
Snow White and the Huntsman is a graphic take on the Grimm Brothers’ classic tale. All the hallmarks of the favored fairy tale that we’ve come to expect are there – a magic mirror, a vain queen, a merciful huntsman, seven faithful dwarves, a deadly apple, and a magic kiss. A few other fanciful things have been added as well, like a white hart, an army made of shards of glass, the queen’s creepy brother, numerous knights in shining armor, and a battle scene like so many we’ve seen before. The overall effect is like Snow White fleshed out as a movie for adults, albeit for adults who like a little magic in their medieval battle epics.
The movie really shines when it is surprising, and it is surprising in its moments of color. The Wicked Queen’s influence has resulted in a dark world muddied by cold and ash. As Snow White escapes her imprisonment and quests throughout the land looking for help to overthrow the Queen, the world begins to awaken to new life, like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan returns to Narnia and the always-winter-but-never-Christmas of the White Witch’s reign begins to break. A scene involving a “sanctuary” where fairies flit about and butterflies become magical beings is especially delightful. Even the dwarves, who have for years been burdened by the loss of their people and their way of life since Snow White’s father’s death, begin to feel better because of Snow White’s presence. She brings new life wherever she goes.
Snow White also, very pointedly, says “The Lord’s Prayer” at one point as if it is a ritual she participates in regularly, and her father marries the Wicked Queen in a noticeably Christian wedding service, highlighting his “Christian” reign, a reign soon shattered by the Queen’s witchcraft. Furthermore, as dictated by the well-known fairy tale, Snow White dies and is soon thereafter resurrected.
The Lord’s Prayer? Sacramental marriage? New life? Death and resurrection? This movie’s Snow White is clearly meant to be Christian. Unfortunately, upon her resurrection, the symbolism dies. At that point, Snow rallies her followers, dons medieval armor, and leads her troops into a stereotypical swords and stallions assault on the queen and her castle full of minions. The plot progresses predictably. If she’s a Christian, she quickly becomes a Christian of the Crusades. There’s nothing truly Christian about the Crusades, and in the end, there’s little truly Christian about Snow White.
For a movie that showed such creativity through its first 90 minutes, I was sad to see it devolve into something so unremarkable in its last half hour. Imagine, instead of motivational speeches followed by stabbings and slashings galore that Snow White had continued her journey throughout the land, new life ever in her wake. Imagine instead of killing the Wicked Queen mano-a-mano, that Snow White had simply awakened the people to a new way of living and overrun the Wicked Queen’s reign with kindness, draining her of all authority and power. Imagine if Snow White had relied on her up to that point very powerful purity instead of on her out-of-nowhere pummeling prowess.
Imagine the revelation the movie might have been. Imagine what this re-imagining of a familiar fairy tale might have called us to re-imagine in humanity’s own ever-unfolding story.
Unfortunately, humanity seems all too unimaginative when it comes to dealing with Wicked Queens in our fictional and actual worlds. A true Christian queen (or king) would sequel her resurrection with a non-violent overturning of the violent world via mercy and grace and creatively making all things new. Instead, Snow White and the Huntsman’s “ever after” looks to be one of further violent protection of a throne founded on bloody combat and conquest.
TV executive Lauren Zalaznick, in an engaging TED Talk, posits that when times are tough economically, audiences favor escapes from reality into fantasies like Snow White. We look to fairy tales to show us a better world. If we are going to continue returning to these stories and re-imagining them in new visual ways, let’s do ourselves the favor of imagining endings more creative than the endings all too common in the world today. We can do better in both our fairy tales and our lives.