One day early last fall, I returned from work and discovered my son in a dress. And not just any dress. A Snow White dress. I can’t say it was a complete shock. Luke had been telling my wife and me for more than a week that he wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. Whenever Melanie or I gently suggested an alternate costume, he would calmly respond, “No, I think I have to be Snow White. I dropped my bag and made what I hoped was a suitable fuss over the costume. My face still taut with manufactured glee.
Snow White’s popping up all over with two movies, a popular TV series and another on the way. A graphic novel centered on the Snow White fable is out. Even indie rockers and Snoop Dogg are flocking to Snow.
As one of our earliest childhood memories, Snow White has a certain primal appeal. But the lack of plot leaves room to explore the dark forest of the psyche, that shadowy, terror-filled place of dreams that Snow White, and all of us, must make our way through.
As these regions are reflected in Snow White, matters of beauty, power and love loom large. How have they evolved since Disney’s Depression-Era version?
Beauty is crucial both now and then. Though then it was the whole story. Now there’s more.
In Once Upon a Time Queen Regina is less concerned with being fairist than seeking to avenge the lost love that Snow unwittingly took from her.
In Snow White and the Huntsman Snow’s death would bring Queen Ravenna immortality. The Queen is also wounded and angered by a patriarchy that commits sexual crimes without penalty. She thinks herself a righteous avenger.
But beauty does weigh heavily. For much of history this has been a rare source of female power, a lesson Ravenna learned as a little girl. But the pursuit of beauty destroys her.
Which provokes questions: What will we do to gain allure? And might we destroy ourselves chasing beauty?
Certainly, the pursuit of beauty messes with our health as some live on diet coke and cigarettes, becoming malnourished, anorexic or bulimic, which can end in death. Implants too often deaden sensual nerve endings. Some die on the plastic surgeon’s table.
When beauty feels evasive we can get depressed and down on ourselves, a spiritual dying.
Queen Ravenna devours raven hearts to gain eternal youth. An LA Times reviewer suggests this is frighteningly reflective of our times.
Those bloody little raven hearts she seems to be munching would sell like hotcakes if they had half of the rejuvenating properties we witness on screen.
The evil Queen has been deemed a female Darth Vader who loses her humanity, capturing beautiful women and seeking to consume Snow White’s heart so she can remain “fairest of all.”
In our envy, women become alienated from each other. We demean and slut-shame those whose beauty seems to threaten our own, not seeing that the shaming dampens our sexuality. We scorn others’ flaws even as the distain highlights our own blemishes.
No wonder Ravenna, angry at male dominance, directs her wrath at other women. Too often we do so ourselves.
But we find women becoming empowered, too. Disney’s Snow White needs to be rescued. Today’s Snow kicks butt. Sometimes she’s saved. But she saves too. She’s strong, she battles, she defeats Ravenna, ending her reign of terror.
And then there is love. Throughout the decades love remains the most powerful magic. “Love conquers all” is both trite and true. Trite, because we hear it all the time. But maybe we hear it so much because it is true. Love overcomes alienation, reconnects us to one another, brings back our humanity, empowers and offers deep fulfillment.
Perhaps we may have a happy ending, after all.