In New Brothers Grimm 'Snow White', The Prince Doesn't Save Her
A new translation of the classic tale recovers dark details—including a disturbing mother-daughter twist and a bumbling prince.
Little Snow WhiteOnce upon a time, in the middle of winter, when snowflakes were falling like feathers from the sky, a beautiful queen was sitting and sewing at a window with a black ebony frame. And as she was sewing and looking out the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell on the snow. The red looked so beautiful on the white snow that she thought to herself, “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame!” Soon thereafter she gave birth to a little daughter who was as white as snow, as red as blood, and her hair as black as ebony. That’s why the child was called Little Snow White.The queen was the most beautiful woman in the entire land and very proud about her beauty. She also had a mirror, and every morning she stepped in front of it and asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”The mirror would answer: “You, my queen, are the fairest of all.”And then she knew for certain that there was nobody more beautiful in the entire world. However, Little Snow White grew up, and when she was seven years old, she was so beautiful that her beauty surpassed even that of the queen, and when the queen asked her mirror: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”The mirror answered: “You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, but Little Snow White is a thousand times more fair.”When the queen heard the mirror speak this way, she became pale with envy, and from that hour onward, she hated Snow White, and when she looked at her and thought that Little Snow White was to blame that she, the queen, was no longer the most beautiful woman in the world, her heart turned against Little Snow White. Her jealousy kept upsetting her, and so she summoned the huntsman and said: “Take the child out into the forest to a spot far from here. Then stab her to death and bring me back her lungs and liver as proof of your deed. After that I’ll cook them with salt and eat them.”The huntsman took Little Snow White and led her out into the forest, but when he drew his hunting knife and was about to stab her, she began to weep and pleaded so much to let her live and promised never to return but to run deeper into the forest, the huntsman was moved to pity, also because she was so beautiful. Anyway, he thought the wild beasts in the forest would soon devour her: “I’m glad that I won’t have to kill her.” Just then a young boar came dashing by, and the huntsman stabbed it to death. He took out the lungs and liver and brought them to the queen as proof that the child was dead. Then she boiled them in salt, ate them, and thought that she had eaten Little Snow White’s lungs and liver.Meanwhile, Little Snow White was so all alone in the huge forest that she became afraid and began to run and run over sharp stones and through thorn bushes. She ran the entire day. Finally, as the sun was about to set, she came upon a little cottage that belonged to seven dwarfs. However, they were not at home but had gone to the mines. When Little Snow White entered, she found everything tiny, but dainty and neat. There was a little table with a white tablecloth, and on it were seven little plates with seven tiny spoons, seven tiny knives and tiny forks, and seven tiny cups. In a row against the wall stood seven little beds recently covered with sheets. Since she was so hungry and thirsty, Little Snow White ate some vegetables and bread from each of the little plates and had a drop of wine to drink out of each of the tiny cups. And since she was so tired, she wanted to lay down and sleep. So she began trying out the beds, but none of them suited her until she found that the seventh one was just right. So she lay down in it and fell asleep.When it turned night, the seven dwarfs returned home from their work and lit their seven little candles. Then they saw that someone had been in their house. The first dwarf said: “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” “Who’s eaten off my plate?” said the second. “Who’s eaten some of my bread?” said the third. “Who’s eaten some of my vegetables?” said the fourth. “Who’s been using my little fork?” said the fifth. “Who’s been cutting with my little knife?” said the sixth. “Who’s had something to drink from my little cup?” said the seventh.Then the first dwarf looked around and said, “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?”Then the second cried out, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed!”
And he was followed by each one of them until the seventh dwarf looked at his bed and saw Little Snow White lying there asleep. The others came running over to him, and they were so astounded that they screamed and fetched their seven little candles to observe Little Snow White.“Oh, my Lord! Oh, my Lord!” they exclaimed. “How beautiful she is!”They took great delight in her but didn’t wake her up. Instead, they let her sleep in the bed, while the seventh dwarf spent an hour in each one of his companions’ beds until the night had passed. When Little Snow White awoke, they asked her who she was and how she had managed to come to their cottage. Then she told them how her mother had wanted to have her killed, how the huntsman had spared her life, and how she had run all day until she had eventually arrived at their cottage.Then the dwarfs took pity on her and said, “If you’ll keep house for us, cook, sew make the beds, wash, and knit, and if you’ll keep everything neat and orderly, you can stay with us, and we’ll provide you with everything you need. When we come home in the evening, dinner must be ready. During the day we’re in the mines and dig for gold. You’ll be alone and will have to watch out for the queen and not let anyone enter the cottage.”In the meantime, the queen believed that she was once again the most beautiful woman in the land and stepped before her mirror and asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”The mirror answered: “You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, but beyond the seven mountains, this I must tell, Little Snow White is living quite well. Indeed, she’s still a thousand times more fair.”When the queen heard this, she was horrified, for she saw that she had been deceived and that the huntsman had not killed Little Snow White. Since nobody but the seven dwarfs lived in the seven mountains region, the queen knew immediately that Little Snow White was dwelling with them and began once again plotting ways to kill her. As long as the mirror refused to say that she was the most beautiful woman in the land, she would remain upset. Since she couldn’t be absolutely certain and didn’t trust anyone, she disguised herself as an old peddler woman, painted her face so that nobody could recognize her, and went to the cottage of the seven dwarfs, where she knocked at the door and cried out, “Open up! Open up! I’m the old peddler woman. I’ve got pretty wares for sale!”Little Snow White looked out of the window: “What do you have for sale?”“Stay laces, dear child!” the old woman replied and took out a lace woven from yellow, red, and blue silk. “Do you want it?”“Well, yes,” said Little Snow White and thought, “I can certainly let this good old woman inside. She’s honest enough.”So Little Snow White unbolted the door and bought the lace.“My goodness, you’re so sloppily laced up!” said the old woman. “Come, I’ll lace you up properly for once.”Little Snow White stood in front of the old woman, who took the lace and tied it around Little Snow White so tightly that she lost her breath and fell down as if dead. Then the queen was satisfied and left.Not long after nightfall the dwarfs came home, and when they saw their dear Snow White lying on the ground, they were horrified, for she seemed to be dead. They lifted her up, and when they saw that she was laced too tightly, they cut the stay lace in two. At once she began to breathe a little, and after a while she had fully revived.“That was nobody else but the queen,” they said. “She wanted to take your life. Be careful, and don’t let anyone else enter the cottage.”Now the queen asked her mirror: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”The mirror answered: “You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, But Little Snow White’s alive, this I must tell, She’s with the dwarfs and doing quite well. Indeed, she’s still a thousand times more fair.”The queen was so horrified that all her blood rushed to her heart when she realized that Little Snow White was alive once again. So she began thinking day and night how she could put an end to Little Snow White. Finally, she made a poisoned comb, disguised herself in a completely different shape, and went off to the dwarfs’ cottage once again. When she knocked on the door, however, Little Snow White called out: “I’m not allowed to let anyone enter!”The queen then took out the comb, and when Little Snow White saw it shine and that the woman was someone entirely different from the one she had previously met, she opened the door and bought the comb.“Come,” said the peddler woman, “I’ll also comb your hair.”But no sooner did the old woman stick the comb in Little Snow White’s hair than the maiden fell down and was dead.“Now you’ll remain lying there,” the queen said, and her heart had become lighter as she returned home.However, the dwarfs came just in the nick of time. When they saw what had happened, they pulled the poison comb out of Little Snow White’s hair, and she opened her eyes and was alive again. She promised the dwarfs that she would certainly not let anyone inside again.Now the queen stepped in front of her mirror once more and asked: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is fairest of all?”The mirror answered: "You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, But Little Snow White’s alive, this I must tell, She’s with the dwarfs and doing quite well. Indeed, she’s still a thousand times more fair.”When the queen heard this once again, she trembled and shook with rage. “Little Snow White shall die!” she exclaimed. “Even if it costs me my own life!”
Then she went into a secret chamber where no one was allowed to enter. Once inside she made a deadly poisonous apple. On the outside it looked beautiful with red cheeks. Anyone who saw it would be enticed to take a bite. Thereafter, she disguised herself as a peasant woman, went to the dwarfs’ cottage, and knocked on the door. Little Snow White looked and said “I’m not allowed to let anyone inside. The seven dwarfs have strictly forbidden me.”
“Well, if you don’t want to let me in, I can’t force you,” answered the peasant woman. “I’ll surely get rid of my apples in time. But let me give you one to test.”“No,” said Little Snow White. “I’m not allowed to take anything. The dwarfs won’t let me.”“You’re probably afraid,” said the old woman. “Look, I’ll cut the apple in two. You eat the beautiful red half.”
However, the apple had been made with such cunning that only the red part was poisoned. When Little Snow White saw the peasant woman eating her half, and when her desire to taste the apple grew stronger, she finally let the peasant woman give her the other half through the window. As soon as she took a bite of the apple, she fell to the ground and was dead.
The queen rejoiced, went home, and asked the mirror: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is the fairest of all?”
And the mirror answered: “You, my queen, are now the fairest of all.”
“Now I can rest in peace,” she said. “Once again I’m the most beautiful in the land, and Snow White will remain dead this time.”
When the dwarfs came home from the mines that evening, they found Little Snow White lying on the ground, and she was dead. They unlaced her and tried to find something poisonous in her hair, but nothing helped. They couldn’t revive her. So they laid her on a bier, and all seven of them sat down beside it and wept and wept for three whole days. Then they intended to bury her, but she looked more alive than dead, and she still had such pretty red cheeks. So, instead they made a glass coffin and placed her inside so that she could easily be seen. Then they wrote her name on the coffin in gold letters and added the family name. One of the dwarfs remained at home every day to keep watch over her.
So Little Snow White lay in the coffin for a long, long time but did not rot. She was still white as snow and red as blood, and if her eyes could have opened, they would have been black as ebony, for she lay there as if she were sleeping.
Now it happened that a prince came to the dwarfs’ cottage one day and wanted to spend the night there. When he entered the room and saw Little Snow White lying in the coffin and the seven little candles casting their light right on her, he couldn’t get enough of her beauty. Then he read the golden inscription and saw that she was a princess. So he asked the dwarfs to sell him the coffin with the dead Little Snow White inside. But they wouldn’t accept all the gold in the world for it. Then he pleaded with them to give Little Snow White to him as a gift because he couldn’t live without gazing upon her, and he would honor her and hold her in high regard as his most beloved in the world. Well, the dwarfs took pity on him and gave him the coffin, and the prince had it carried to his castle. It was then placed in his room, where he himself sat the entire day and couldn’t take his eyes off her. And when he had to leave the room and couldn’t see Little Snow White, he became sad. Indeed, he couldn’t eat a thing unless he was standing near the coffin. However, the servants, who had to carry the coffin from place to place in the castle all the time, became angry about this, and at one time a servant opened the coffin, lifted Little Snow White into the air, and said: “Why must we be plagued with so much work all because of a dead maiden?” On saying this he shoved Little Snow White’s back with his hand, and out popped the nasty piece of apple that had been stuck in Little Snow White’s throat, and she was once again alive. As soon as this happened, she went to the prince, and when he saw his dear Little Snow White alive, he rejoiced so much that he didn’t know what to do. Then they sat down at the dinner table and ate with delight.
The wedding was planned for the next day, and Snow White’s godless mother was also invited to attend. When she now stepped before the mirror, she said: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this land is the fairest of all?”
And the mirror replied:
“You, my queen, may have a beauty quite rare, but Little Snow White is a thousand times more fair.”
When she heard this, she was horrified and became so afraid, so very afraid that she didn’t know what to do. However, her jealousy drove her so much that she wanted to be seen at the wedding. When she arrived, she saw that Little Snow White was the bride. Iron slippers were then heated over a fire. The queen had to put them on and dance in them, and her feet were miserably burned, but she had to keep dancing in them until she danced herself to death.
***Excerpted from “Little Snow White”, from The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, Translated and edited by Jack Zipes and illustrated by Andrea Dezso.