Fairy tales, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror


Once more, I find myself a day late and a dollar short, but for good reason.  Last night, I attended the Sudbury Writers’ Guild meeting and caught up with my fellow writers in arms 🙂

A lot is happening up here in the north.  Matthew Del Papa published Green Eyes through Capreol, a collection of short stories based on life in the railway town.  Scott Overton had one of his short stories accepted into the recently published Tesseracts 16, will have his first book, Dead Air, launched October 11, 2012, and next week, he will take part in the LUminaries reading series at Laurentian University along with Mark Leslie and John Forrest presenting on the topic “The Power of Popular Fiction.”

Several members are nearing completion of their various works in progress (yay!) and the Guild is moving forward on an anthology of northern writers.

Exciting creative times in Sudz!

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Last week, I was a little out of sorts.  My response to stress seems to be to heap more of the deadly stuff on until my overwrought brain insists on a break.  Thanks to the kind comments of my writer friends, I embarked on a dedicated weekend of relaxation, and as part of that, I watched a couple of movies: Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror.

In the beginning

Both movies are based on the fairy tale of Snow White.  Now the original story is much the same as the one most of us have become familiar with through Disney.  With a few subtle differences.

A young queen, desperate to have a child, sits spinning at her wheel.  She looks out through the ebon-wood frame of the window, onto a snowy field.  So distracted, she pricks her finger and three drops of her blood fall.  In that moment she wishes for a child black as ebony, white as snow, red as blood.

She has the child, but dies in childbirth.  The king remarries a vain woman who owns a magic mirror.  As the child grows in beauty, the new queen grows jealous and orders her huntsman to murder the girl.  The huntsman, touched by her beauty, cannot kill her, and she runs into the woods.

The huntsman figures the girl will be killed by wild animals in any case and shoots a deer with his bow, taking its innards (not just heart) to present the queen.  In the meantime, Snow finds her way to the home of the dwarfs and they allow her to stay if she will cook and clean for them.

The queen learns from her mirror that Snow still lives, and the artefact is so kind as to tell her where.  So she disguises herself and visits the dwarfs’ home while they are away working.  First, she gives snow a lace collar that once tied around the girl’s throat, chokes her.  The dwarfs return and remove the collar, restoring Snow.

They warn the girl not to receive strangers but the naive thing does so twice more, once to be poisoned by a comb placed in her hair, which the dwarfs also remove, and then to be poisoned by an apple, a mouthful of which lodges in her throat.

The dwarfs cannot revive her this last time, and determine to encase her body in a glass coffin.  As they transport the coffin to a mountain top, a traveling prince literally runs into them, upsetting the coffin, and dislodging the poisoned apple.

The prince announces he will marry Snow and invites everyone in the land.  The queen, preparing to attend the great feast and not knowing the identity of the bride, checks once more in her magic mirror, and is told once again that Snow White and not she is the fairest in the land.  The mirror neglects to tell her where Snow is this time, however, and she goes to the wedding still ignorant.

At the feast, the queen and her treachery are exposed and she is presented with a pair of iron shoes that have been heated in the fire.  She must dance until she dies.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her anthology of the Tales of the Brothers Grimm, writes:

A tale invites the psyches to dream upon something that seems familiar, yet often finds its origins in a far away time.  In entertaining the tales, listeners are re-envisioning the meanings of them, “reading with the heart” these important metaphoric guidances about the life of the soul.

As my recent foray into Fairy tale blogging madness will attest, fairy tales have an enduring fascination.  Snow White has been given homage in many novels and movies as a result.

Snow White and the Huntsman

This movie is quite faithful to the original fairy tale at the outset, but then takes a radical departure.

**Warning: Spoiler alert!**

Snow White & the Huntsman

Snow White & the Huntsman (Photo credit: Ludie Cochrane)

The queen, a fearsome sorceress who drinks the life force of beautiful maidens to remain young and beautiful, murders the king and keeps Snow White a prisoner for ten years while the country grows desolate around them.

When Snow White escapes into the dark forest, where she has no power, the queen recruits a huntsman and binds him with the promise that she will resurrect his dead wife if he will kill Snow White.

In the forest, Snow meets the dwarfs, who have fallen on hard times.  The huntsman finds Snow White, but Snow convinces him that the queen has deceived him and that they will both die if he takes her back to the queen.

They flee with the dwarfs, through various adventures, and joined by Snow’s childhood playmate, the son of a neighbouring duke, they defeat the queen’s brother and his men.  The queen, however disguises herself as the duke’s son and offers Snow the fateful apple.

When she is revived, Snow convinces the Duke to go to war against the queen and in a final confrontation, a Snow that appears more like Joan of Arc than a fairy tale princess, kills the queen.

What I liked about it:

  • The queen.  She was a brilliant villain, made more complex by a back story of abuse and tragedy, and more creepy by implications of incest with her brother.
  • The dwarfs.  They were a mystical, gruff bunch.  Bob Hoskins was fantastic 🙂
  • The lord of the forest.  At one point, the group enter fairy lands, and the lord of the forest blesses Snow.  It was a scene reminiscent of Princess Mononoke, with the lord of the forest appearing as a giant white stag with gloriously branching antlers, though I much preferred Myazaki’s Puff ‘n’ Fresh-like head rattlers to Huntsman’s eerie fairies that crawled out of the bodies of animals.
  • The scarred women.  To protect themselves from the queen’s predations, the widowed and orphaned women of the land scar their faces.
  • The awakening kiss.  Though it is the duke’s son who loves Snow, his kiss does not awaken her.  It is the huntsman’s kiss that proves to be the kiss of true love, but not because he loves Snow.  It is a kiss born of his sorrow for failing Snow as he failed his wife before.  I liked that a lot.
  • The ending.  Snow White, having defeated the queen and reclaimed her kingdom, sits on the throne, no man by her side, not the duke’s son, and not the huntsman.
  • The song.  Breath of life by Florence + the Machine is awesome!

What I didn’t like:

  • Some of the plot points were too convenient.

Why keep Snow White a prisoner?  The queen could have just killed her, or better still, take the girl’s life force to maintain her beauty.  It’s only when the mirror reveals to her (ten years on) that Snow’s heart will keep her forever young that she thinks to do anything with her rival.  Why did the mirror wait so long to tell her?
The queen has no power in the dark forest, so she recruits the huntsman, but she still sends her brother in after Snow.  Why didn’t she just send her brother in the first place?
The duke’s son gets himself recruited to the queen’s brother’s hunting party, but when they find Snow, he’s more concerned about maintaining his cover than in helping her.

  • The fairies creeped me out.
  • Snow is innocent and pure.  It’s that purity that allows her to defeat the queen, but for the final battle, she’s done up in plate mail.  It promises bad-assery that Snow fails to fulfill.  The queen tosses her around like a rag doll and she only succeeds in killing the queen because she’s lucky.

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror, from the outset, seemed a movie that didn’t know what it was trying to accomplish.  It starts with the queen, narrating her own story in a British accent, which she doesn’t maintain.

There are moments in it that are potentially dark, but they are overwhelmed by the silly.

In this revision of the fairy tale, Snow is merely locked away while the queen fritters away her money on parties and trying to look young.  She is advised by a maid to go out and have a look at the kingdom herself.  Snow is horrified by the poverty she sees.

When the prince comes on the scene, the queen settles on him as a means to continue her wastrel ways.

The prince, however, has fallen in love with Snow (who rescued him after the bandit dwarfs left him hanging), so the queen decides to get rid of her, sending her chief boot-licker out to do the job.  That part is faithful to the fairy tale.  The boot-licker is unable to kill Snow, but leaves her to the beast that lives in the forest and shows the queen some organ meats that were left in the kitchen.

The dwarfs are highwaymen in this version.  They rob the prince twice, and in keeping with the fairy tale, permit Snow to stay with them if she cooks and cleans for them.

As the queen tries to seduce the prince, Snow becomes a highwayman herself, insisting that the dwarfs return the money they steal to the townspeople to whom it truly belongs.

The queen eventually sends “the beast” out after Snow and the beast turns out to be her father.  Snow breaks the enchantment, marries the prince, and when the queen sneaks into the wedding feast and offers Snow the gift of an apple, Snow sees her for what she is, and refuses to be fooled.

What I liked:

  • The mirror.  In this version, the mirror is a kind of portal to another place where the queen communes with the mirror, which is herself.  Kinda nifty.
  • Snow as a highwayman.  She delivers on the kick-ass, though not terribly convincingly.
  • The beast/the king.  It was Sean Bean!  He got to live, for once!

What I didn’t like:

  • The queen.  Shallow and careless.
  • The prince.  He’s depicted as a doofus from the beginning and totally unworthy of Snow.
  • The dwarfs.  Though they’re thieves, they run around on stilts and do circus stunts.
  • The potion.  In the queen’s attempt to seduce the prince she gives him a potion without first examining what it is.  It turns out to be puppy love.  More doofus action for the prince.
  • The puppets.  The queen sends marionettes after Snow and the dwarfs.  Lame foes and once Snow sees their strings, she easily cuts them and saves everyone.
  • The Bollywood production at the end.  Totally misplaced.
  • The soundtrack.  Very traditional orchestral stuff.  Probably very good, but easily ignored given the ridiculousness of the movie.

Takeaways

  1. Villains that have a reason to be villainous and who do truly terrible things as a result are always better than purely selfish divas.
  2. In the same vein, flawed heroes are better than the goody-two-shoes, but …
  3. Heroes need to be heroes.  No doofaci (the plural of doofus, don’t ya know?) need apply.
  4. Convenient plot points will always be noticed and called out by the faithful reader.
  5. Go for the subtle twist.  The kiss of true love doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means.
  6. The trails that your characters go through have to be dangerous, dire, challenging.  If no one is truly in danger, the reader won’t care.
  7. Even minor characters can be awesome: the scarred women.
  8. If in doubt, borrow from Anime before going to Bollywood for inspiration 😉
  9. Similarly, go for the quirky new artist rather than the traditional soundtrack for inspiration.
  10. Your story doesn’t have to end with a kiss, or even a relationship beyond mutual respect.

Have you seen any movies lately that got you thinking?  Do you watch movies for plot?  Learn anything about your craft in the process?

Writerly Goodness must hit the hay.  Reading at the 100 thousand poets for change event in North Bay tomorrow!  And you know I’m going to blog about that 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Fairy tales, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror

  1. Pingback: Snow White and the Huntsman | The Movie Report

  2. Pingback: “Snow White” ~ #MondayPrompt for week 26/11 – 02/12/2012 « Phoenix's Poetry & Stories

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