Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - Snow White And The Fear of Aging

Way laid once again by an inability to stay on track, my fairy tale reading turned into fairy tale research this week. It all started with this great article in The New Yorker, which is both a review of "Snow White and the Huntsman" and an exploration of a theme I've overlooked - the fear of aging. I like to think that I'm a fairly smart person and that I'm pretty good at picking up on the themes in books and stories but, boy, did I miss this one. You may remember me talking about how many fairy tales include wicked stepmothers. I've long wondered why and I'm sure there are a number of reasons, including a need to sanitize the stories even hundreds of years ago, replacing mothers in the story with stepmothers.
The New Yorker article points to one theory - Snow White's evil stepmother is clearly a woman terrified of aging. She is obsessed with the idea of being the fairest of them all, constantly turning to her magic mirror to reassure her that she is still beautiful and desirable. When Snow White grows into a beauty in her own right, the wicked Queen must kill the younger, more beautiful girl. After all, what power is left to an aging woman when she loses her beauty?

Clearly the Queen is right to be concerned. After all, Snow White's looks are exactly what save her when she comes to the home of the seven dwarfs. To scare the reader even further, the Queen is at her most evil when she disguises herself as an ugly old woman.

Hundreds of years after the tale of Snow White was first recorded by the Brothers Grimm (and even longer since the first versions of the story were told) it seems we haven't learned much. We are, if anything, more obsessed with youth and beauty than ever - the cosmetic surgery business alone is a billion dollar industry and whole stores are devoted to cosmetic sales. Entertainment Weekly devotes an issue every year to the up-and-coming actors and actresses but I've never seen them do an issue on the actors and actresses who are making bank in their golden years.

Why do you suppose we haven't learned anything about appreciating people as they age? Perhaps Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are to blame. After all, didn't we grow up watching the beautiful Snow White triumph over her older rival?


  1. Excellent post. I totally missed that theme as well!

  2. I'm going to see this Snow White movie this weekend! I hope it's fabulous.

  3. The wicked queens/step-mothers have been looking pretty hot in the movies lately. So yeah, show biz isn't really helping matters.

  4. very interesting. i never thought about that at all.
    I want to go see the movie, but I haven't yet.
    I love fairy tales.

  5. I wonder myself why we haven't learned anything. Our culture is so obsessed with Hollywood and the pretty people that I guess I have to say that I'm not surprised. I never really picked up on the aging thing either!!