"Snow White" is a 19th-century German fairy tale which is today known widely across the Western world. The Brothers Grimm published it in 1812 in the first edition of their collection Grimms' Fairy Tales. It was titled in German: Sneewittchen (in modern orthography Schneewittchen) and numbered as Tale 53. The name Sneewittchen was Low German and in the first version it was translated with Schneeweißchen. The Grimms completed their final revision of the story in 1854.
The fairy tale features such elements as the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin, and the characters of the evil queen and the Seven Dwarfs. The seven dwarfs were first given individual names in the 1912 Broadway play Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and then given different names in Walt Disney's 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Grimm story, which is commonly referred to as "Snow White", should not be confused with the story of "Snow-White and Rose-Red" (in German "Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot"), another fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.
In the Aarne–Thompson folklore classification, tales of this kind are grouped together as type 709, Snow White. Others of this kind include "Bella Venezia", "Myrsina", "Nourie Hadig", "Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree", "The Young Slave" and "La petite Toute-Belle".
Schneewittchen by Alexander Zick
At the beginning of the story, a queen sits sewing at an open window during a winter snowfall when she pricks her finger with her needle, causing three drops of red blood to drip onto the freshly fallen white snow on the black windowsill. Then, she says to herself, "How I wish that I had a daughter that had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony." Some time later, the queen gives birth to a baby daughter whom she names Snow White, but the queen dies shortly thereafter.
A year later, Snow White's father, the king, takes a new wife, who is very beautiful, but a wicked and vain woman. The new queen possesses a magic mirror, which she asks every morning, "Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?" The mirror always replies: "My queen, you are the fairest in the land." The queen is always pleased with that, because the magic mirror never lies. But as Snow White grows up, she becomes more beautiful each day and even more beautiful than the queen, and when the queen asks her mirror, it tells her that Snow White is the fairest.
This gives the queen a great shock. She becomes envious, and from that moment on, her heart turns against Snow White, whom the queen grows to hate increasingly with time. Eventually, the angry queen orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the deepest woods to be killed. As proof that Snow White is dead, the queen demands that he returns with her lungs and liver. The huntsman takes Snow White into the forest. After raising his knife, he finds himself unable to kill her when Snow White finds out about her stepmother's plan, tearfully begging, "Spare me, this mockery of justice! I will run away into the forest, and never come home again!". At this rate, the huntsman reluctantly agrees and lets Snow White go, bringing the queen the heart of a wild animal instead.
After wandering through the forest, Snow White discovers a tiny cottage belonging to a group of seven dwarfs. Since no one is at home, she eats some of the tiny meals, drinks some of their wine, and then tests all the beds. Finally, the last bed is comfortable enough for her and she falls asleep. When the dwarfs return home, they immediately become aware that someone had sneaked in secretly, because everything in their home is in disorder. During their loud discussion about who had sneaked in, they discover the sleeping Snow White. She wakes up and explains to them what happened, and the dwarfs take pity on her and let her stay with them in exchange for housekeeping. They warn her to be careful when alone at home and to let no one in when they are away delving in the mountains.
Meanwhile, the queen asks her mirror once again: "Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?" The mirror replies: "My queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White beyond the mountains at the Seven Dwarfs is a thousand times more beautiful than you". The queen is horrified to learn that the huntsman has betrayed her and that Snow White is still alive. Planning to kill Snow White herself, the queen disguises herself as an old peddler. The queen appears at the dwarfs' cottage and offers Snow White colorful, silky laced bodices and convinces Snow White to take the most beautiful laces as a present. Then the queen laces her up so tightly that Snow White faints, causing the queen to leave her for dead. But the dwarfs return just in time, and Snow White revives when the dwarfs loosen the laces.
The queen then consults her magic mirror again, and the mirror reveals Snow White's survival. The queen dresses as a comb seller and convinces Snow White to take a beautiful comb as a present. She brushes Snow White's hair with the poisoned comb and the girl faints again. She is again revived by the dwarfs when they remove the comb from her hair. When the mirror again indicates that Snow White still lives, the queen makes a third and final attempt on Snow White by disguising herself as a farmer's wife, and offering a poisoned apple to her. The girl is at first hesitant to accept it, so the queen cuts the apple in half, eating the white (harmless) half and giving the red poisoned half to Snow White. The girl eagerly takes a bite and falls into a state of suspended animation, causing the Queen to triumph. This time, the dwarfs are unable to revive Snow White. Assuming that she is dead, they place her in a glass casket.
After a short period, a prince was on a hunting trip when he stumbles upon the coffin-contained Snow White. The seven dwarfs succumb to his entreaties to let him have Snow White. The moment he lifts the coffin to carry it away to her proper resting place, the piece of poisoned apple falls from between her lips and Snow White awakens saying "Where am I?" Enchanted by her beauty, the Prince instantly falls in love with her, and then declares his love for her; soon a wedding is planned. Snow White and the prince invite everyone to come to their wedding party, including Snow White's stepmother.
Meanwhile, the queen, still believing that Snow White is dead, again asks her magic mirror who is the fairest in the land. The mirror says: "Thou, lady, art loveliest here, I ween; but lovelier far is the new-made queen", which enrages the queen. Not knowing that the Prince's bride is her stepdaughter, the queen arrives at the wedding and sees that the bride is Snow White, whom she thought dead. She is frozen with rage and fear, but when the Queen was about to start a pandemonium, the prince orders for her to wear a pair of red-hot iron slippers and dance in them until she drops dead for the attempted murder of Snow White, so that the wedding will peacefully continue.
Many scholars have theorized about the possible origins of the tale. In 1994, a German historian named Eckhard Sander published Schneewittchen: Märchen oder Wahrheit? (Snow White: Fairy Tale or Truth?), claiming he had uncovered an account that may have inspired the story that first appeared in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. According to Sander, the character of Snow White was based on the life of Margaretha von Waldeck, a German countess born to Philip IV in 1533. At the age of 16, Margarete was forced by her stepmother, Katharina of Hatzfeld, to move away to Brussels. There, Margarete fell in love with a prince who would later become Philip II of Spain. Margarete’s father and stepmother disapproved of the relationship as it was ‘politically inconvenient’. Margarete mysteriously died at the age of 21, apparently having been poisoned. Historical accounts point to the King of Spain, who opposing the romance, may have dispatched Spanish agents to murder Margarete.
Scholar Graham Anderson compares the story of Snow White to the Roman legend of Chione, recorded in Ovid's Metamorphoses. The name Chione means "Snow" in Greek and, in the story, she is described as the most beautiful woman in the land, so beautiful that the gods Apollo and Mercury both fell in love with her. Mercury put her to sleep with the touch of his caduceus and raped her in her sleep. Then Apollo, disguised as an old crone, approached her and raped her again. These affections led Chione to openly boast that she was more beautiful than the goddess Diana herself, resulting in Diana shooting her through the tongue with an arrow.
Karlheinz Bartels, a pharmacist and scholar from Lohr am Main, a town in northwestern Bavaria, found evidence that Snow White was Maria Sophia Margarethe Catharina, Baroness von und zu Erthal, who was born in Lohr on June 25, 1725. Her father, Philipp Christoph von und zu Erthal, was the local representative of the Prince Elector of Mainz. After the death of Maria Sophia’s birth mother in 1738, her father remarried in 1743. The stepmother, Claudia Elisabeth von Reichenstein, was domineering and employed her new position to the advantage of her children from her first marriage. A magic mirror referred to as “The Talking Mirror”, known as always telling the truth, can still be viewed today in the Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle, where Maria Sophia’s stepmother lived. This mirror was presumably a present from Maria Sophia’s father to his second wife. It was a product of the Lohr Mirror Manufacture (Kurmainzische Spiegelmanufaktur).
In their first edition, the Brothers Grimm published the version they had first collected, in which the villain of the piece is Snow White's jealous mother. In a version sent to another folklorist prior to the first edition, additionally, she does not order a servant to take her to the woods, but takes her there herself to gather flowers and abandons her; in the first edition, this task was transferred to a servant. It is believed that the change to a stepmother in later editions was to tone down the story for children.
One version of Snow White is the 1937 American animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney. Disney's variation of Snow White gave the dwarfs names and included a singing Snow White. Instead of her lungs and liver, as written in the original, the huntsman is asked by the queen to bring back Snow White’s heart. While the heart is mentioned, it is never shown in the box. Snow White is much more mature (about 14). And she is discovered by the dwarfs after cleaning the house, not vandalizing it. Furthermore, in the Disney movie the evil queen tries only once to kill Snow White (by a poisoned apple) and fails (this was likely to save time). She then dies by falling down a cliff and being crushed by a boulder, after the dwarfs had chased her through the forest. In the original, the queen is forced to dance to death.
In Snow White (1987), produced by Cannon Movie Tales, the Evil Queen, after being informed for the last time that Snow White is alive and the most fair, is consumed with rage and hurls an object at the mirror causing it to crack. As she travels to the wedding, the Evil Queen begins to age rapidly as the mirror continues to crack. By the time she reaches the wedding and bursts in, she is an old hag and is humiliated by the crowd. She leaves and, simultaneously with the mirror in her castle, disintegrates into a pile of dust while Snow White and the Prince are married.
In the 2012 adaptation Snow White and the Huntsman, directed by Rupert Sanders, Snow White becomes a warrior in order to overthrow the Evil Queen named Ravenna, and the huntsman named Eric is presented as her mentor and possible love interest.
The 2007 Disney movie Enchanted (film) features a character named Giselle (Amy Adams) who is loosely based on Snow White (poisoned apple), Sleeping Beauty (fighting a dragon), and Cinderella (losing a shoe at a dance). The prince’s stepmother Narissa (Susan Sarandon) poisons Giselle at a dance. Giselle recovers and later fights Narissa, who has transformed into a dragon. Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip (Jeff Bennett) sends Narissa falling to her death during the fight. Giselle later falls in love with 6-year-old Morgan’s father and decides to live with them, whereas Morgan’s former stepmom-to-be Nancy moves to Giselle’s hometown and marries the prince.
In 2013, a version of Mattel schools of fairy tale characters, Ever After High, Snow White has a daughter, Apple White (Royal), who disputes with Raven Queen (daughter of the Evil Queen and Rebel) who prefers the Rebels follow the heart, writing their own way. Raven is the leader of the Rebels, a group of students who want to choose their own storybook endings, whom decides to be kind after being horrified by her mother’s cruelty and witnessing a possible dark future for herself during Legacy Day. This led to Raven refusing to follow her evil destiny and declaring herself good, much to Apple’s disappointment. The Royals believe that their stories should be followed, lest they end in disaster. It’s up to Raven and her friends to convince Apple and the Royals that their destinies will be fine.
Many later versions omit the Queen's attempted cannibalism, eating what she believed to be the lungs and liver of Snow White. This may be a reference to old Slavic mythology which includes tales of witches eating human hearts.
Descendants (2015 film) character Evie is the cheerful yet flirtatious daughter of the Evil Queen.
Many other variations of the story exist across and outside Europe. In some of these variations the dwarfs are robbers, while the magic mirror is a dialog with the sun or moon.
In 2013, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a trademark to Disney Enterprises, Inc. for the name "Snow White" that covers all live and recorded movie, television, radio, stage, computer, Internet, news, and photographic entertainment uses, excluding literary works of fiction and nonfiction.
Erin Heys' "Religious Symbols" article at the website Religion & Snow White analyzes the use of numerous symbols in the story, their implications, and their Christian interpretations, such as the colours red, white, and black; the apple; the number seven; and resurrection.