Obscure Fairy Tale: Snow White and Rose Red
Today's fairy tale is "Snow-White and Rose-Red." Not to be confused with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." Totally different. Except for the name thing. And the use of dwarves. But that's it.
I love this story. I think it's even better than its more-famous counterpart. Except that if you look at it a little too closely, it kind of doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Okay, fine, even if you look at it from a mile away, the narrative is a total mess. But who cares? It has a talking bear! Talking bears are always good!
Snow-White and Rose-Red (from the Brothers Grimm)
A poor woman has two rose bushes (one white and one red) and two beautiful daughters (one called Snow-White and one called Rose-Red).
Red-herring #1: the Roses. You'd think they'd play an important part in the story. Yeah, not so much.
The daughters are fast friends. Snow-White says, "We will not leave each other." Rose-Red says, "Never so long as we live." And their mother finishes, "What one has she must share with the other."
Red-herring #2: the Promise. Ooh, foreshadowing! They're going to be forced apart! Or the mother will have to make some hideous choice between them! Or the fate of one will uplift and/or destroy the other! Very dramatic! Except not. They just like each other. And that's one of the things that I love about this story: the two sisters and the mom all love each other. No one's trying to enslave or poison or eat or dismember their relative. Refreshing.
The sisters like to gather berries in the forest together, and the birds and beasts like to frolick around them. No harm ever comes to them. Sometimes, they stay out in the woods too late, spend the night on a bed of moss, and wake to see a ghost-like boy leaving. Mom tells them he is an angel who watches over good children.
Red-herring #3: Angel-Boy. That's it for him. No dialogue. No action. No mention ever again. My guess: when the original audience heard about the woman whose daughters frolicked unharmed in the deep, dark, scary woods, they started crying, "She's a witch! A witch!" So the storyteller tossed in a spare angel.
One day in winter, while the sisters, a lamb, and a dove are listening to the girl's mother read a story, there's a knock at the door. Rose-Red answers it and finds a great black bear. She shrieks and hides.
I love a sensible heroine. That's totally what I would have done (though I'd like to think that I would have slammed the door shut first). No idea what's up with the lamb and the dove. Maybe they serve the same purpose as the spare angel: proof of non-witchiness. Kind of like the opposite of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching books -- in those books, the witches prove their witchiness by purchasing skulls and warty noses and other witch paraphenalia from a mail-order catalog; in this tale, the family has purchased their set dressing from the "we're innocent" collection. The Grimm Brothers are far too subtle to mention it, but the family is also listening to harp music and eating Angel Food Cake.
The bear says, "I mean you no harm." Mom invites him in.
I love the mother. She's so very polite. Not wanting to embarrass their ursine guest, she never even asks why he's a talking bear. She simply invites him in to share their angel food cake.
The girls sweep the snow from the bear and then play with him -- tugging his fur, rolling him with their feet, beating him with a hazel-switch...
Beating him with a hazel-switch??? Where's the ASPCA? And since when is whacking a bear with a stick a good idea? Even a talking bear has teeth. Are they really so bored that this is considered "fun"? Well, maybe. They are cooped up for the winter, and TV hasn't been invented yet. If not for "American Idol," perhaps we would all be spending our winters whacking bears with sticks. Um, right.
When they're too rough, he cries, "Snow-White, Rose-Red, will you beat your wooer dead?"
Ahhh, sweet romance!
Spring comes, and the bear says, "Now I must leave and guard my treasure from the wicked dwarves. It was safe in winter while the ground was frozen and the dwarves could not dig." And he leaves. Snow-White is sad.
I smell cross-over! This is what the famous Snow White's dwarves were mining! Also, note that only Snow-White is sad. I smell romance!
One day in the woods, the girls find a dwarf with his beard stuck in a crevice of a tree. He cries to them for help. To free him, they cut off a bit of his beard. He shouts at them, "You uncouth hooligans! How dare you cut my beautiful beard!"
The famous Snow White has Sleepy, Dopey, and Sneezy. This Snow-White has Fussy. I'm rather fond of Fussy Dwarf.
Another day, by a stream, they find the same dwarf with his beard caught in a fishing line. He's about to be dragged into the water by a big fish. To save him, they cut a bit of his beard again. Again, he curses them.
Personally, I'm fascinated by this dwarf-eating fish. What kind of stream has dwarf-eating fish? How big is this fish?
Yet another day, the girls are walking into town, and they find the dwarf about to be carried off by a bird. They pull him free, though his coat is ruined in the process. "My coat!" he cries. "My beautiful coat! Ruined! You clumsy, stupid oafs!"
Fussy Dwarf has keen fashion sense.
On their way home from town, they find the dwarf admiring a bunch of jewels. He yells at them, and a black bear emerges from the forest. Frightened, the dwarf tells the bear to eat the girls and spare him.
Fussy Dwarf has a not-so-keen sense of gratitude.
The bear kills him.
Oh, no, Fussy!!!
The bear then transforms into a handsome prince. He explains that he was bewitched by the dwarf who had stolen his treasure. Now, with the dwarf's death, he is free.
Not to be all hung up on chronology or anything, but didn't he say earlier that he had to leave to protect his treasure from the dwarves? And now he's saying his treasure was stolen before he became a bear? Also, why kill the dwarf now? Why not earlier? And why the three rescues? Was that supposed to be comic relief before the big finale, or was that key to the plot? Did I skip a page? I must have skipped a page...
Snow-White marries the prince, and Rose-Red marries his brother.
Yay for romance! See, told you she liked the bear. Wait, where did the brother come from? Does Rose-Red like him? What was he doing while his brother was a bear?
They split the treasure.
Yay for practicality! Of course, it was his treasure in the first place. Or so he claims.
The mother moves in with them, and she brings her two rose bushes. Every year they bear beautiful roses, white and red.
Yay for poetic yet pointless roses! And yay for the mother and her two daughters who successfully navigate a Grimm's fairy tale without suffering anything particularly grim!
If you'd like to read a retelling of this tale that actually makes sense, check out the beautiful and wonderful book, Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede.
For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior obscure fairy tale posts.
Labels: Obscure Fairy Tales