It was winter, a desperate call was made to Heaven for a child. But heaven did not answer and desperation turned to despair. The woman shed her own blood upon the snow, glistening spots of cherry red flowing out across sugar crystal banks, faded at the edges to sun-burnt peaches.
The bears came. They divided what they found and left only the heart behind. The heart froze throughout winter, sank into the snow banks, took root in the earth during the thaw, and with the shed blood raised a fairy ring of deadly red cap mushrooms in the spring.
A band of woodsmen and huntsman came upon the fairy ring, seven-strong in all, who knew better than to step into the ring for fear of entrapment. Combining their wits and strategies they dangled a carrot above the center of the ring from a tree branch then they took cover. In time a white rabbit came forth, stepping into the ring to sample the carrots, and upon standing on the spot where the heart was buried became instantly transformed into a small child. The seven men waited until the infant withdrew from the enchanted circle of her own accord and then brought her home with them.
They named the rabbit-child Snow.
The seven woodsmen and huntsmen raised Snow as their own, teaching her all a young woman should know, always with the message that the world outside the house was dangerous and she was not to leave under any circumstance. The seven men knew that despite her beauty she contained whatever heart had been at the center of the fairy ring and that she could bring about great danger. For her part Snow knew nothing about how she came to be, only that the seven men found her in the woods one day and rescued her from the elements. For that, Snow was most grateful.
In time the rabbit-girl grew to be the most beautiful of young women. Her voice could literally call water to spring forth from the ground and cause trees to bear ripened fruit within seconds. Logs wood split into firewood if she hummed to them, rocks would spark and create fires for her with a wink of he eye. Upon surveying her talents the seven huntsman and woodsmen knew that Snow’s heart contained a great yearning that they would be powerless to stop on their own.
And so the seven men went into various nearby towns with tales of a beauty in the woods so perfect and rare that surly she was the fairest child any would ever lay eyes on. Their hope had been to entice men to seek Snow out, to draw out the power of her bitter heart, because they believed that bitterness would take root and transform Snow into an evil sorceress. But in spreading the word the Queen had heard raves of Snow’s beauty and in her jealously insisted on seeing the child people considered most beautiful.
While the seven were away the Queen called upon Snow’s house in the woods in the guise of a weaver and mender of garments. Snow remembered her guardian’s warnings and refused to come out and speak to the Queen-in-disguise. Explaining that she was forbidden to speak with strangers the Queen caught a look of Snow in the window and was stunned beyond belief: she was the spitting image of her long-gone sister, the sister she had despised, the sister whose tea she had slowly poisoned over time to make her barren, the sister whose husband, the King, she had calmed in his grief and later married. It had been nearly seventeen years since her sister vanished and now here she was as if she hadn’t aged in all that time.
Frantically, the Queen returned home and told her husband that there was an evil spirit lurking in the woods. She had heard that there was a Harpy luring all the men from the village to trick them into killing themselves and then devour their remains. The King didn’t initially believe his wife’s story until he saw men in the villages making plans and setting out to find this mystical beauty named Snow. At once the King sent his fleetest messengers to announce that none would view Snow until the King had laid eyes upon her himself. If the Queen was right, and that the Harpy could read the minds of those it saw and take the shape of the dead, then the King would be the one to slay the Harpy and save the kingdom.
Hearing all this the huntsmen and woodsmen began to understand what the fairy ring had brought forth. They returned home before the King or any suitors could to tell Snow the truth of her providence. They explained that they did not know what would happen, or what she should do, only that they would be powerless to help her and that she should not be afraid. After all they had done for her Snow trusted the seven men and knew in her heart that what they said was right. A great calming peace came over Snow as she sat by the fire and tended to her sewing. The woodsmen and huntsmen each took a turn kissing Snow’s head before retreating to the edge of the clearing where they could secretly watch what happened.
The King arrived with his men, followed by the Queen and the men from the village curious to glimpse the one called Snow. Pounding on the door the King demanded Snow to step outside. He had repeated the conflicting rumors that she was most beautiful and that he had reason to suspect there was a Harpy in the woods and would get to the bottom of things. Slowly the door to the cottage opened and out stepped Snow. Those old enough to remember gasped as they saw the King’s long-lost wife appear before them, while the younger men were taken in by her beauty. Standing there, Snow felt as if she had known every single face in the crowd, as if from dreams or perhaps a secret life before this one.
The King’s heart filled with poisonous pain, a combination of rage and grief. “How dare you appear before me in that guise!” the King said. He turned and grabbed an ax he had strapped to his saddle and planted himself squarely before Snow. His eyes reddened as they flooded with tears. “Have you anything to say before I kill you, witch?”
Snow began to hum and a pile of logs nearby split of their own accord. She winked and the rocks tumbled together to send off sparks. She opened her mouth to sing and the trees burst with ripened fruit while pools of water created burbling hot springs all around. Then she stopped singing and nature calmed. “My heart is ready to be released,” she said.
Though it pained him to raise his ax against the image of his one true love, the King shifted his stance and prepared to fell Snow like a tree. He took careful aim at her chest, and deep breath, then closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to remember the image of what he was about to do. But the King’s gloves had been recently oiled and the ax flew from his hands as he drew back, sending the ax flying out of his hands and blade squarely into the chest of the Queen. In the commotion that followed, no one noticed that Snow seemed to have vanished into thin air, and they certainly didn’t notice the white rabbit that hopped back into the woods never to be seen again.
Freely adapted from “Snow White, Snow White, or The Unfortunate Child,” story number 251 in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. This is part of a series of reinterpretations of every Grimm tale, usually appearing every Thursday though occasionally (like today) on Friday.
Some things I found interesting about the original tale: originally the Queen was from England, suggesting a certain regionalism where natives of the Grimmoire might have told tales of a vain and vengeful queen who was jealous of local beauty; that the Queen tries to kill Snow with a lace (corseting her so tight she cannot breath) and a comb (perhaps sticking its teeth into a nerve point at the neck that paralyzes her?) before finally poisoning her with an apple; and finally, that no prince comes to save her with a kiss, but instead it is her father and some experienced doctors who revive Snow (something to do with a rope) and they all return home to torture the Queen to dance to death.
I’m fairly certain this is a variant telling of the tale, that elsewhere (if memory serves) a version exists where a prince does come and removes the bite of poison apple from Snow’s mouth which brings about her revival. In the retelling I wanted Snow to be something more than beautiful, I wanted to find a way for her and the Queen to have some connection and thus a greater threat. I don’t imagine some people will appreciate my mixing a fairy ring and Harpies into the mix, but then things are always a little different in the Grimmoire than they are elsewhere in the fairy tale world.