Snow White & Diversity in Fairy Tale Retellings

I am obsessed with fairy tales. Snow White in particular – all the “sleeping princess” type fairy tales really, although I find Snow White to be the most interesting one. There’s more of a plot than Sleeping Beauty, and I find the idea of a murderous mother – or step-mother, if we’re watering it down like the Brothers Grimm – more chilling than an evil Fairy (but don’t get me wrong, I’m all about an evil Fairy too).

Another reason I find Snow White so compelling is the focus on her skin being “white as snow.” I mean, her skin color is actually her name, that’s how important it is. As a black girl, that both fascinated and angered me in equal measure. Angered, because I’d always known I wasn’t alone in my love for Snow White, and would often wonder if that particular tale was so beloved because she was white? If so, what did that say about the world? And what did that say about me? Was I wanting to be more white too?

In turn, it fascinated me and fascinates me still because of the potential the story holds to examine that very issue (along with the more commonly examined issues of female beauty, aging and obsession). I’ve always felt that in the multi-cultural, globally interconnected world we live in today, Snow White would lend itself well to an exploration of race and skin color and what that all means.

My Snow White retelling will for sure deal with some of that, but I wanted to see how others – if others – tackled the issue. And so, as part of my effort to get reinspired and back on my writing grind, I set out to find some Snow White retellings that also addressed race. Unfortunately, I haven’t found very many (or maybe fortunately, since I need to be writing, not reading). But here’s what I’ve found so far:

Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World

So, this isn’t a retelling. This is here to brush up on the classic tale, and also to see how the tale is told across different cultures. There are the familiar European versions of Snow White that we all know, of course. But did you know there are also variations on the Snow White tale from Morocco? Iraq? Louisiana? Angola? Mozambique? I didn’t! There are 41 versions of Snow White collected in this book by the creator of Sur La Lune, the best website for fairy tale information.

by Helen Oyeyemi

I loved White is For Witching, so I’m excited to read this. But, she’s a unique and somewhat challenging writer and I realize her style is not “easy” to get into, so it may not be for everyone.

From the prizewinning author of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, coming February 2016, the Snow White fairy tale brilliantly recast as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity.

In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries Arturo Whitman, a local widower, and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow.

A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African-Americans passing for white. And even as Boy, Snow, and Bird are divided, their estrangement is complicated by an insistent curiosity about one another. In seeking an understanding that is separate from the image each presents to the world, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Catherynne M. Valente

I utterly adore her writing to the point that when I first thought about doing a retelling, I kind of put off reading this. At the time, I told myself it was because I didn’t want too much of another retelling in my head lest it seep into my writing as well. This is still kind of true, but lowkey, it’s also because she’s one of those writers that makes me feel like damn, she is so good, why even bother! I’m inhabiting a totally different mindset these days and I have a good chunk already written, so we’ll see.

From New York Times-bestselling author Catherynne M. Valente comes a brilliant reinvention of one the best known fairy tales of all time. In the novella Six-Gun Snow White, Valente transports the title’s heroine to a masterfully evoked Old West where Coyote is just as likely to be found as the seven dwarves.

A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.