This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.4.
Snow White and the 77 Dwarves
Illustrated by Raphaëlle Barbanègre
The retelling of fairy tales for a modern readership has become a trend these days. This is not necessarily a bad thing: Donna Jo Napoli’s young adult novel retellings are spectacular, for example, and there are a number of new versions of Tam Lin (picture books and novels) that are even more engaging than the original, little-known tale. To some extent, though, the originals have a message that is still—or even more—valid than the newer, ideologically altered versions. This is the problem I have with Snow White and the 77 Dwarves. The modern twist to the story is that it is written with Snow White’s real situation in mind: imagine really having to cook and clean and care for 77 little men who have no manners and expect one to be their servant… Seventy-seven instead of seven, of course, hyperbolizes the degree of discomfort in Snow White’s life with her little men.
Snow White is harassed by the everyday repetitive work engaged in by many mothers; her wards are “kind, [but] also messy, rambunctious, naughty and VERY, VERY LOUD”; her house is a “zoo”; “It was all TOO MUCH.” So it is not surprising that in the end, she “decided to leave and take her chances with the witch.” She takes the poison apple not out of ignorance but with the intention of escaping her drudgery through a drug-induced “sleep” in the forest, “waiting to be woken by a kiss… [page turn] … oh, no, she’s NOT! Please DON’T WAKE ME UP. Thank you.” The end.
One, perhaps radical, interpretation of this story reveals the link between Snow White’s choice and the traumatic options taken by some mothers to escape their lives. Even the most liberal of interpretations, though, has problems. The “little men” (and by association child readers) are unquestionably being held responsible for their mothers’ anguish. The author is in essence blaming children for being exactly what children often are: messy, rambunctious, loud, and—yes—even naughty.