Friday, June 1, 2012

The Conundrum of Snow White and Rose Red

Snow White and Rose Red is one of my favorites, and I am not looking forward to the day when Disney decides to retell it (more on that later).

In the meantime, it is a treasured heirloom pressed into children's books, faded vintage illustrations, and a few modern retellings that circulate among the close-knit fairy tale community.

One thing that intrigues me is to see artists' portrayals of the two sisters.

Their descriptions are not given in the story, but, as is the way with fairy tales, names are integral to identity; so much so that I have yet to run across an illustration or original story depicting Snow White and Rose Red in such a way that does not reflect those names, either in dress, personality, or physical appearance.

Even more intriguing to see that, while one would think the descriptive names after red and white roses are straightforward indicators of looks-signifying-natures, there is no definitive agreement about which sister is the brunette and which the blonde.

If we treat Snow White as Snow-drop, the character from the Grimm's tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we expect her to appear with porcelain skin and ebony-black hair.  The brunette role thus filled, Rose Red becomes either a blond dressed in red garments or a red-head.
artist unknown (please e-mail)
But equally, if not more, Snow White is depicted as the quintessential fair Arian, with blonde hair bordering on white, and this leaves Rose Red to take the black-as-night-hair (sometimes lighter), which, it must be admitted, is pleasingly complimentary to her red clothing but otherwise has no relation to her name, except for the fact that it is not white.
artist unknown
Rarest of all is the depiction of Snow White as the damask blonde and Rose Red as the feisty ginger.
by achon089 on deviantART
What does this mean?

That is a dangerous question.  Not because there is no meaning, nor even because the meaning is not an objective one, but because once we start to try to define, we weaken the fairy tale.  After all, if truths could be explained straightfowardly, we wouldn't need fairy tales to communicate them.

How do you picture Snow White and Rose Red, and why?

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