“Queen you shall be, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.” – A Feast for Crows, George R. R. Martin

Previously in this column, we discussed the character of Snow White.

Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar in Madwoman in the Attic describe the Evil Queen as “a plotter, a plot-maker, a schemer, a witch, an artist, an impersonator, a woman of almost endless creative energy, witty, wily and self-absorbed as all artists traditionally are.” In the tale by The Brothers Grimm, she dances herself to death, exhausting herself on that same creative energy. But all that power and creativity and energy goes into fruitless murder attempt after fruitless murder attempt, and all that grows is a corpse in a coffin. What the Evil Queen has going for her is that she knows what she wants. The thing she wants, though, is to be Snow White, meaning that she’s driven by the desires of other people while suffocating her individuality. On the other hand, Snow White is also the Evil Queen as the Evil Queen is Snow White, and they are linked together by Snow’s mother.

The Evil Queen, Snow White, and Snow White’s mother are all viewed through frames. Snow White’s mother is first seen sewing in a window, the Evil Queen is looking in her mirror, and Snow White is sleeping in her coffin. The original Queen looks out. The Evil Queen looks at herself. Snow White looks at nothing at all. With this technique, the Grimms’ narrative separates these women into three pictures of femininity: the good (dead) mother, the evil (living) mother, and their successor. The Evil Queen is the only one of the three women who tries to break out, even as she looks further into the mirror.

The mirror is what tells the Queen that she’s no longer good enough. She’s been replaced. Gilbert and Gubar read this as the voice of the patriarchy and the dead king, constantly judging the Queen and her actions even as it enables her to find Snow White. It’s symbolic of the male gaze, focused on both the Evil Queen and Snow White as they are encased in art. The mirror can also symbolize the threshold between conscious and subconscious as well as a weak sense of self and narcissism. The Queen asks her mirror to affirm her because she cannot affirm herself.

In fighting to become what she is not, the Queen loses who she is. Gilbert and Gubar wrote:

“The Queen and Snow White are in some sense one: while the Queen struggles to free herself from the passive Snow White in herself, Snow White must struggle to repress the assertive Queen in herself. That both women eat from the same deadly apple in the third temptation episode merely clarifies and dramatizes this point…Her intention is that the girl will die of the apple’s poisoned red half – red with her sexual energy, her assertive desire for deeds of blood and triumph – while she herself will be unharmed by the passivity of the white half.”

In “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree,” believed to be one of the earliest renditions of the story, there is no evil stepmother, only a mother and a daughter at war. Meanwhile, in the Disney version, there is only the Evil Queen and Snow White. This juggling of mothers signifies a change in focus. “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree” is the story of a mother and daughter, and the father, the king, has power to protect his daughter. The Disney version condenses the polarity between the evil that is the Queen and the good that is Snow White, even as Snow White acts as a little mother to the dwarves. In Grimms’ version, the triplication of mothers is more insidious. Snow White’s mother acts as an example of a good woman who gave birth and then died, foreshadowing Snow’s own death and resurrection. The Evil Queen rebels against this pattern and, in this sense, is even something of an antihero; but, she can’t rebel for long.

The women of Snow White switch roles in a subtle kind of dance. The Evil Queen herself is driven to an end that even she may not understand. The essential issue of the Snow White myth is its presentation of “the fairest” as something desirable and longed for. Beautiful Snow White is loved by all and is better than the marginally less beautiful Evil Queen. Snow White, the ideal woman, regurgitates Eve’s apple because ordinary women just aren’t good enough. Marching to the beat of your own drum is hard when your drum beat can’t be heard amongst the others, and that’s the pitfall which overtakes both Snow White and the Evil Queen. If there’s a lesson to be learned from this fairytale, it’s that neither side truly wins.





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