Short Story Saturday: “Snow, Glass, Apples”

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Welcome back! This week, I’m going to be taking a look at Neil Gaiman’s rather famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) take on the story of Snow White, “Snow, Glass, Apples.” It was originally published in 1994, and can be found as a part of the 1998 collection Smoke and Mirrors. There’s also a graphic novel version that was published last year, beautifully illustrated by Colleen Doran.

Just as a warning before we proceed: this story goes to some really, really fucked up places, including but not limited to necrophilia, pedophilia, and gruesome child murder. And I realized that my last post required a content warning too. I like non-fucked up things, too, I swear.

The story is told from the perspective of the unnamed queen, Snow White’s stepmother. We open with an explanation of how she met and fell in love with the king, and how the two eventually marry. It doesn’t take long for the queen to notice that there’s something very, very  wrong with the king’s young daughter.

For one thing, her stepmother realizes that the girl never eats with them. Plus, she’s extraordinarily pale, and seems to have very sharp teeth. This comes to a head when the princess visits her stepmother in her chambers and proceeds to suck the blood from her hand.

Yup, in this version of the story Snow White is a vampire.

The queen responds to this by locking up her room at night and putting bars on her windows to keep Snow White out. That solves one problem, but another becomes apparent. See, the king’s health eventually begins a sharp decline, and, during intimate moments, the queen notices a number of small scars on his body. This includes the king’s junk, which has some, shall we say, implications.

At any rate, the king soon dies, leaving his wife the sole ruler of the realm. At this point, she realizes that something needs to be done about her stepdaughter. She has her people grab Snow from her room, take her to the woods, and cut out her heart.

There’s no merciful huntsman here, though. They actually go through with it, mostly because Snow White was freaking the hell out of them too. The queen then takes the heart, wraps it in rowan berries and garlic bulbs, and hangs it from the beams of her chambers. There’s just one small, small issues with the heart, though.

It’s still beating.

Another problem crops up: the forest folk, who normally come by every summer for the annual fair, are coming in fewer and fewer numbers as the years pass. It gets to the point that the fair’s leader comes to the queen to ask her to use her scrying magic to try and figure out what the hell’s going on.

She has a servant grab her mirror, and takes a peak. The mirror gives her a vision of an older Snow White stalking, having sex with, and then killing a disheveled monk in the forest. And here I’d like to just take a moment to point out that while Snow White is older here, she’s still, like 11. And I get that it’s supposed to be disturbing, but still, ew.

Anyway, the queen now has confirmation that her stepdaughter is still alive (for a certain value of “alive,” anyway), and realizes that she has to take more drastic steps to put an end to her. It takes her a couple of years to prepare, but eventually enacts her plan: she poisons some apples with a combination of her own blood and a brown powder, puts on her old peddler disguise, then heads out with them and some ribbons to find Snow White.

Which she does, in a cave. The queen then approaches her, offering her the ribbons, but drops the basket and runs in semi-feigned fear, dropping the basket behind her. She then says that she can’t be sure what happened next, but because the forest folk are at the next fair, she assumes Snow ate the apples and died from it. This is largely supported by the fact that the heart hanging from her ceiling is no longer beating.

So, things are going pretty good for now. The queen notices the dwarves that had protected Snow White (largely because they benefited financially from her predation) buying up all the glass and quartz that they can, but doesn’t think much of it. Instead, what she’s thinking of is the handsome visiting prince she hopes to marry, to secure an alliance.

One night, while the prince is staying at the castle, the queen decides to pay him a visit, mostly because she has needs and hasn’t gotten laid since her previous husband died. He’s more than willing to help her fulfill those needs, if she follows some rules: first, he wants her to stand naked by the window to chill out her skin. Then, he wants her to lay, arms crossed across her chest, staring up at the ceiling. Lastly, she is not to make any noise or move during the act.

So, yeah, it turns out the prince is a necrophiliac.

Anyway, the two are getting it on, and the queen lets out a moan. This instantly kills the mood for the prince, who immediately leaves the castle and starts to head back for home.  Now, the rest is speculation on the queen’s part, since she’s the narrator and wasn’t there, but here’s how she thinks things went down next.

She thinks the prince went through the forest, comes across Snow White’s coffin, and really wants to tap that. He then either pays the dwarves to have sex with (or, rape, which is what this actually would be) her, or coerces them into letting him. Then, either the force of his…activity dislodges the piece of apple from her throat, or Snow White wakes up enough to take a drink and the apple is removed that way.

Either way, things go very, very wrong for the queen when the prince and Snow White show up at the castle, with the prince declaring his intent to marry Snow White and unite the kingdoms that way. It also certainly doesn’t help that the two of them have turned the rest of the kingdom against her.

The last thing the queen sees before her own guards throw her in prison is Snow White taking the heart down, cutting her own chest open with her fingernail, and sticking the heart back in.

That’s not quite the end of the story, however. An indeterminate amount of time later the queen is taken from her cell, shaved, covered in goose grease, and thrown into a furnace. Her last thoughts before being cooked alive are that her version of events will die with her, and she won’t give them the satisfaction of screaming.

So, that was delightfully dark. Some may even say too dark, but I don’t really think that this version of the story is all that much darker than the original. I mean, in that version Snow White wasn’t a vampire, and the prince wasn’t a necrophiliac, but it does end with the queen being forced to dance herself to death in white-hot iron shoes. And, while the huntsman can’t go through with cutting out the girls’ heart, he still basically leaves her in the woods to dies.

People tend to forget that a lot of fairy tales tend to be a lot darker in their original incarnations than their more popular version. I blame Disney for that.

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