vulture lists

From Vampire to Sex Slave: The Many Incarnations of Snow White

Julia Roberts and Lily Collins star in Mirror Mirror
Julia Roberts and Lily Collins star in Mirror Mirror Photo: Jan Thijs/Snow White Productions

As you may have noticed, Snow White is so hot right now. Her classic romance is at the heart of the Tarsem Singh movie Mirror Mirror, out on March 30, and she’ll be returning in warrior-girl armor come June in Snow White and the Huntsman. But then this legendary princess has been through many strange changes in the 200 years since the Brothers Grimm put the fable of a comely maiden and her dwarf buddies into book form, with various writers and filmmakers reinterpreting the story and its heroine in ways ranging from the political to the perverse. Well, frankly, mostly perverse: Writers love them some Snow White group sex. So if the famous 1937 Disney film is your only connection to this variable lady, get ready to look at her in a very different, far less childlike light. Whether a socialist, a victim of child molestation, or a dwarf orgyist, here are some of the ways in which Snow White has been darkened.

Master storyteller Neil Gaiman knows why Snow White’s skin was so milky-white — the fairy-tale princess was a bloodsucker. In “Snow, Glass, Apples,” Snow’s stepmother relates her story about why she had her stepdaughter’s still-beating heart cut out — for our own protection! “If it were today,” she says, “I would have her head and arms and legs cut off. I would have [had] them disembowel her. And then I would watch, in the town square, as the hangman … consigned each part of her to the fire … And I would not close my eyes until the princess was ash.” Sound extreme? Snow being dead isn’t enough to stop a necrophiliac prince who comes along to find the crystal coffin. Creepy!
In Bill Willingham’s Fables comic-book series, Snow White is a leader in a community of storybook characters now residing in Fabletown (part of modern-day New York). But before she left their long-lost Homelands, according to a Willingham installment called “The Fencing Lesson,” Snow sought fencing lessons from her prince so she could take revenge on the dwarves who raped her. “These ne’er-do-wells kept certain cabins scattered throughout the most remote corners of the kingdom,” we’re told, “where they could spend a few days each season drinking and reveling or indulging in more sinister vices. So what if the occasional peasant girl disappeared from time to time?” Snow is secretive about her plan, but Prince Charming catches on when the dwarves’ skewered bodies surface, dooming their blissful marriage. Centuries later, in Fabletown, Charming’s out of the romantic picture and Snow is happily remarried — to the Big Bad Wolf. This sounds like what would happen if Shrek were NC-17.
In ABC’s hit Once Upon a Time, Snow White is two people, both played by Ginnifer Goodwin. In modern-day Storybrooke (an enclave perhaps inspired by Bill Willingham’s Fabletown), she is Mary Margaret, a demure schoolteacher now facing a murder trial for allegedly killing the wife of the married man with whom she was having a chaste dalliance. Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, she is Snow, a feisty princess-on-the-run who takes on trolls, breaks into castles, and calls the prince “Charming” in a decidedly sarcastic tone. The cause of this divided character? Memory loss! Mary Margaret has forgotten she’s from a fairy-tale world and doesn’t know that an evil curse has relocated her into the real world.  (Though when Snow in fairy-tale land has a dose of memory loss potion on purpose, she becomes even feistier — go figure.) Can she ever reunite her two halves? Can she beat that bogus murder charge? Will, in the rich tradition of ABC mythologies, Storybrooke turn out to be limbo? Stay tuned! Photo: Jack Rowand/? 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Donald Barthelme’s 1967 novel Snow White infuses the familiar tale with odd politics. Snow says things like “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” and she drops “tiny Chairman Mao poems” into the baby food the “dwarves” (now seven full-size men) have become engaged in making. Also, as one of the workers complains, “Now she has taken to wearing heavy blue bulky shapeless quilted People’s Volunteers trousers rather than the tight tremendous how-the-West-was-won trousers she formally wore.” Snow and the men (Bill, Kevin, Clem, Hubert, Henry, Edward, and Dan) live together in a kind of sixties-commune arrangement, where they have sex in the shower. (Complains one, “I would so like to make ‘love’ in a bed, just once.”) It’s getting old, though, and now Snow is more eager than ever for her prince to … come. (Bad puns are unavoidable in describing Snow White sex tales.)
Writer Tanith Lee has imagined several possible Snow White scenarios, two of them in her stories “Red as Blood” and “Snow-drop,” and another in her novel White As Snow. In the first story, Snow’s a Satan-worshipping vampire named Bianca who was conceived via blood magic. You know things are bad when Lucefiel — “by some named Satan, Rex Mundi, but nevertheless the left hand, the sinister hand of God’s design” — shows up. In the second story, Snow has organized a circus act with the dwarves and takes a lesbian tumble with her “stepmother.” (A definite “let’s find different ways to defile Snow White” theme has quickly emerged through these different author’s takes.) The novel wheels in some of the greats of Greek mythology — Hades among them.
The German band Rammstein brought sex, drugs, and sweaty Teutonic rock to the Snow White world. In the group’s 2001 video for “Sonne,” we find Snow — or Schneewittchen, auf deutsch — snorting and shooting up the dwarves’ gold dust. Then we see them dropping trou to get a nice spanking from their mistress. Then she O.D.’s in the bathtub. Did the parents of the members of Rammstein used to read them fairy tales while playing Lou Reed’s Berlin in the background?
A 1933 Betty Boop cartoon preceded the Disney classic by four years, and might even have inspired it. As Snows go, though, this one’s pretty tenuous — among the odd new elements introduced into the canon by the kissy-faced flapper are a life-saving tree and a crucial garter belt. Oh, and Cab Calloway wailing on “St. James Infirmary” —  a song, you may recall, about a girl who died of a cocaine, or “snow,” overdose. Take that, Rammstein!
Gregory Maguire’s 2003 novel Mirror Mirror (unrelated to the Tarsem Singh film) transplants Snow White to Renaissance Italy, makes her 11 years old, and gives her a new name — Bianca de Nevada — and an unexpected new stepmother figure: the naughty Lucrezia Borgia, who in real life was accused of incest, poisoning, and murder. When Lucrezia’s brother and lover Cesare Borgia attempts to rape Bianca in this story, she chides him, “Will you take a child to marry and bed her without the benefit of a dowry?” And then to the bloodied 11-year-old: “How dare you linger and taunt my brother like that? Have you no shame?” The jealous Lucrezia then sets out to kill this sudden competition, and many things of a traditionally un-Snow-like sort transpire, like bestiality.
In the 1997 film Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Sigourney Weaver camps it up as the Evil Queen who wants to eat Snow White Stew. It’s not just revenge, but also the recipe for resurrecting her stillborn son. Snow (now called Lily and played by Monica Kenna) fights off the huntsman and the miners, who are now men of taller stature instead of dwarves. Then sexual tension ensues! One (played by Gil Bellows) gets a kiss onscreen and a whole lot more off, since they end up together — but not before going home for one last standoff with Evil Stepmom, whose taste in interior decorating (zombie servants, crucified dad) is out of a Hammer horror film.
In the 2007 comedy Sydney White, Amanda Bynes plays a collegiate version of the traditional character, this time pledging Kappa Phi Nu while an evil sorority queen plots “a social death” for her. The dwarves are replaced by dorks, and there’s no handsome prince, either, just a frat boy named (oof!) Tyler Prince. The magic mirror has morphed into a Hot-or-Not school website, the poison apple is now a computer virus (poisoned Apple, get it?), and the ghost of the Grimms debate which is worse: Having countless writers work out their fetishes on one of your most enduring stories, or having it turned into a cheesy tween movie?
From Vampire to Sex Slave: The Many Incarnations of Snow White