Snow White and Seven Who?

To grow up with the Disney version of the Snow White fairy tale, most of us can name all seven dwarves without too much trouble. Did you know that there are other names for these famous characters? The Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their tales in 1812 and Snow White was number 53 of the 86 stories in the book. By the time they published their seventh edition in 1854, there were over 210 unique stories. (Cinderella was number 21.) In the original Schneewittchen, there are dwarves but they are not named. It is not until the story was made into a Broadway play in 1912, a hundred years later, that they were given names although they are not the ones you probably remember; Bick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee. Why number seven was not Quick is beyond me.

1912 Broadway production.

Since Disney’s naming, other productions have tried their hand at naming dwarves. Adding a feminine touch, the movie Happily Ever After movie (1989) used women to play Muddy, Sunbeam, Blossom, Marina, Critteria, Moonbeam, and Thunderella. They called themselves Dwarelles. Other movies like Mirror, Mirror (2012) made the dwarves highwaymen or Sydney White (2007) made them college dorks.

Famous frenemies C S Lewis of Narnia fame and J R R Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame attended a viewing of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves together sometime after its 1938 UK release. The two were not fans of Disney and in a 1939 letter to a friend, Tolkien wrote of his impression.

J R R Tolkien & C S Lewis

Dwarfs ought to be ugly of course, but not in that way. And the dwarfs’ jazz party was pretty bad. I suppose it never occurred to the poor boob that you could give them any other kind of music. But all the terrifying bits were good, and the animals really most moving: and the use of shadows (of dwarfs and vultures) was real genius. What might not have come of it if this man had been educated–or even brought up in a decent society?

The Movie Date That Solidified JRR Tolkien’s Dislike of Walt Disney

The two famous authors had other unkind things to say about Disney’s movie. Lewis called the evil queen’s design unoriginal, and described the dwarves as having, “bloated, drunken, low comedy faces.” Keep in mind that Tolkien’s The Hobbit came out in 1937 before Disney’s Snow White was released. To both Tolkien and Lewis, it seemed, Disney’s dwarves were a gross simplification of a concept they held as precious. “I think it grated on them that he was commercializing something that they considered almost sacrosanct,” says Trish Lambert, a Tolkien scholar and author of the essay, Snow White and Bilbo Baggins: Divergences and Convergences Between Disney and Tolkien.

Early Grimm’s fairytale depiction of dwarves.

Besides all the dwarf differences in the Snow White fairytale there are a number of other variations that have changed since Grimm’s 1812 printing. The original had Snow White hated by her mother rather than a stepmother. She took her out herself to try and kill her. That then changed to a servant and later a huntsman. The queen was to receive Snow White’s liver and lungs so she could eat them and not her heart. The original Queen dies by being made to dance to death.

Some scholars point to real inspirations for the tale of Snow White. Two of them are ripped from German accounts. German historian Eckhard Sander claimed that Snow White was based on the life of Margaretha von Waldeck, a German countess born to Philip IV in 1533. At 16, her stepmother, Katharina of Hatzfeld forced her to move to Brussels. Margaretha fell in love with the prince of Spain but her father and stepmother disapproved as it was ‘politically inconvenient’. She was Lutheran. The Spanish were Catholic among other issues. Margaretha mysteriously died at 21, presumably of poison. The King of Spain may have dispatched agents to murder her. Sander, Eckhard (1994). Schneewittchen: Marchen oder Wahrheit? : ein lokaler Bezug zum Kellerwald.

Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina, Baroness von und zu Erthal

Another theory purported by Karlheinz Bartels is that Snow White was Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina, Baroness von und zu Erthal, born in Lohr on June 25, 1725. Her father was the local representative of the Prince Elector of Mainz. After her mother’s death in 1738, her father remarried in 1743. The stepmother was domineering and favored her children from her first marriage. A magic mirror known for telling the truth can still be viewed today in the Spessart Museum in the Lohr Castle, where Maria Sophia’s stepmother lived. The mirror was a present from Maria Sophia’s father to his second wife.  Bartels, Karlheinz (2012). Schneewittchen – Zur Fabulologie des Spessarts. Geschichts- und Museumsverein Lohr a. Main, Lohr a. Main; second edition. ISBN978-3-934128-40-8.

2019 discovery of Maria Sophia’s Tombstone

Maria Sophia’s tombstone was discovered recently. The baroness went blind and was buried at Bamberg Monastery in 1796. It was demolished in the early 19th century and the tombstone was lost for a time. In a clear nod to that “magic mirror on the wall,” the museum notes that it has a von Erthal family mirror inscribed with the words “amour propre” (self love) in its collection.

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