What critics and literary theorists have been able to see either in a work or in the literary experience has always been determined, in part at least, by the times in which they live. Each era has preconceptions of the world and of literature that both reveal and conceal certain aspects of understanding and experience. There are no neat beginnings and endings to these eras, and there were always individuals writing and talking about literature whose ideas deviated greatly from the mainstream.
This section presents a series of excerpts from scholars that help to form a frame or a context for the study of "Snow White" and other tales.
Jane Yolen, in Touch Magic writes about authority.
"Thus the oldest stories were transmitted and transmuted, the kaleidoscope patterns of motif changed by time and by the times, by the tellers and by the listeners, by the country in which they arose and the countries to which they were carried. The old oral tales were changed the way culture itself changes, the way traditions change, by an erosion/eruption as powerful in its way as any geological force."In Grimms' Fairy Tales, James McGlathery offers a sound frame for examining scholarship on the tales and specifically on Snow White.
"Follow a story through its variants and you are following the trade routes, the slave routes, the route of a conquering army, or that of a restless people on the move.
"If the oral tradition came first, the second type of tale came hard on its heels. Once writing was established, the written word worked its own magic on the world of story. Even before the invention of movable type, which was the fifteenth century's greatest contribution to culture, the transcribed story had been part of the story process.
"But when an oral tale was set down, something interesting happened. The particular variant rendered into writing took on borrowed authority from the page. Quite simply, it became the tale. Not only listeners seated in a particular audience at a particular time could hear the tale. Audiences separated by time and space could hear it as well."
"Authority is a word that grew from the root author. And so author and power became inextricably linked. By setting down a tale onto a page, the scribe became the "owner" of a story. And if a particular reteller had wit, style, and a large printing, he had an incredible impact on the tale." p. 23
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"The third type of folk story is not from folk at all. It is the eclectic literary or art tale. Many different sources are pulled together as the author composes it. The art tale is modern and ancient at once and it remains essentially in the written form because it was born that way." p. 24.
"Scholarly interest in fairy tales, however, arose precisely because of perceived ties between those stories and myth and legend. Beginning with Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm themselves, fairy tales began to be studied as descending from ancient sources, and therefore as providing information about the past of nations and peoples and as preserving remnants of cultural treasures otherwise lost or unrecorded. As a consequence, study of fairy tale in the Grimms' time and on to the end of the nineteenth century was almost wholly devoted either to attempts at determining the place and time of the genre's origin or at discovering in the tales survivals of ancient ritualistic practices."John Ellis writes as follows in One Fairy Story Too Many.
"Only around the beginning of the twentieth century did the study of fairy tale as a literary genre begin in earnest. At the same time, ideologies arising with the new century sought to discover meanings in the tales which accorded with their philosophy. Literary scholarship in this century has been predominately concerned with distinguishing fairy tale from other genres in popular narrative." p.2.
"The romantics' concern with German culture led in many directions: to an interest in folksongs; to the study of Germanic legends and folklore; to a rediscovery of the national past, including particularly the glorious national literature of the Middle Ages; to the study of the national language and its place in the European family of languages; and so on. But in all of this, German nationalism was a major factor."In "The Brothers Grimm and the Evolution of the Fairy Tale," Andrea Schulte-Peevers writes as follows:
"Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and his brother Wilhelm (1786-1859) were very much a part of this environment. Enormously active and productive scholars, they made many contributions to the study of German culture apart from their fairy tale collection: notably, a collection of German legends, their famous dictionary of the German language, and Jacob's historical work on the German language. "Grimm's law" is still a landmark in the explanation of how an Indo-European dialect developed into the Germanic group of languages. And this was done quite consciously in a spirit of devotion to their fatherland, as countless passages in the brothers' letters make clear."
"Such, then, is the general cultural context in which the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmaerchen arose. Jacob and Wilhelm presented the KHM to their public essentially as a monument of national folklore. In so doing they were making claims about their sources and their treatment of those sources (a reasonably faithful recording of folk material, with little or no editorial contribution on their part) which, as we shall see in later chapters, were fraudulent. But this was not mere idiosyncratic behavior; there were strong contemporary currents moving the Grimms in this direction, and those currents are the ultimate source of the half-truths and untruths which have accompanied the KHM from that day to this. Having said this, however, I must add an important caveat: the mood of the times did not determine this situation to the extent that the Grimms innocently followed contemporary ideas without realizing they were themselves distorting the truth; it will become clear that they consciously and deliberately misrepresented what they had done, and deceived their public." pp. 5-6.
"There is as much myth surrounding the brothers as there are fairy tales. One particularly pesky romantic notion has the Grimms roaming the German countryside, asking ignorant peasants to recite their native lore. In fact, their sources were mostly members of the educated middle and upper classes, and most were women. Two families in Kassel and another in Westphalia, who were close to the Grimms, provided much of the material. Among the sources from the lower classes was a tailor's wife and a veritable treasure trove of fairy tales, Dorothea Viehmann of Niederzwehren."
For the complete text of her paper visit this site.
Peter Opie and Iona Opie, in the Introduction to their Classic Fairy Tales write:
"Indeed some details that appear to us romantic today may merely reflect social conditions when the tales were first formulated. The prevalence of stepmothers is accounted for by the shortness of life in past times, by the consequent shortness of marriages, and by the practice of the surviving partner marrying again without unnecessary delay."In "Fairy Tale, Myth, and Literature," Patricia Carden states:
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"Fairy tales are thus more realistic than they may appear at first sight; while the magic in them almost heightens the realism. The magic sets us wondering how we ourselves would react in similar circumstances. It encourages speculation. It gives a child license to wonder. And this is the merit of the tales, that by going beyond possibility they enlarge our daily horizon. For a man not given to speculation might as well walk on four legs as on two. A child who does not feel wonder is but an inlet for apple pie." p. 16
"The demonstration of the monolithic structure of the fairy tale was the realization par excellence of the underlying enterprise of Russian Formalist criticism-wholly precise description of the necessary invariables that define an individual genre-and though it was found by accident due to Propp's choice of the fairy tale as a subject of investigation, and though it was never duplicated for another genre, the impact of the demonstration has given Propp's morphological method an authority that the equally exact, but more complicated description of a complex genre could not have." p. 182.Padraic Colum, himself a teller of tales, writes powerfully about traditional tales in his Introduction to The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales.
"Told by generation after generation, the traditional stories projected the deepest wishes of the folk, generalized diverse characters into a few types, selected the incidents that would most strikingly illustrate what heroes and heroines, witches, enchanters, giants and dwarfs, the haughty, the envious and the unfaithful were capable of. As in work long thought about and lived with, the stories have something which the most brilliant improvisations are without-depth, fullness, a mysterious relation of parts."In Child and Tale, Andre Favat offers a context in which to understand the issue of versions in folk and fairy tales in referring to Tonnelat's study of 1912.
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"Heroes and heroines moved towards and gained an absolute worth in life; after subjection they became wise kings and beloved queens and lived happily ever afterwards. Elders and youngsters heard about people who were as beautiful, wise and fortunate as human beings could be, who had envious, unfaithful, unworthily privileged fellows, who knew giants and dwarfs who threatened or helped them, who had birds or animals for friends."
"They had belief in magic, witchcraft, transformation; they had no doubt about the efficacy of spells, charms, incantations; many incidents in what they related came from savage conceptions. But in their stories human behavior is always in accordance with a fine ideal. A real faith in human powers is present. Happiness is possible and compensation is due to those who have been wronged. Envy and unfaithfulness are condemned and punished. There is no concern with what is negative. Wicked people keep on their course of badness but they are not bored. Decent people may be lonely but they are never despondent. In the traditional stories-at least in the stories the Brothers Grimm brought us-revenge and cruelty for its own sake have no place. . . .In the world that is opened to us by the Brothers Grimm good-will predominates: the hero is characterized by courtesy as the heroine by gentleness." pp. xi, xii, xiii.
". . .that while the Grimms made no changes in the contents of the stories, they effected innumerable stylistic changes from edition to edition, all of which tended to make the stories more coherent, dramatic, and concrete. Different versions of the same story were combined to produce a definitive version, motivation was supplied to the characters where it was lacking, indirect discourse and statements about what the characters thought and did were replaced by dialogue, names were given to certain unnamed characters, and so on. In spite of these changes, however, the Grimms' stories, except where there is an occasional closing formula. . . have little presence of a transforming narrator, and are consistently without definite time or place--characteristics quite the opposite from those of Perrault's stories." p. 10Jack Zipes' Introduction to The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm states:
"Though there were debates about the value of the tales during the Grimm' own lifetime, if they were alive today, they would probably be surprised to see how vigorous and violent some of the debates are and how different the interpretations tend to be. To a certain extent, the intense interest in their tales by so many different groups of critics throughout the world is a tribute to the Grimms' uncanny sense of how folk narratives inform cultures. They were convinced that their tales possessed essential truths about the origins of civilization, and they selected and revised those tales that would best express the truths. They did this in the name of humanity and Kultur: the Grimms were German idealists who believed that historical knowledge of customs, mores, and laws would increase self-understanding and social enlightenment. Their book is not so much a book of magic as it is a manual for education that seeks to go beyond the irrational. It is their impulse to educate, to pass on the experiences of a variety of people who knew the lore of survival, that we may find the reasons why we are still drawn to the tales today. Though the Grimms imbued the tales with a heavy dose of Christian morality, the Protestant work ethic, and patriarchalism, they also wanted the tales to depict social injustices and possibilities for self-determination. Their tales reflect their concerns and the contradictions of their age. . . .Most of all they provide hope that there is more to life than mastering the art of survival. Their "once upon a time" keeps alive our utopian longing for a better world than can be created out of our dreams and actions." p.xxviii.Max Luthi, in Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales, writes the following about the fairy folk tale:
"What is there about the folk fairy tale that has such a strange fascination? . . . Yet these tales concern themselves not with just happiness and light, but quite often with privation and suffering, cruelty and betrayal, murder and death. The charm of the fairy tale is explained not only by the fact that everything usually comes out all right in the end-for the hero or heroine at least-or that the good people are rewarded and the bad ones punished. It is more than mere wish-fulfillment literature." p. 59In his "Introduction" to The Science of Fairy Tales, A.A. Milne writes:
"`For, indeed, Fairyland has to offer us that most tender of all the virtues, Simplicity. This is no country for the sophisticated, the worldly wise. Even the Wicked Ogre who eats babies alive, and by our standards compares ill with a politician, does not dream of going back on his word. You could stake your life on the tossing of a coin with him, and know that, if you won, he was at your mercy. Does your deliverance from his dungeons depend upon your guessing of a riddle, you can be sure that he will let you know quite fairly if your guess was correct. Even in matters of high policy, when the King promises his daughter to the winner of a slippery-hill-climbing contest, no lawyers are called in afterwards to challenge the conditions. How blandly, one feels, would a modern Rumpelstiltzkin announce that his name was really Robinson, and produce naturalization papers to prove it. But in Fairyland honesty was not the best policy, it was the only policy."In his collection of 19th century writings, A Peculiar Gift, Lance Salway writes:
"For I like to think of Fairyland as a country which exists; and I suppose that we whose childhood is over mean no more than this when we say that we believe in fairies." p. vii.
"The fairy tale shuffled into the nineteenth century under a cloud. Denounced by John Locke as 'perfectly useless trumpery' and condemned by Mrs. Trimmer in The Guardian of Education as 'only fit to fill the heads of children with confused notions of wonderful and supernatural events brought about by the agency of imaginary beings', fairy tales stood little chance of surviving the fiercely didactic climate of the early years of the century. After all, children's stories should either dispense useful information under a thin gloss of entertainment, or else impart important moral and religious principles to the undisciplined juvenile mind. The fairy tale was hardly an appropriate vehicle for such grand designs."In his book, Fairy Tale As Myth, Myth As Fairy Tale Jack Zipes writes:
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"Yet, despite such frenzied condemnation, fairy tales refused to die and their survival was nourished by such august figures as Lamb."
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"The rehabilitation of the fairy tale was given dramatic impetus by the appearance of the Grimm tales in 1823-6 and, twenty years later, by the publication of the first translations of stories by Hans Christian Anderson. The acclaim with which these foreign arrivals were received was evidence enough that the fairy tale was triumphantly alive and well. The detractors of the form then proceeded to employ it for their own ends. After all, if people insisted on reading fairy tales they should at least by given tales with a purpose." pp.109-110.
"Of course, the fairy tales for children were sanitized and expurgated versions of the fairy tales for adults, or they were new moralistic tales that were aimed at the domestication of the imagination. . .The form and structure of the fairy tale for children were carefully regulated in the nineteenth century so that improper thoughts and ideas would not be stimulated in the minds of the young. If one looks carefully at the major writers of fairy tales for children who became classical and popular in the nineteenth century, it is clear that they themselves exercised self-censorship and restraint in conceiving and writing down tales for children." pp.14-15.Marie-Louise von Franz in The Feminine in Fairy Tales begins with the following:
"Women in the Western world nowadays seem to seek images which could define their identity. This search is motivated by a kind of disorientation and a deep uncertainty in modern women. In the West, this uncertainty is due to the fact, as Jung has pointed out, that women have no metaphysical representant in the Christian God-image. Protestantism must accept the blame of being a pure men's religion. Catholicism has at least the Virgin Mary as an archetypal representant of femininity, but this feminine archetypal image is incomplete because it encompasses only the sublime and light aspects of the divine feminine principle and therefore does not express the whole feminine principle. In studying fairy tales, I first came across feminine images which seem to me to complement this lack in the Christian religion. Fairy tales express the creative fantasies of the rural and less educated layers of the population. They have the great advantage of being naive (not "literary") and of having been worked out in collective groups, with the result that they contain purely archetypal material unobscured by personal problems. Until about the seventeenth century, it was the adult population that was interested in fairy tales. Their allocation to the nursery is a later development, which probably has to do with the rejection of the irrational, and development of the rational outlook, so that they came to be regarded as nonsense and old wives' tales and good enough for children." p.1.Kay Stone , in "Three Transformations of Snow White," writes:
"In recent years folklorists have attempted to clarify the vibrant relations between text, texture, and context, thus providing a useful framework in which to survey variations of Snow White. The text is the basic story of Snow White; its texture is the specific language (visualization in the case of film) of a particular story; context is any relevant personal, social, historical, and other influences. There might be countless oral texts of Snow White, each with its own texture and context. The storytelling event, or actual verbal composition of a story, is extremely sensitive to immediate contexts that might motivate changes in texture. Thus Snow White in oral tradition is multitextural and multicontextual. There is no single "original" or "authentic" oral text. The story would never be told in precisely the same words even by the same person. A unique context for each telling produces different textures, and thus a variety of oral texts." p. 53.In his essay "Happily Ever After. . .Fairy Tales, Fables, and Myths," H. Nichols B. Clark writes:
"The literary life of the fairy tale was not without problems. Many adults-and it was they who determined what was available to children-believed that narratives espousing magic and the supernatural were unhealthy and thought it was dangerous for children to have access to literature that permitted the imagination free play. This attitude was especially prevalent in the second half of the eighteenth century which, under the soubriquet of the Age of Reason, attempted to codify and order the natural world. The Protestant and particularly Puritan strongly opposed the perceived frivolity and fantasy of such tales, and there were many especially vociferous opponents in America. Among the best known was "Peter Parley," the pseudonym for Samuel Goodrich, who, beginning in 1827, dedicated himself to attacking fairy tales and publishing books filled with facts, technical descriptions, and scientific observations. Parley's efforts inspired numerous imitators in England, and by the 1840s, there was a considerable body of literature deemed suitable for children, though perhaps not by the children themselves."Elizabeth Baeten, in The Magic Mirror: Myth's Abiding Power, examines myths and myth-making and explores a number of theoretical standpoints in the process.
"Despite these concerted efforts to suppress the fairy tale, the genre prospered. With the Romantic Age in the early nineteenth century emerged a fascination with the past, resulting in a flowering of revival styles. Consequently, folklore was accorded a vital role in defining the texture of a country's cultural heritage, and stories began to be recorded, collected, and published. The German brothers and philologists, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began publishing their Kinder und Haus-Maerchen in 1812, and their efforts inspired the serious collecting of folk and fairy tales throughout Europe and elsewhere." pp. 159-160.
"Philosophy of culture is an investigation of those processes and products of the human endeavor that are both communicative and interpretive. That is, culture provides the "lenses," as it were, through which experience is viewed and recognized, and culture is the means by which these lenses are reground by those who use them, and culture is the process of passing the lenses from one to another. This is a notion of culture as the specific medium of human endeavor-an environment that at once shapes and is shaped by its inhabitants."Linda Degh, in "What Did the Grimm Brothers Give To and Take From the Folk?, writes:
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"These theories [notably feminist aesthetician Estella Lauter] are primarily investigations into the ongoing relation of the dominant images of women that we find in our artistic heritage and in our contemporary milieu and the ways in which these images shape the lives of individual women. If it is the case that the images of women and the constellations of traits and attributes that we associate with women determine in some way or another our concepts of self, then changes in the dominant motifs offered in the publicly accessible arena of artistic production may be a positive way of reshaping the vicissitudes of gendered life in our culture." p.8.
"It should be made clear that modern, particularly Western, urban society's profound involvement with the Grimm tales as "folktales" is not limited to the telling of, or listening to, formal narration. The presence of the tales may not even have to be manifested by passive knowledge of story plots. The spirit, philosophy, ideology, and behavioral patterns of the tales appeal to a much larger audience, beyond the telling context. The metaphoric uses of tale characters, images, sayings, situations, dialogues, miracles, transformations, and figurative speech formulas are generally known and appear as useful and meaningful tools in everyday life." p. 83.
In "Kahaunani: 'Snowwhite in Hawaiian: A Study in Acculturation", Niklaus Schweizer writes:
"Yet, less than sixty years after the first edition of Kinder- und Hausmaerchen several tales appeared in the Hawaiian language in Ka Nupepa Ku'oko'a (The Independent Newspaper), one of the best among the approximately 100 newspapers and periodicals published in the native language between 1834 and 1948.
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"Whoever the translator might have been, by choosing the name "Kahaunani" he revealed his cultural sensitivity from the start. A less astute scholar would have probably selected a more literal rendering, such as Kahaukea "the white snow". Kahaunani, however, fits better into the Hawaiian scence, for Haunani is a popular female name, composed of the noun hau, signifying 'dew', 'frost', 'ice', or 'snow', and the adjective nani, meaning 'pretty'. Ka is the definitive article. Kahaunani, or 'The Pretty Snow", thus stays within the native traditions. Throughout the fairy-tale, the translator demonstrates a similar awareness for the needs of his Polynesian audience. pp. 283-284.
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"While the Hawaiian translation closely follows the German, the cannibalistic reference in the original is omitted. The makuahinekolea, though base enough, does not follow the example of the evil German stepmother who has her cook prepare the supposed lung and liver of Snowwhite and then proceeds to devour these organs. The somewhat exaggerated delicacy practiced on this occasion by the translator may be forgiven. It is a small flaw compared to his enviable skill demonstrated in the interpretation of unfamiliar European concepts on the basis of Polynesian elements easily understood by the native readership. The "Hawaiianization," as it were, in addition lends a charm to the tale which more than a century later does not fail to touch us moderns, particularly when we hear "He Ka'ao no Kahaunani" performed by a native speaker." p. 289.
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Created January 6, 1997 and is continuously revised