". . . it is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard." P. 37.It is story that helps us give shape and meaning to an often chaotic world, and the stories from the oral tradition that continue to be read and heard may be most representative of those we live by. Ivo Andric, the Bosnian Nobel Prize-winning novelist, expressed this beautifully.
". . .it is useless and mistaken to look for sense in the seemingly important but meaningless events taking place around us,
. . .
"we should look for it in those layers which the centuries have built up around the few main legends of humanity. These layers constantly, if ever less faithfully, reproduce the form of that grain of truth around which we gather, and so carry it through the centuries. The true history of mankind is contained in fairy stories, they make it possible to guess, if not to discover, its meaning." p. 16.
Snow White is a scholarly resource for all those interested in folk and fairy tales and, more specifically, in the tale Snow White. It is designed as a teaching tool for group use during a course, and/or for individual study. The purpose is to bring together a sizable number of resources so that the user can focus on this traditional tale and study it in different versions and variants published over an extended time frame. Although one could choose to focus only on textual variations or on different illustrations for a single text which might lead to greater depth on that narrower focus, the broader teaching emphasis of this site led me to cast a wider net, including both. Inexpensive "supermarket" editions of Snow White are included, along with more "literary" versions, both because these are more accessible to many children and to demonstrate that inexpensive, mass-market books represent a range of artistic quality and styles.
The hypertext version of Snow White allows users to compare and contrast textual changes and nuances, and the illustration pages provide similar opportunities for the study of visual interpretations. Although textual variations are often very minor, even these minor details may be significant. On the other hand, there are some major distinctions in the telling of this tale. For instance, in some versions, it is the mother, rather than the stepmother who tries to kill Snow White. (There is evidence that this was the original version.) In some variants also, the seven dwarfs are replaced by seven lusty knights, forty thieves, robbers, or the moon. Visual interpretations vary much more than textual ones as specific images change settings, mood and tone, understanding of characters, etc. Visual images can also add different details even when the texts being illustrated are identical. The questions in each section are designed to focus attention on certain issues or concerns arising in the different tellings. Because HTML does not consistently read coding for foreign words or letters, I have chosen to ignore accents and umlauts, for which I plead guilty, although I have inserted an "e" in place of the umlaut.
This site is a beginning point for those attempting to deal with the problems of interpretation as stated in Maria Tatar's Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales:
"One of the chief sources of irritation for the interpreter of fairy tales is the nature of folkloric sources. For nearly every tale, that are at least a dozen versions, in some cases, hundreds of extant variants. In other words, rather than a single, stable literary text in which even the finest points of detail may function as bearers of significance, we have an infinite number of corrupt "texts," spoken and written, each representing one version of a single tale type, and an imperfect version at that. No matter how gifted the transcriber of a tale is, he cannot fully succeed in capturing and recreating the spirit of an oral performance. Much as fairy tales invite interpretation, the facts of their origin and diffusion imply the impossibility of textually grounded interpretation. Even the anthropologist who can go straight to the source, observe the teller, study the community in which a tale flourishes, and record that tale still has nothing more than a single version, one no more and no less authoritative than other oral variants.
. . . "Any attempt to unearth the hidden meaning of fairy tales is bound to fail unless it is preceded by a rigorous, if not exhaustive, analysis of a tale type and its variants. That analysis enables the interpreter to distinguish essential features from random embellishments and to identify culturally determined elements that vary from one regional version of a tale to the next." pp. 42-43.
In spite of our fascination with the study of versions and variants, we must remember that each individual story is, first of all, to be experienced, to be enjoyed, to be appreciated, to be loved. Each reader, in the process of experiencing a literary work, both brings meaning to and takes meaning from that work. Thus, the meaning made from having experienced that work is personal and idiosyncratic and is based on all the reader has known and experienced outside that work. Meaning is also communal in the understanding of the human condition as expressed in and communicated by the work. Without that initial appreciation of and engagement with the work, the experience remains meaningless. The fact that teachers have assigned a particular text or even read that text aloud to students (either children or adult students of children's literature) does not necessarily mean that those students have read meaning into or out of that text. Without that process of meaning-making which is reading, there can be no progression to critical or theoretical judgment. Once this reading occurs, however, any further consideration of literary works has some general notions about the nature of literature, that is, some semblance of literary theory, at its core. Even the discussion of personal events from one's own life in response to a literary text is, in one sense, an implicit acceptance of the assumption that literature illuminates or instructs actual life experiences.
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Created January 6, 1997 and is continuously revised