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  Snow White and the Huntsman

Do you like Fairy Tales?  Do you enjoy reading fantasy books or maybe even fantasy role playing?  Did you enjoy Grimm's Fairy Tales as a kid and do you watch Once Upon A Time on ABC?  Once Upon A Time is a story about hope. That's what a fairytale is, the ability to think your life will get better.  Please read our article on the upcoming new Snow White movie and fairy tales in general.  Learn about the hidden meanings used in Snow White and Once Upon A Time!
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From Spurned Daughter to Warrior Woman:

Archetypes in Snow White and Snow White and the Huntsman

by Robin Whitlock   12/28/11

Snow White and the Huntsman is a brand new movie, due out on 1st June 2012, which gives the Snow White fairy tale of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Grimm's Fairy Tales) an interesting new twist. In the original tale of course, Snow White is rescued by the Prince while the huntsman is the character who is ordered by the evil stepmother to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. However in the new movie, the huntsman not only disobeys the wicked queen but actually blatantly betrays her by becoming a guardian to Snow White and leading a revolt against the queen. According to the official movie website, the huntsman trains Snow White in the art of becoming a warrior, and so she joins him to take arms against the queen.

This movie is just one of several recent re-working's of traditional fairy tales, another offering being Red Riding Hood which apparently didn't do all that well. These films show that fairy tales are as popular as ever, and not just among children, so it's interesting perhaps to ask why this is?

Part of the reason has to do with the fact that these tales are, according to Helen Simondson from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), 'laden with symbolism'. Essentially what she means is that there are deep messages conveyed to us within these stories, messages that have implications for or are relevant to our interpretations of morality, politics, romance and all the other seemingly complex aspects of human behaviour. This is why fairy tales are magical, because they speak to us on so many levels and grip our imagination.

Snow White itself is a story that is known in many countries in Europe, the most popular version being that of Germany which was collected and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (the Brothers Grimm) in 1812 in their first collection of Grimms Fairy Tales. There are numerous mythological symbols embedded within the story, for example the poison apple and the glass coffin. Besides these symbols, there are the characters themselves who are symbols in their own right. We call these symbolic characters 'archetypes' which means essentially that they are characters which embody particular human or philosophical qualities and thereby serve as a form of symbolic 'prototype' upon which wider patterns of human behaviour may be moulded. Archetypes are widespread throughout much of the world's mythology and folklore and it is thought that many of them are thousands of years old, even dating back to images daubed on the walls of caves in prehistoric artwork. The word 'archetype' itself derives from the latin term archetypum which is a form of the Greek archetupon meaning 'first moulded'. The idea of the archetype was later developed, mostly by Carl Jung into a particular term of psychological understanding which was subsequently used as a means of interpreting human behaviour. There are many archetypes in fairy tales and some of the most recognisable ones will be the King and Queen, the handsome prince, the witch or monster, the good fairy, a fool or jester, a mother figure, an evil stepmother and so on.

The purpose of this article then is to identify the archetypes in the Snow White story and also to see how they might have changed in the forthcoming movie and how this affects the story as a whole, but most importantly to help explain why this is a story that will never cease to be a source of wonder and amazement to all those who encounter it as it is passed on down the generations.

Starting from the beginning then, we first encounter a queen who sits sewing by a window and pricks her finger so that three drops of blood fall upon the snow that has fallen upon her ebony window frame (the colours by the way are important as I shall explain later). The queen wishes for a daughter who has skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony and sometime later she indeed gives birth to such a child, although a short while later the queen dies, having given her daughter the name 'Snow White'. The king takes a new wife and so next we meet the stepmother who possesses a magic mirror which can speak and which constantly tells her that she is the most beautiful woman in the land, until that is, Snow White reaches the age of seven whereupon the mirror tells the queen that it is Snow White who is the most beautiful woman in the land. The story should be familiar to most of us from here onwards, and so we subsequently encounter the huntsman who takes Snow White out into the wilderness to kill her, the seven dwarfs and then finally the prince who finally rescues Snow White. This is the basis of the German story collected by the Brothers Grimm. Other versions however portray the dwarfs as robbers and describe the mirror as a means of communicating with the sun or moon. An Albanian version portrays Snow White as living with forty dragons and describe her sleep as being induced by a magical ring.

All these characters, being archetypes, have particular meanings, many of them deriving from pre-Christian Pagan archetypes many of which were probably gods and goddesses revered by local populations and tribal communities across Europe and perhaps beyond. The three women in the story represent the three ages of women, represented in Pagan myth by the 'mother', the 'maiden' and the 'crone' or old woman. The three colours white, red and black are symbolic of the Pagan 'Otherworld' and so their presence immediately tell us that this story is populated by spiritual, otherworldly beings, who were probably gods and goddesses in their own right at one time. The same colour symbolism can be seen in the mythology surrounding vampires for example, vampires being creatures I discussed in my previous article concerning the Twilight movies and also primarily belonging to the corpus of pre-Christian European myth. The colours white and red can also be seen in stories of spectral hounds and other 'otherworldly' animals in Celtic myth, for example in the story of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed which is the first tale in the Welsh collection of stories known as The Mabinogion, the main character, Pwyll, is hunting in a wild wood where he suddenly encounters a pack of white hounds with red ears which belong to Arawn, the lord of the otherworld. Various writers throughout the ages have interpreted the true meaning of these colours as representing purity (white), life and passion (red) and death (black).

The character of the stepmother in Grimm's story is particularly controversial since the brother's identification of this character as an 'evil' stepmother ran counter to the many good stepmother's in Europe at the time of publication as well as those existing before and since. This was one of the reasons why the Grimm version was criticised after publication on grounds of its educational deficiencies. Therefore it is more accurate to interpret this character in terms of its Pagan manifestation as merely a representation of the third and final stage of female development along with associated qualities of wisdom and knowledge. However, as with other such Pagan manifestations in other areas of Europe, it was primarily this archetype that became associated with the concept of the 'witch', particularly during the medieval 'witch craze' of the 14th to 18th centuries and this is primarily why 'stepmother's' and other representations of elderly women are often portrayed as being 'evil' in folklore and myth.

The huntsman is the embodiment of 'wildness'. He is rather like the 'Green Man' or 'horned god' in western mythology and thus he is a steward of the forest, existing in a symbiotic relationship with forest animals, watching over them but also reliant on them for sustenance and probably also for his clothes. There are echoes of this wilderness figure in the Biblical John the Baptist who was said to have clothes made out of goatskin. Other manifestations of the huntsman include Herne the Hunter of Anglo Saxon folklore, Robin Hood and Merlin, the wizard or magician in the legends of Arthur. It is the reworking of the huntsman character in the forthcoming movie, in essence promoting and exaggerating his wild qualities, that changes the entire feeling of the story, and one I can't wait to see.

The seven dwarfs are important primarily because of the numerical symbolism involved. Seven was an important number in many civilisations because of the seven known planets. In other words it was an astrological number which gave rise to various calendrical calculations particularly the seven days of the week. In Christian mythology these days became the seven days of God's creation. There are occurrences of the number seven throughout Christian and Judaic myth and thus commonly observable throughout the pages of the Bible, for example, seven angels, seven churches, seven trumpets, seven crowns, seven mountains, seven stars, seven kings and so on. However, this is not the only interpretation, the dwarves are also manifestations of a European mythological character called a 'gnome', popularly considered to be another name for 'the little people' as are leprechauns and pixies. However the word 'gnome' derives from the latin 'gnomus' which may be related to another latin term 'genomus' itself deriving from a Greek word meaning 'earth dweller'. As such 'gnomes' and thus also 'dwarves' almost certainly symbolise earth-dwelling spirits that guard secret underground places such as mines and caves in which there is often found buried treasure.

Finally there is the figure of the prince in the story. This character is the 'hero' of the tale. It is he who rescues Snow White and ultimately marries her, bringing the tale to a close and sealing the fate of the evil queen.

Returning to the film version, Snow White and the Huntsman, this is not a children's movie by any means. Fundamentally, it is a reworking of the fairy tale in the style of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, in essence a full blooded, battle crazy war film set in wild countryside with harsh weather, including lots of snow and blizzards. It is entirely appropriate for the reworking of the hero element within the tale with the huntsman essentially taking over from the prince as Snow White's saviour. Although the exact plotline is not fully known at this stage (the film isn't going to be released until June 2012), this reworking essentially changes the nature of the film from a magical and romantic tale to one that is supremely wild and Pagan in which the magic derives not so much from the folklore but from the wild landscape itself and the brusque masculinity of the huntsman as he declares war on his former mistress. The landscape nevertheless is still full of mystical creatures, but they are much fiercer than anything you would see in a Walt Disney cartoon. As for Snow White herself, expect to see a truly transformed character, no longer a disempowered and weak willed girl, but a dark and gritty warrior woman bent on revenge.

Personally, that is the Snow White I want to see emerging from the dark and snow bound woods on a winter night, and I can't wait to witness the experience.

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