One of the newest trends we’re seeing in speculative fiction is the revisiting of fairy tales, especially in a modern setting - they’re almost a unique sub-genre of the Urban Fantasy and Fantasy genres.
And, in many ways, this is very important to do as fairy tales are some of the very first stories many of us are exposed to as children. Unfortunately, they’re also very old stories - and contain a lot of very old and sadly prevalent tropes that have stayed with us over the years. Generations of children have grown up with stories of helpless princesses, passively waiting for a handsome (and anonymous - after all, any man will do if he’s in the right place at the right time) prince to save them from abject peril. There is no question that this iconic image - repeated over and over again in fairy tales, has had a profound effect on our culture, our society and our view of gender roles and there have been numerous excellent posts deconstructing the damaging messages of fairy tales.
There is no fairy tale that can be considered more centre stage than Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. An ancient tale, it rose to prominence when it became Disney’s first full length animated movie and was forever cemented front and centre as not just a fairy tale - but THE fairy tale. The ultimate tale of the protagonist - poor, helpless, sweet and oh-so-fair Snow White is attacked by her evil stepmother, while she helplessly sings to wildlife and eventually resides in a glass coffin to be rescued.
This is clearly an image that needs challenging - and, appropriately, Snow White is front and centre of the fairy tales that are being revised for the modern world. Between Once Upon A Time, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, we see a very different princess. The modern Snow White does not lay in glass coffins awaiting rescue. Her reaction to is to attack, not to run away in fright, or maybe sing a little ditty to bluebirds. The modern Snow White kicks arse, she wields a sword, actively hunts down the Evil Queen,and she stands shoulder to shoulder with her Prince Charming. One of the things that we love most about Once Upon a Time is that, while Mary Margaret may be the soggiest lettuce in town, Snow White is a highwaywoman, a fighter and a swashbuckler, every bit Prince James’ equal. Snow White is no longer a prize to be claimed, no longer an object to be won, and no longer a passive element in what is supposed to be her own story. And if she needs rescuing, she is quite capable of rescuing herself, thank you very much.
And this is both so very needed and very empowering. It’s powerful to not only create new stories that empower marginalised bodies, but re-examine these old tropes and challenge them in a way that not only sets a new paradigm but highlights how wrong the old paradigm was.
We are far removed Disney’s 1937 animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Once Upon A Time, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, have all revisioned the fair heroine and made her active rather than passive. The story is now clearly an active conflict between two women very strong women. The problem of course is that strong woman still means straight, able bodied, cisgendered and of course White. Snow White may not necessarily be waiting in her coffin for true loves first kiss, but we do know that there will be a love interest and it will most certainly involve a man.