“I’m being very careful about fairy tales with my kid because I don’t like the message that a lot of them have,” the actress Keira Knightley recently said. Good luck — you may try to raise your child with wooden toys, organic food and gender-neutral pronouns, but you can’t stop fairy tales.
Fairy tales leap from the preconscious murk onto lunchboxes and sippy cups in a single bound. Next thing you know, your unruly cherub is demanding to hear “Snow White” — and threatening to stay up all night unless those demands are met. “Snow White” is not my idea, and “Snow White” is not my fault. But given the division of labor my wife and I have drawn up for the nightly bedtime proceedings, the story is coming out of my mouth just about every night.
It started just before my daughter Miriam turned 3. When she asked for “Snow White,” I checked the Wikipedia page for half a minute to get the main points, tucked her in and started the story. But as I did, it became hard to ignore that “Snow White” is an absolute minefield. I work as an editor, so I have some experience trimming and twisting a troublesome story. Here’s how I told it.
I know there are a few versions of the tale. Mine began with the wicked queen asking, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” or “Mirror mirror in my hand, who’s the fairest in the land?” My daughter and I went back and forth, finally deciding the queen said both, like a person with a smartphone and a laptop would ask both for the same information. It makes the story a little longer, but it tucks in a nice little lesson about the pernicious effects of compulsive, narcissistic technology use. So far so good.
The queen, enraged at no longer being the fairest, called for the Huntsman to murder Snow White. Murder is a lot to explain to a toddler, and taking time to do that would derail the story. So I said the Huntsman was just going to make Snow White “less fair” than the wicked queen. When she pressed me on how exactly he’d do that, the best I could come up with was that he’d “mess up her face.” I was on the spot, after all (you’re always on the spot with kids). Miriam liked the phrase, and I heard she’d been using it around school.
The Huntsman started looking for Snow White, asking around from town to town, village to village, diner to diner, deli to deli, pizza place to pizza place … nice calming filler. When Snow White heard from her little friend Miriam that she was in peril, she fled (through more litanies of all the places) to the house of the seven dwarfs. They fed her and, in a lush sequence, gave her a nice warm bed to sleep on.
Snow White woke up grateful and decided to repay the dwarfs. I was rambling a bit at this point and said she cleaned their house, then decided that I didn’t want Miriam cleaning people’s houses every time they do something nice for her. So I said the dwarfs were amazed at how well she cleaned and asked her how to do it. Snow White told them that with a little organization, they could keep their house clean without much trouble, and she helped them draw up a plan. And like that, Snow White was the boss, earning as much as her male counterparts running similar-size dwarf houses.
Then, maybe to make up for the cleaning bit, I said Snow White and the dwarfs started a candle business, with candles shaped like any number of creatures and objects that appeal to the fancy of a preschooler, which I recite in case she’s still squirming.
Then we circle back to the wicked queen, who’d started to lose it, checking her social media mirrors 20 times a day, only to see that Snow White was still the fairest. So the queen hired a witch, who used her magic to find Snow White at the candle shop, employed more magic to enchant an anesthetic apple and unleashed even more magic to move Snow White’s sleeping body to the darkest corner of the forest, where it stayed for years and years.
Now comes the part of the story where some strange guy — albeit a prince — decided to make out with an unconscious Snow White. This was supposed to be a good thing.
For the story to work, without giving the impression that physically expressing love to an unconscious person is a great way to start a lasting relationship, you have to construct a situation where it isn’t creepy. This isn’t simple. To do it, I basically have to be the prince’s defense attorney.
My client, arriving by accident at the enchanted stone where Ms. White was lying unconscious, first tried to revive her by ordinary means, by making loud noises and poking her shoulder. When that failed, he tried to move Ms. White to a place where she could receive adequate medical care. But the magic spell made Ms. White impossible to move, as other witnesses will attest. But did my client leave her there, alone and asleep in the deepest corner of the forest? No — though he was terrified of the evil spell holding Ms. White in place, he remembered the tale told to him by the villagers, and gave Ms. White a very delicate, respectful and light kiss on the lips.
I don’t feel great about it. But the kid asked for “Snow White.” Anyway, the rest of the story blows by, especially since Miriam is usually asleep by now. The prince helped Snow White up onto his horse and back to his castle, where he sends for Snow White’s parents and dispatches his army to depose the evil queen.
From there, it’s pretty much just a wedding, then a happy ending. Except Miriam didn’t like that ending. She wanted Snow White to go back to the dwarfs and her candle business. So that’s how I tell it. And I say good for Snow White. There was something I didn’t like about that prince anyway.
Colin Dodds is a writer living in New York City with his wife and daughter. Find him online at thecolindodds.com.