“The soul of woman must be expansive and open to all human beings, it must be quiet so that no small weak flame will be extinguished by stormy winds; warm so as not to benumb fragile buds … empty of itself, in order that extraneous life may have room in it; finally, mistress of itself and also of its body, so that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call.”
– St. Edith Stein
Once upon a time, there lived two breathtakingly beautiful women.
The one woman ruled as queen. She was powerful. And as the years went by, she became more and more consumed by her own beauty.
Under her queenship, the land grew cold; winter overtook the earth. Nothing bloomed — everything was stark and barren.
Then, one day, the young princess, the woman’s step-daughter, surpassed the queen in beauty and became the fairest in the land. The queen felt her sanity slip into madness; hatred engulfed her, and she wished to murder the princess. She ordered a huntsman to take the girl into the forest and kill her.
“Return the heart so I can devour it.”
This is the story of Snow White and the Evil Queen; the queen’s plot fails, as the huntsman is incapable of killing someone so good and pure. Eventually, fair Snow White becomes queen and the earth experiences a beautifully fruitful spring.
Death — sin — is conquered.
The story is rife with symbolism.
In many ways, Snow White represents the virginal role of woman — she is entirely good and a seeker of beauty. She is tethered to a life before corruption — before the Queen’s winter wasteland. Her beauty reminds us of the goodness that once existed. Even her name reminds us of the virtue of holy purity.
As we follow her journey, we see that through her purity, she is able to be both receptive and completely generous. She is free to live out the roles of mother and bride.
As you will recall, Snow White does eat the poisonous apple; a scene that in many ways reminds us of Eve’s insidious encounter with the serpent. Likewise, Snow White experiences a sort of death and need for a redeemer.
It is her queenship, her yes to being the bride of her Savior, that brings the earth back to fruitfulness.
The Evil Queen is a vital character: she represents beauty corrupted. She is not a seeker of beauty, but a seeker of vanity, egotism, and self. She would rather reign in a wasteland, than serve her people and uphold what is truly good.
Her queenship is in sharp contrast with the maternal; she wishes to devour the heart rather than be the heart.
Her leadership is all about world and self-gain with no regard for the transcendent, and as such, her leadership sends the world into a fruitless winter. A powerful reminder that when we choose to not be receptive, but rather build shrines solely for ourselves, we become fruitless and barren.
While in many ways, Snow White is a simple fairy-tale, reading it we stumble upon the truth of G. K. Chesterton:
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Snow White, and her many retellings (only some include the wintery component), is an important story; it reminds us that we can be seekers of beauty or hoarders of vanity.