Snow White and Rose Red: Modern Renditions (Part Three of Three)

Fairy Tales

Snow White and Rose Red illustration by VogelIn comparison with other fairy tales, few retellings of Snow White and Rose Red exist. Although storytellers have re-imagined Snow White and Rose Red in poems, novels, picture books, and films, there’s much in the original story left mostly unexplored, particularly the Christian elements.

In three of the novel versions of Snow White and Rose Red, the core elements of the story–the bear, the sisters, and the mother–remain, but the incidentals, tone, and emphasis vary greatly.

Shadow of the Bear sets the familiar story in modern-day New York, and its Catholic perspective is quite in keeping with the Christian elements and tone of the original tale. Yet by modernizing it, it takes away a some of the fairy tale feel.

Others have kept the fairy element, but taken the story in darker directions, placing the sisters in more perilous places than the safe forest of the Grimm tale. Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede puts the sisters in a version of medieval England that intersects with the realm of Faerie, and focuses more strongly on magic than the Grimm version of Snow White and Rose Red.

And Margo Lanagan penned an extremely dark retelling, Tender Morsels, in which the sisters are products of rape and the safe place their mother has attempted to create for them begins to fall to pieces. Please note that I have not read the Wrede and Lanagan stories, so their inclusion is not an endorsement, but rather a look at how the story has evolved.

When we step back from adult retellings of the story to look at the numerous picture book versions, we see a turn back to the more gentle, lighthearted origins of the tale. Lovely illustrations do much to bring the story to life and back into the realm of its originally intended audience–young children. The lone film I’m aware of, which was produced by German filmmakers  in 1955, follows in a similar child-friendly vein.

Although these various modern renditions cover some ground, many aspects of the story could use more attention. The family dynamics, Christian elements, and transformation of beast to man could offer rich material for storytellers, if they explored it. And I hope they will in future years.

Any thoughts on why Snow White and Rose Red has fewer retellings than fairy tales like Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast?


  • Maria Tatham
    April 30, 2012 - 11:46 am · Reply


    Having read your interesting post, and wanting to answer your question, I headed off to for the Grimms tale.

    I found it full of telling details in its presentation of an idyllic but obviously difficult life (no husband and father) into which a miracle of betterment, love, and fulfillment for the girls comes, and the breaking of a curse for the bear who is a Prince.

    To answer your question: while the dwarf is wicked (ungrateful and vicious), he poses no threat to the heroines — in fact, he’s not only comical but finds himself at their mercy again and again, and they rescue him. Is the tale more neglected than those you mentioned because of this lack of genuine threat, from which suspense and interest come?

    In my novel, I depicted Rose-Red and Snow-White as courtesans: one as an unrepentant villainess, the other as a timid, true-hearted penitent.

    As always, I enjoyed your post! Thank you for the challenge of a question.


    • Sarah Sawyer
      May 2, 2012 - 12:40 pm · Reply

      Maria, thank you for taking the time to give such a thoughtful answer. I appreciate you sharing the insight you gained!

      I think you’re right about the lack of conflict being the key issue. Though the girls face some difficulties, they’re divinely protected, so we have no real fear for their safety. And that’s a great point about the dwarf being evil, but no real challenge or danger for the girls. It demonstrates the importance of conflict in fiction.

      Your novel sounds like an intriguing take on Snow White and Rose Red, more than making up for the conflict the original tale lacks! The twists added into retold fairy tales are one of the reasons I enjoy them so much.

      • Maria Tatham
        May 2, 2012 - 1:07 pm · Reply

        Yes, new twists added to retold stories are full of interest. That’s part of the reason for the success of Once Upon a Time.

        As long as a writer treats the story with reverence, I feel, that is, realizes that she’s standing on the shoulders of someone else, someone whose work is important, and she’s not just using something as if she can do whatever she likes with impunity and that’s okay, then something good – or at least of genuine interest – will result.

        In another way, seeing film adaptations of favorite books can be intriguing, for example, new adaptations of Austen: it’s such fun to see how a new writer/director envisions her characters.

        • Sarah Sawyer
          May 3, 2012 - 12:40 pm · Reply

          I agree with the need to treat the original stories with respect, even while bringing fresh life to them. They’ve entertained and instructed for hundreds of years, so that itself is admirable.

          The familiarity people with fairy tales have makes them connected to the story, even when new concepts or twists are introduced. Once Upon a Time does a good job of this, which is likely why they’ve enjoyed such success. That also ties in with your point about seeing film adaptations. 🙂

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