Fantasy · Review

White As Snow by Tanith Lee

This is a wonderful rendition of the Snow White story. When I finished reading it I had so much to say about it, but unfortunately I’ve waited too long and now my mind is only on the next book. :p While my favorite retelling of Snow White is still Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples – after reading that I don’t think I could ever look at the story the same way again – but Tanith Lee’s version is still one of the most interesting versions I’ve read.

It’s part of Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale series, which means that it really is a retelling for adults, sort of a reclaiming of the original darkness of fairy tales that has been edited out for so long. As Windling wrote in the introduction, Snow White is a really dark story, with images of blood on snow, descriptions of ritual cannibalism, a young girl’s sexual awakening, poisonous apples, and female envy. Tanith Lee’s version includes all of these elements from the traditional Snow White story, and mixed it with the story of Demeter and Persephone.

The only thing that bugs me about White As Snow is that I can’t sympathize with any of the characters. While I understand the motivations of Arpazia (the Queen), for example, the only part where I could see her as human was when she found Coira (her daughter) again, the way she reacted when Klymenos asked her, do you think you’re the only one who feels anything?, or something to that effect. I understand why she does the things she does, but I feel disconnected from her character the whole time I was reading about her, just as I felt disconnected when reading about Coira. And I’m the sort of reader who want to be lost in a story completely, not just coldly aware that I’m just reading about some people far away who has nothing to do with me or who I am. Of course, the fact that I felt disconnected most of the time I was reading made the one part where I connected with Arpazia even more powerful. When despite everything, Coira still accepts Arpazia’s hands in her hair, combing. Are you my mother? she asks. In one of my stories I had used Snow White, and my take on it was that Snow White knew that the apple was poisoned, knew the small, wrinkled birdlike hands were her mother’s, but she would accept anything as long as it was from her mother. Because no prince’s love would mean anything if she could not earn her mother’s love. And perhaps I projected that into Coira’s behaviour, or perhaps Tanith Lee also thought that when writing that scene. Either way, the image of Arpazia combing Coira’s hair in the caravan will stay with me for quite some time, I imagine.

 

~ originally posted on blogspot

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