Once upon a time, I wrote a letter to my younger self’s favorite Disney Princess: Snow White.
Originally, I wrote it on a whim, to deal with worries I was dwelling on at the time. Since then, it’s become one of my favorite pieces that I’ve written.
Snow White’s Legacy
Despite being the foundation of the entire line of Disney Animated Movies, not to mention animated movies in general, Snow White, the film and the character, can be hard to love these days.
Since the film was already taking a risk on the animation, the plot and character development were incredibly simple. 80 years on, it’s very much a product of its time. I’ve heard people who just can’t stand the old animation or the princess’s high-pitched Betty Boop soprano.
Yet, the film and the character alike were a welcome escape in 1937 for people struggling with the Great Depression and the looming conflicts in Europe and Japan- a “tonic for disillusion,” as the New York Times called it. Some have even said The Wizard of Oz, which came out two years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, took significant inspiration from the Disney film.
More recently, seeing all the love around the 80th anniversary (December 21, 2017), from Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas windows to Funko Pop Figures, I feel I was wrong, when I wrote that letter, to think her the unfavorite of the Disney heroines.
Still, with plans for a live action remake in the works, I worry the best parts of her character and story will be lost in trying to make her appeal to a modern audience.
So, to celebrate, here again is why I see good and potential in this character:
My Letter to Snow White (Revised)
Dear Snow White,
I wish I could say you weren’t my favorite as a kid. That I was way more into Belle or Jasmine or Mulan.
But, let’s be honest – I had your doll, I had your dwarves, I dressed up as you for Halloween three times. You were my girl.
You looked like me, you sounded like me, you were (over?)sensitive and sweet like me. How could I not relate?
I’ve been thinking about you recently for a few reasons:
- I’ve been looking into this book called How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much. In it, the author looks back on literary heroines she loved growing up, dissects how they affected her, and considers whether they stand the test of time as admirable heroines. Which, of course, makes me think of how much I can say the same of the characters I’ve loved in my life.
- I read a blog article* arguing that you never needed a sword or arrows or armor, as modern incarnations like Once Upon a Time, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror have added, to be a strong character. Your hope and kindness was your strength (though also your weakness), especially considering your film premiered in the midst of the Great Depression, leading into World War II.
- Upon posting this article to Facebook, a friend of mine argued that such qualities should not be “strengths” in and of themselves. Virtues, maybe, but not strengths. To quote her directly:
I agree that positivity and optimism are very important and definitely make for a “strong” heroine… I really, REALLY don’t think a woman who can kick a guy’s ass or who goes picking fights is the only definition of a strong female character by any means, but I DO think that a woman is only strong if she rises in the face of adversity and doesn’t sit by and accept poor treatment at the hands of others… Fighting for what you believe in, and fighting for your right to a dignified, free life – THAT is true strength in my book. And Snow White does not have it. – Personal Communication
And…yeah. It’s hard to argue with that.
Snow, your story may be hopeful and positive, but I’ll admit it isn’t empowering. You were a victim in your own story. A victim whose goodness and helpfulness attracted help to her, and who definitely deserved a happy ending, but still.
It makes me wonder how much you and your values affected the way I am now.
I’m not a competitive person. I don’t like conflict. I’ve burst into tears when someone else was getting yelled that. I tend to step out of the way for others when I see they want something more than me.
While I’m generally happy with who I am, I can’t deny that being nice and conflict-averse isn’t always good for me. I don’t know how much of it is me and how much is conditioning.
And worst of all? I’m afraid all this will hurt my ability to write strong characters that can help girls and boys grow in the future.
Of course there are other heroines who I can turn to who have affected me profoundly, like Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennet, and Jane Eyre.
But you, who I so related to, who is so often written off as foolish, small, and childish – maybe I need to believe you could be more.
See, here’s what the big problem is:
It’s not so much that you’re the victim, or that your strength is your kindness.
It’s that we see you rescued from your situation, and then the movie ends.
Because a lot of stories start the way yours did – the protagonist as a victim of circumstance, who needs to be rescued.
Harry Potter was only three years younger than you, and in just as impossible a situation, before Hagrid knocked the door down and gave him his letter to Hogwarts. Any prior resistance was accidental magic, or swiftly reprimanded and rendered useless.
And while Rapunzel in Tangled, a fellow Disney princess, did quite a bit more to get out of her situation, it still took Flynn’s arrival for her to really consider leaving her tower without permission. Because Mother Gothel had convinced her she could never do it on her own.
(Your stepmother probably applied a similar tactic to you.)
They both went off with near strangers they’d just met to get out of their situations, so their escapes weren’t much different from yours.
The thing is, we can’t always be the heroes of our own stories. Sometimes, we are the victims. Or at least, we start out that way.
But Harry and Rapunzel are considered whole, strong characters because we got to see what they learned after being rescued, and we saw them apply it to their world. Having been hurt for years, they became forces for good and role models for all who come from bad situations.
So, after waking from your sleep, after learning your kind and trusting nature nearly killed you – to the degree that your friends put you in a coffin – and finding yourself empowered in a way you hadn’t experienced for years (if ever)…
What did you learn? What did you do?
I’d like to think you kept your kindness, your grace. But while you had to rely on wishes and songs while growing up under your stepmother, perhaps you realized it could no longer be enough.
While you still kept your basic faith in people, you could see now that people were able to use your faith against you (not unlike Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland).
So maybe you learned to apply your virtues with wisdom. If you happened to find skill in swords or archery, that would, admittedly, be cool. But perhaps you found it more important to learn diplomacy, how to take care of a kingdom.
Though you weren’t allowed to learn such things under your stepmother, you found you were naturally resourceful and good at deliberating tasks (as when you instructed the animals and dwarves with cleanliness).
And maybe, once you found something to care for, that’s when you found your inner strength. Because you were always at your best when you were helping others.
Like Rapunzel, I think you would be a princess worth waiting for, your past preparing you to protect and guide others. And as queen – because so many forget princesses become queens – I can see you guiding your king and his kingdom with kindness and wisdom. And, as Albus Dumbledore proved time and again, that is a powerful combination.
Of course, maybe this is all just wishful thinking. But what can I say, I’m hopeful.
I learned from the best.
All my love,
*Blog article no longer active. Original author: https://filmwritsbybritt.com.