The story Snow White and Rose Red is a more obscure Grimm fairy tale. While it has a Snow White in it, she is not the Snow White of Disney fame. She is a young girl that has recently lost her father and lives with her widowed mother and her sister Rose Red. This story is one of the few in the world of fairy tales that has a functional single parent family. The mother and the two daughters all love each other very much and work together without any issue even through the problems and trials they face.
Interestingly enough, while the sisters are very different, their love and devotion to each other is plain to see and their mother describes them as inseparable. Snow White is a home body, she is quiet and reserved and loves the fall and winter when she bustles about to make the family warm, toasty, and comfortable. Rose Red prefers the outdoors, she is much louder and more boisterous than her sister and loves the spring and summer when she bustles about to bring the outdoors in for her family to enjoy.
The sisters often go off into the forest together where they never come to any harm. They commune with the animals and never have anything to fear from them. They talk to rabbits and deer and never lose their way. I thought this was interesting because I know Walt Disney adopts this later for his Disney Princesses, they all commune with nature and have the ability to talk to (and receive aid from) woodland creatures. It’s a sign of their purity and their goodness.
The sisters even spend the night in the forest on some occasions and their mother never worries about them. I think for this reason the Grimm brothers introduced an angel at this point to prove once again that the girls are good and pure and to provide a reason for them surviving in what is traditionally in fairy tales a very dangerous place. Otherwise three women living alone in a cottage that can survive a night alone in the woods smacks too much of witchcraft. The brothers Grimm are always very fastidious in keeping their stories as christian as possible to instill very strict upstanding christian ethics and that is prevalent all through this fairy tale.
Then we meet the bear. He knocks on the door and frightens the children but asks very politely if he can come in from the cold and the mother allows him to. He then settles himself in front of the fireplace and proceeds to get to know the family. He comes back every night all winter long. The children grow used to having a bear in their home and start to play with him (by tugging his fur!) and beat him with sticks and at one point he tells them to not hurt him so much because he was their wooer. This part reminds me of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon which also features a talking bear that comes to woo a young girl.
When spring comes he says he must leave to protect his treasure. When he goes out the door it tugs off a hank of his fur (what is with all the tugging?) and a flash of gold is revealed underneath. Snow White is the saddest to see him go. After that the girls have a series of run-ins with a dwarf. What is a story about a Snow White without a dwarf? This dwarf is very cranky though. The girls rescue him three times, twice they have to cut his beard to free him from a bind and once they tug him free from a giant bird that was carrying him off and in the process rip his coat. He curses them at one point and is generally unpleasant and insulting every time after they help him, but they keep doing so because they are Good Children. The bear shows up mid tirade the third time and kills the dwarf with one strike. Then he claims the treasure from the dwarf’s knapsack.
After the dwarf’s death, not to mention being reunited with his treasure, the bear transforms into a prince. I’m not sure why he said he was going to go and protect his treasure when the dwarf had it all along. Maybe the dwarf stole it not long after the bear left the girls, but then when did he curse the prince to look like a bear? Any way the bear, er, prince marries Snow White and produces a brother from who knows where to marry Rose Red. They move to the princes’ palace along with Snow White and Rose Red’s mother. There they live happily ever after, and produce many more roses, the end.
The fairy tales written by the Brother’s Grimm, as this one was from the original fairy tale The Ungrateful Dwarf (where ironically enough the dwarf was more grateful and less demonic then pictured in this story), are concerned more with strict rules, proper christian upbringing and above all obedient and good children who will get their just reward. Snow White and Rose Red are good and obedient, they love their mother and each other, they do chores without complaint, commune with nature and with animals, have a guardian angel that watches over them, and are kind to a dwarf that curses them for their trouble. They are the embodiment of what a good German child should have been at that time. The dwarf meanwhile had eyes that glowed red, stole treasure from people and cursed them. He was mean and rude and when faced with what he thought was a wild bear, offered up the innocent children he was with if only the bear would spare his life. This resulted in his swift and sudden demise.
This fairy tale’s main lessons are these: Good little girls will be rewarded with marriage and happily ever after. Greedy, rude, evil men will be justly and swiftly punished with death. So don’t allow your goodness to be compromised by other people’s rudeness, they will get theirs in the end. Also don’t judge a book by its cover, a wild bear may seem to be huge and terrifying, but if he is polite be polite back there might be more to him. A little old man with a beard may seem harmless, but no matter how much you help him he will still snub you viciously for it, might even try to curse you, and then feed you to the bear!