Down The Rabbit Hole, Part 3: But one song

Almost eight decades later, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has gone through the ringer of conspiracy theories ranging from chauvinism to drugs to recycled villains. I’m here to add one more to the list— paganism. Care to come down the rabbit hole with me?

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If you’ve ever read the original Snow White from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales collection, you’ll know that (surprisingly) Disney stayed almost completely true to the source material. Allowing for poetic embellishment, nearly all elements in the movie are taken directly from the story, with one blaring exception: the dwarves’ names. Now, this wasn’t the first time the seven little men were given names— in a 1912 Broadway production they were Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick and Quee. Understandably, the Freudian “ick” brothers and little Quee didn’t quite leave their mark on history. With such an obvious difference between the 1912 dwarves and the infinitely more successful 1937 incarnations, we have to ask— why choose Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey?

Sepia tone does nothing for the rapeyness of this scene
Sepia tone does nothing for the rapeyness of this scene

The answer begins not with Snow White, but with its honorary predecessor, an animated short called The Goddess of Spring. This was admittedly a trial run for Disney animators, who felt they needed to build up to the ambitions of Snow White. The cartoon depicts an incredibly butchered version of the Greek myth of Persephone. In the short, the singsong “Goddess of Spring” is taken from her family of woodland creatures by the devil (I think they actually call him Hades once or twice) who eventually lets her go back for half of every year to bring life to the upper world. This of course is how the Greeks (and apparently Walt) explained the change in seasons.

dem moves doe
dem moves doe

Despite others’ worries that something so blatantly pagan would be poorly received, good ol’ Mr. Disney went for it anyway. Given that this cartoon was the trial run for Snow White, is it so left-field to suggest Disney would have a similar theme for the actual feature? No, hypothetical questioner, it isn’t.

kab3i

I’ll cut the chase here. In most Greek mythology variations the entrance to Hades (the place this time, not the person) is guarded by (among many other things) seven beings: the personifications of Death (duh), his brother Sleep, Agony, Anxiety, Fear, Disease, and Guilty Joys. Now, you can’t very well make a family cartoon featuring Agony and Fear, can you. You can, however, make them silly little men and name them Doc (Anxiety), Grumpy (Agony), Happy (Guilty Joys), Sleepy (um, Sleep), Bashful (Fear), Sneezy (Disease), and Dopey (Death— as in brain dead; I mean, the guy can’t even talk!).

Look on them... the faces of pure evil
Look on them… the faces of pure evil

That’s right, folks. Those seven dwarves are not there to provide refuge to a lost soul, but rather to welcome that lost soul into the afterlife. My guess? In Disney’s mind, The huntsman succeeded. It’s not Snow White fleeing into the woods, it’s her deceased spirit. You got it, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the story of a dead girl.

Come sail away, come sail away... get it, cuz Styx right?
Come sail away, come sail away… get it, cuz Styx right?

As for the prince, in this Greek mythology context it’s now easy to see the butchered version of the tale of Orpheus, the man who sung his way into the underworld to retrieve his wife. The only two scenes with the prince are (1) singing his way to Snow’s heart, and (2) singing her back to his big shiny castle in the sky. As for the queen, the whole reason Orpheus had to go to the underworld was the death of his wife. Death by poisonous viper. Apple, anyone?

What do you think? Anything to add? Let me know!
What do you think? Anything to add? Let me know!

14 thoughts on “Down The Rabbit Hole, Part 3: But one song

  1. Oh. My. Gosh.
    Brilliant! I love it! New meanings to old stories are so exciting. And I’m a total greek mythology geek, so this one might have to be my favorite in the series so far. I remember something about the gates to hades, but not that there are seven and that those are their names; great connection! I’m looking forward to Peter Pan… 😉

    Emma

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like this a lot, your insight and the quality of your writing. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff, as I have a particular interest in stories that can have multiple layers of meaning …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting thoughts. IMO though this seems a projection of Greek mythology onto Snow White. Snow White has a lot of associations and themes and the best analysis probably is Bruno Bettelheim’s Uses of Enchantment. The main themes in Snow White would appear to be oedipal conflicts btwn SW, the Queen and her weak father, sexual maturity(blood red apple, blood red drops), and narcissism (the Queen’s). Bettelheim does confirm paganism under many of the stories and that the dwarves mining recall metal from the earth (and thus links to paganism). There does seem to be a drift though of necrophilia in these stories. It could be on one level trying to teach children about acceptance of death which was so common back then although Bettelheim refers to Snow White’s period in the coffin as a period of gestation between adolescence and sexual maturity, after having eaten the red apple.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you but that is really just a summary of Bettelheim’s comments on this tale. I enjoyed your analysis though and I think that there is definite merit to compare fairy tales with mythology. What I find really interesting in Bettelheim is how he talks about fairy tales helping us deal with primal themes in our lives. He has indicated that when you gravitate to a particular fairy tale, it is because it contains the themes that are an important part of your personal make up (for example, parental neglect, jealousy, sibling rivalry–all examples of fairy tale themes).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the story of a dead girl.”
    *Cue glass shattering effect* {How I Met Your Mother Reference}

    You have a way with words and a very creative mind. It gets people to either question or view something in a whole different way. Loved this.

    Liked by 1 person

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