Monday, August 30, 2010

Sleeping Beauties Week: The Unnatural Mother and the Girl With a Star on Her Forehead

While researching for Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World, I read about many, many variants of both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.  Snow White ended up being much more interesting than I anticipated, since I've made no secret of my previous lack of favoritism for the tale.  Editing this book changed my mind.  Snow White may not be my favorite fairy tale yet but I actually enjoy it now, unlike I did before this past year when I merely tolerated it and admittedly avoided it as much as possible.

One of the tales which swayed me is "The Unnatural Mother and the Girl With a Star on Her Forehead" from Mozambique.  This was perhaps the spunkiest of all the Snow Whites although there were some strong ones in the mix despite expectations.  In this one, the Snow White character faces her mother (not a stepmother in this one) at the celebratory banquet at the end of the tale.  She then describes her horrific experiences at the hands of her mother, who is even feeling somewhat ashamed. 

Here is an excerpt:

When they had finished eating, the young wife addressed them: “Silence!” said she. “I am going to tell you a story!” They all applauded. She added: “It is not a very long one. Listen, princes and subjects. When you give birth to a beautiful child, do you dare to kill it?”

The chiefs were astounded at such a question! “We never thought such a thing possible.”

“Well, I have known such a thing,” she said. “Look at my finger!” Then she began, and told them all the story; how her mother had killed her with the slippers, had put her eyes out and cut off the nipples of her breasts. The mother was there, in full view of everyone. Finally the young woman said to her husband: “I wish my mother to be killed today!”

The husband said: “No, leave her alone.”

“No,” said she, “she must be put to death.”

She had a small gun of her own, and with that she shot the mother right before them all. The people picked up the body, and went off to bury it. As for the young woman, she gave a piece of land to her father, who said to her: “You have done quite right; I did not know who you were.”

She gave him a certain sum of money with which to procure another wife, and he settled in her village.

That’s the end.
Usually the new husband metes out the punishment in the Snow White tales, but in this one he refuses and Snow White takes matters into her own hands.  Obviously the story isn't as old as other variants with the inclusion of the gun, but it is a fascinating variation of a tale, an uncommon variation at that. 

On the other hand, the tale is far from satisfying all the same since the mother was beginning to show remorse when she saw her daughter again--not that anything can excuse her previous horrible behavior.  Still, the death by gunshot would have been much more understandable in another tale, "The Magic Mirror" from Romania, in which the mother kills her daughter's newborn babe, a permanent death that is not magically reversed.  That was perhaps the most  depressing Snow White tale for although most of the tales describe terrible murder attempts, it is far from a happy ending since there is a real, permanent loss of an innocent baby to overshadow the end.

And that's just two of the 41 Snow White variants included in Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World.

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