Monday, September 13, 2010
Here There Be Dragons in Snow White
Dragons, dragons, DRAGONS! If you read enough around the web, you will see references to a Snow White variant in which her hosts are not dwarves--which actually they seldom are--but dragons. Wikipedia is one such place, if it's not edited out. (And, no, this is not the time or place to debate Wikipedia yet again!) Moviemakers have apparently taken the term and run with it, for references to a Snow White film with dragons have also been appearing in many articles this year.
The truth of the matter is that, yes, in at least one Snow White variant the heroine--here named Marigo--ends up living in a castle with 40 drachen after escaping her stepmother and father. The Albanian tale is "Schneewittchen" and can be found in Johann Georg von Hahn's Griechische und Albanesische Märchen.
The issue is the definition and translation of drachen. Most German dictionaries only offer "dragon (as in mythical lizard)" or "kite (as in go fly one)" as the translation for "drachen." However, there appears to be an almost archaic, less common reference to "heroic men" that doesn't appear in many dictionaries. But overall, scholars translate the drachen in that tale as heroic men, not literal lizardy dragons as wonderful as that may be.
And, considering that in the majority of the Snow White tales from across Europe, the Snow White character ends up with either heroes (such as retired soldiers) or robbers as housemates and protectors, it only makes sense.
But don't let this news disappoint you. Whether there be lizardy dragons in the tale or not, it is one of the more interesting of the Snow White variants.
For example, Marigo kills her mother through her teacher's instructions who then becomes her wicked stepmother. This scenario doesn't appear in many Snow Whites although it is found in other tales. Better yet, the father is not absent but complicit for he tries to kill his daughter as his new wife's demands although he is fortunately unable to carry through. At least at first, he tries the passive aggressive route to murder--abandoning her in the wilderness--which spares her life.
Then when the stepmother learns that Marigo is still alive, she sends the father back time and again in disguises to kill his daughter. So the father is the co-villain for he fails to stand up for and protect his own daughter who is herself not quite innocent having killed her own mother. (As I've said before, you just can't beat a fairy tale for amazing storylines.) This tale also ends with Snow White being revived and married to her prince charming, but her parents are not punished for their crimes. They are simply not mentioned after her revival. The ending is rather abrupt actually, but fascinating for that very reason.
Yes, it is a very interesting variant of the tale, a great horror movie plot for the taking.
(This one is going on my short list of tales I'd love to hand to people who get that condescending tone when they learn I work with and study fairy tales. "Oh, how sweet!" Sure, if matricide and other forms of murder are "sweet." This isn't one you'll be reading to your child at bedtime anytime soon, I'm sure.)
Due to it's increasing notoriety and fascinating content, I translated the tale from the German and it is included in Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty and Snow White Tales From Around the World. as "29. Snow White from Albania." And I kept the term "dragons" in my translation. It is such a wonderful word that I hated to change it to another less romantic term...