Author’s note: So, this isn’t a typical post for me. But it’s been one of those weeks where I’ve been thinking a lot about something, and the thoughts get so jumbled up in my head that I need to write about it to resolve it. I hope you get something out of this personal reflection of mine, and promise next week I’ll get back to my more typical posts. Thanks!
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.
Not to say I didn’t love and admire other characters. I mean, I also had a soft spot for Beauty and the Beast and Winnie the Pooh. But you, Snow, were special. You looked like me. You sounded like me. You didn’t like loud noises or scary things, like me. There is something to be said for the power of feeling represented in a story. So, for much of my childhood, you were the main female character I believed in.
I’ve been thinking about you recently for a few reasons:
- I’ve been looking into this book, 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 why she loved them and how they affected her growth, 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.
- I found this blog article from The White’s List, arguing that you never needed a sword or arrows or armor, as modern incarnations have done – that 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 a strength 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… it isn’t exactly 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 very competitive person. I don’t like conflict. I’m the kind who will burst into tears if someone else is 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 hasn’t always been good for me. And I’m afraid it will screw me over in terms of writing 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.
I think the big problem, among others, is that we see you rescued from your situation, and then the movie ends.
I mean, a lot of stories start as yours did – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Tangled, just to name a couple. Harry was only three years younger than you, and in just as impossible a situation before Hagrid swooped in. Any prior resistance was accidental. And while Rapunzel did do quite a bit more to get out of her situation, it still took Flynn’s arrival for her to even consider it since 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.* Really, 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 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, and learning your kind and trusting nature nearly killed you – to the degree that your friends grieved your death and 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 turn to 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 perhaps 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 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 that is a powerful combination (as Albus Dumbledore proved time and again).
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,
* To be fair, in the case of Harry Potter, Hagrid proved he knew his parents and told him he was a wizard, so he totally earned Harry’s trust. But, on the other hand, it isn’t as if Harry has never been fooled by the bad guys (Moody), so going with Hagrid was a bit of a risk.
Rapunzel blackmailed Flynn into helping her, so she technically had the upper hand. But if he hadn’t fallen in love with her, he could have easily betrayed her and left her for dead.