New Fairy Tales

Yesterday I was thinking about Little Red Riding Hood and how stupid she was, to the point where if her story were presented today, people wouldn’t publish it. “She thinks a wolf is her grandmother?”

Same with Snow White. I recently reread the original, which is infinitely, delightfully darker than the Disney version (the evil queen/stepmother demands that Snow’s heart be torn out and brought back to her to eat, salted, for instance, and then at the end Snow White finds a pair of magical molten iron shoes and makes her stepmother dance herself to death! What!! It’s actually a lot to think about), but Snow White is straight up a moron. To the point where it’s almost like, I don’t care if you die, you’re seriously bringing this on yourself. The queen keeps showing up in disguise to offer Snow White poisoned stuff to eat and use, and Snow White keeps eating and using it and almost dying, and her dwarf friends keep being like, “Snow White, STOP OPENING THE DOOR FOR THE WITCH,” and she’s like “Okay!” but then the next day the witch shows up and is like, “here’s something,” and Snow’s like, “Great, let me get the door for you.”

Anyway, Scott Ross of NBC Miami did a piece a few months ago about the Snow White phenomenon, tied to the Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron movies, and he asked a few people, me among them, for their thoughts. The article’s been up since June, but my answer to one of his questions didn’t make it into the piece, and I wanted to put it here, even though there’s really no point.

If you were to retool the story for today,” he said in an email, “what major changes would you make? Or would you scrap the whole thing?

I was going to make a dumb joke, like “she would have fallen into a lake and drifted happily to the bottom and died,” but instead I thought about it seriously. Because if you consider the Snow White story, and its morals, and who gets rewarded and punished, and by what means … it’s kind of incredible. The world is so strange. Like, Snow is the good heroine, even though she murders her stepmother. At her own wedding. It’s nuts! Nice wedding, also. “Should we do the murder shoes before or after cake?” “Oh, I don’t know?”

So, this is the version I came up with. Although I haven’t even gotten into how the prince falls in love with Snow while she’s dead in a glass box, and then buys her, and then Snow wakes up and is into it. Actually maybe that would be kind of hot. Anyway, an alternative:

I’d probably have the stepmother come only once, with the apple. But it’s a slow poison, and after she eats it, Snow White goes down by the river to do some washing. While she’s there, the poison starts to take hold of her. Coincidentally, a handsome prince is hunting across the river, and he sees her frothing at the mouth / going into poison-induced shock, and so he comes over and makes her throw up / saves her life. She wakes up and is grateful, they’re attracted to each other, and they start a relationship. Eventually they get married, and they invite her dad and her dad’s (crazy) wife, as a gesture of good faith & forgiveness. The wife (a.k.a. the evil stepmother) gives the mirror to Snow White as a wedding present and secret curse — because she’s learned that vanity can be even more sickening than poison, sometimes. Snow White then goes on to relive the jealousy-induced madness of her stepmother, and eventually passes the mirror on to her own daughter, who eventually usurps her in beauty, and so on and so on FOREVER.

And then thinking about Red Riding Hood just now, for no real reason, and then there’s dopey Rapunzel, who gives up her boyfriend, and the selfish, promise-breaking girl in the original Rumplestiltskin. And Goldilocks was a jerk, too. But I guess they were all pretty. Also, “they” and “were.” But they were. Although I do like the one about the woman who gets swallowed by a witch and cuts herself out with a knife.

A modern version of these gruesome but wonderful stories about idiots, maybe: once upon a time there was a beautiful girl who was walking down the street when she saw a sign that said “unlimited free drinks, forever.” Because she had an unaddressed drinking problem, she went in and sat down at the bar, and a woman who hated her because they’d once dated the same guy was bartending and had put the sign out when she saw the beautiful girl coming. She gave her a tall glass of poison instead of booze, and the beautiful girl drank it and died. She fell backward off the barstool and broke through the floor, but underneath the floor was a dark and seemingly bottomless hole, because the bar used to be a prison, and someone had once escaped by digging himself out after seeing an influential movie. Her body fell down the hole in the floor for a long time until it hit water and floated into an underwater palace. She didn’t know, though, because she was dead. Or was she? A mermaid king caught her, because he was the person who’d escaped from the bar-prison, and he’d found a way to live underwater by cutting himself in half and sewing his upper body to the lower half of a tuna. He put her in an air bubble, because he thought it was interesting to look at, and because it reminded him of when he’d lived on land and had put up taxidermy fish to mark important fishing achievements. And then one day a ship passed too close to them, and its propellers chopped them both to bits.

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