The Evil Queen is Snow White's evil and vindictive stepmother who is obsessed with being the "fairest in the land". The young princess Snow White makes her jealous, so the Evil Queen concocts several plans to kill Snow White through the use of witchcraft. A driving force in the story is the Evil Queen's Magic Mirror. In the traditional resolution of the story, the Evil Queen is grotesquely executed for her crimes. The tale is a lesson for young children warning against narcissism and pride. She is often regarded as the most interesting character in "Snow White" and has been extensively analyzed and evaluated by literature scholars and psychologists.
Various other versions of the Evil Queen appear in many subsequent adaptions and continuations of the fairy tale, including novels and films. In these, the Queen is often reimagined and sometimes portayed more sympathetically, such as being morally conflicted, or suffering from madness, instead of just being purely evil. In revisionist stories, she can even become an antihero or tragic hero. In some instances, she serves as the protagonist or narrator of the story. The Evil Queen has also become an archetype that inspired several characters featured in the works that are not directly based on the original tale.
In "Snow White"Edit
In the Brothers Grimm taleEdit
The Evil Queen is a very beautiful but proud and arrogant woman who is secretly dabbling in dark arts. When the Good King's first wife, the Good Queen passes away and dies, Snow White's father marries again. The Good King's new and second wife is a very beautiful but wicked and vain woman who becomes the new and second Queen, and Snow White's stepmother. She owns a Magic Mirror , which one day informs her that her young stepdaughter, Princess Snow White, has surpassed her in beauty. After deciding to eliminate Snow White, the Queen orders her Huntsman to take the princess into the forest and kill her. The Queen tells him to bring back Snow White's lungs and liver, as proof that the princess is dead. However, the Huntsman takes pity on Snow White, and instead, brings the Evil Queen the lungs and liver of a boar. The Evil Queen then eats what she believes are Snow White's organs.
While questioning her mirror, the Evil Queen discovers that Snow White has survived. Intending to kill Snow White herself, she uses witchcraft to prepare poison and take the disguise of an old peddler woman. She visits the dwarfs' house and sells Snow White laces for a corset that she laces too tight in an attempt to asphyxiate the girl. When that fails, the Evil Queen returns, as a different old woman, and tricks Snow White into using a poisoned comb. When the comb fails to kill Snow White, the Evil Queen again visits Snow White, this time disguised as a farmer's wife, and gives Snow White a poisoned apple. Eventually, Snow White and the Prince from another kingdom reveal the Evil Queen's true nature and invite her to their wedding, where she is forced to put on red-hot iron shoes and "dance" until she drops dead.
In the classic ending of "Snow White", the Evil Queen is tricked into attending Snow White's wedding and put to death by torment; this is often considered to be too dark and potentially horrifying for children in modern society. Sara Maitland wrote that "we do not tell this part of the story anymore; we say it is too cruel and will break children's soft hearts." Therefore, many (especially modern) revisions of the fairy tale often change the gruesome classic ending in order to make it seem less violent. In some versions, instead of dying, the Queen is even just merely prevented from committing further wrongdoings.
Already the first English translation of the Grimms' tale, written by Edgar Taylor in 1823, has the Evil Queen choke on her own envy upon the sight of Snow White alive. Another early (1871) English translation by Susannah Mary Paull "replaces the Evil Queen's death by cruel physical punishment with death by self-inflicted pain and self-destruction" when it was her own shoes that became hot due to her anger. Other alternative endings can have the Evil Queen just instantly drop dead "of anger" at the wedding or in front of her mirror upon learning about it, die from her own designs going awry (such as from touching her own poisoned rose) or by nature (such as falling into quicksands while crossing a swamp on her way back after poisoning Snow White), be killed by the dwarfs during a chase, be destroyed by her own mirror, run away into the forest never to be seen again, or simply being banished from the kingdom forever.
Origins and evolutionEdit
The Evil Queen's origins can be traced to the character of Silver-Tree, a jealous queen who threatens her daughter, in the Celtic oral tale "Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree". According to Kenny Klein, the enchantress Ceridwen of the Welsh mythology was "the quintissential evil stepmother, the origin of that character in the two tales of Snow White and Cinderella". Oliver Madox Hueffer noted that the wicked stepmother with magical powers threatening a young princess is a recurring theme in fairy tales; one similar character is the witch-queen in "The Wild Swans" as told by Hans Christian Andersen.
Rosemary Ellen Guiley suggests that the Evil Queen uses an apple because it recalls the temptation of Eve; this creation story from the Bible led the Christian Church to view apples as a symbol of sin. Many people feared that apples could carry evil spirits, and that witches used them for poisoning. Robert G. Brown of Duke University also makes a connection with the story of Adam and Eve, weening the Evil Queen as a representation of the archetype of Lilith. The symbol of an apple has long had traditional associations with enchantment and witchcraft in some European cultures, as in case of Morgan le Fay's Avalon ("Isle of the Apples").
In some Scottish versions of "Snow White"-type fairy tales, a talking trout takes the place of the Queen's mirror, the Queen is the princess' biological mother, rather than her stepmother, the Huntsman figure is the princess' own father, and the Queen's fate remains unresolved. The tale varies widely from place to place, with the Evil Queen using various tricks against the princess.
The Grimm brothers invented the motif of the Evil Queen's execution at Snow White's wedding; the original story sees her punished by the King. The Grimms noted on the margin of their 1810 manuscript: "The ending is not quite right and is lacking something." Diane Purkiss attributes the Evil Queen's fiery death to "the folk belief that burning a witch's body ended her power, a belief which subtended (but did not cause) the practice of burning witches in Germany", while the American Folklore Society noted that the use of iron shoes "recalls folk practices of destroying a witch through the magic agency of iron".
The Brothers Grimm collected the German fairy tale in their 1812 Kinder- und Hausmärchen ("Children's and Household Tales", more commonly known in English as Grimms' Fairy Tales). In the first edition of the Brothers Grimm story, the Evil Queen is Snow White's biological mother, not her stepmother. This motif changed in subsequent versions, after 1819. The earliest version was known as "Snow Drop". Jack Zipes said "the change from 'evil mother' to 'evil stepmother' for example, was because the brothers 'held motherhood sacred'. According to Sheldon Cashdan, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, a "cardinal rule of fairy tales" mandates that the "heroes and heroines are allowed to kill witches, sorceresses, even stepmothers, but never their own mothers". Zipes' 2014 collection of Grimm fairy tales in their original forms reinstated the Evil Queen as Snow White's mother.