Thursday, March 24, 2011

The real heroes and villain of Snow White

I watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with my daughters (their first time) this weekend, and I was struck by a nearly two-decades old thought I realize I've probably never committed to paper.

And it's probably already been said -- but I haven't seen it.

Snow White may be the protagonist, but she isn't the hero. Neither is the prince, or the dwarfs.

And the queen isn't the real bad guy.

And because this isn't a grad-level academic paper, and I don't have 20 pages to faux fill, I'll get to it quickly.

The easy one first: The real heroes of Snow White are the animals.

The animals rescue Snow White from the forest when she's first lost. The animals judge her character as pure, and take immediately action to meet her needs for fellowship and physical comfort, leading her to the Dwarfs' cottage.

The animals sacrifice there free time, jump in, and help her clean her new-found home. It seems like a small thing, but as a modern analogy: I seem to be forced to move last-minute. A lot. And I have people who call themselves friends, and have never heeded a call for help (of any size); on the flip side, I have true friends who would help me move, I think even if they were in the middle of their own move.

Anyway, it is the animals -- again discerning true character -- who attack the wicked queen, disguised as an elderly hag, with no fear for "how that might look".

And failing that, it is the animals who immediately spring to action to forcibly gather the dwarfs to rescue Snow White.

They're the pure, action heroes of the film.

And the villain?

It's not the queen. She's so depraved and lost in her own narcissism and hatred and jealousy of the "not her" that she both knows exactly who she is, and (paradoxically) is blind to it (ever had an incompetent or sabotaging co-worker or boss? Life would be so much easier if they saw what you see, but there own character myopia likely deceives them into thinking someone else is the problem.)

No, the evil queen -- the "witch" -- isn't the villain.

The Huntsman who is the most reprehensible person in the film.


The Huntsman - that affable gent who is sent on a mission to kill Snow White.

"But ..." (I almost hear you say defensively) "... he doesn't kill her! He lets her go -- and he covers for her by tricking the queen with a pig's heart."

Sure, he doesn't kill her. Instead, he drives a young girl off into the deep woods, with no likelihood of surviving, were it not for story's artifice.

And, let's remember: he was sent to murder a young girl -- A charge he was set to execute until the last possible moment. And in his cowardice, he abandoned her to the wild, feigned compliance, and faded to obscurity.

Sure, from a relativistic perspective, that's maybe better than outright killing.

I don't know. I'm not a relativist.

What I see instead is someone compliant in a regime of witchcraft and murder, who didn't stand against the wrong, and fight for the right -- no matter the personal cost.

That wouldn't have made a great story (but maybe it would have made a great different one).

But this isn't a college paper, so (for me) it has a point, and an application.

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

Once I reached an age of understanding I've witnessed little injustices every day. I can't save the world, but if I don't try, if I don't say, "no" to unnecessary hostile exchanges, to office politics, to harassment of marginalized co-workers, of a waiter or a hotel clerk, if I don't defend the victim who protected himself from the bully (taking a policy cowardice route of "zero tolerance"), if I laugh at abhorrent jokes even if I'm secretly emotionally or physically ill about them, then I've failed.

And I've become the Huntsman, and the true villain in my own story.