Monday, 29 June 2009

Snow, Glass, Apples

Image courtesy of J Dillon @deviantART

"Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman is the last story to appear in his first volume of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, but can be read online here. Although I am a Neil Gaiman fan (relatively recently; since late 2006) and have read most of the stories that feature in Smoke and Mirrors, I hadn't read this story before now. I have a funny process when it comes to reading short stories; I rarely read them in sequence but often dip in and out of volumes at random. Although I enjoy short stories (and have enjoyed reading some for blog posts), I find it difficult to read a lot at once and often have a novel on the go at the same time. It's not that short stories aren't substantial enough to sustain my attention but that my concentration lapses and I require the longevity of a novel to lose myself in. However, when I do pay close attention to one short story at a time (whether it be another by Gaiman or one by a newly discovered author), I usually find myself thoroughly entranced.

"Snow, Glass, Apples" is an ingenious reinterpretation of the fairy tale, "Snow White", of which the most famous versions are those by the Brothers Grimm and the animated adpatation by Disney. The closest variant to Neil Gaiman's version that I could direct you to for comparison would be Angela Carter's "The Snow Child" from her volume of postomdern and feminist re-tellings of fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber. Carter's story is about a Count and Countess who are out riding one day in the snow when the Count wishes for a girl as white as snow, as red as blood, and wth hair as black as a raven. Upon her naked materialisation and the Count's fascination and desire, the Countess immediately hates her and plots her demise, "[s]o the girl picks a rose; pricks her finger on the thorn; bleeds; screams; falls". Bereft, the Count performs necrophilia on the dead girl lying in the snow, who afterwards melts and leaves the rose she had pulled off the bush for the Countess. As the Countess touches the rose, she dropped it and exclaimed, "It bites!" So, not a fairy tale for children, then, and neither is "Snow, Glass, Apples".

In his introduction to Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman wrote that he liked "to think of this story as a virus. Once you've read it, you may never be able to read the original story in the same way again" and he certainly achieved it with "Snow, Glass, Apples", which takes the traditional tale and turns it on its head. Sharing Carter's motif of blood and snow, of vampirism and necrophilia, and of Carter's other popular motif, mirrors, which are lacking in her own tale, Gaiman re-tells the story from the persepective of the Queen, of Snow White's stepmother, whose reputation is as a jealous, wicked witch. Snow White, far from being as pure and innocent as snow, is a vampire who weakens her father by drinking his blood until his death (with a disturbing incestuous undertone) and who is cast out by the Queen and then later poisoned by apples the Queen poisons. Snow White is encased in a glass coffin by the "little men" of the forest and there she remains for two years until an impotent Prince (unless she resembles or is a corpse) performs necrophilia upon her body. Snow White and the Prince marry and burn her stepmother as a witch. Simply fantastical stuff.

Some of my favourite lines and passages:

"Her eyes were black as coal, black as her hair; her lips were redder than blood. She looked up at me and smiled. Her teeth seemed sharp, even then, in the lamplight."

"I would not close my eyes until the princess was ash, and a gentle wind would scatter her like snow."

"And some say (but it is her lie, not mine) that I was given the heart, and that I ate it. Lies and half truths fall like snow, covering the things that I remember, the things that I saw. A landscape, unrecognizable after a snowfall; that is what she has made of my life."

"I saw one snowflake land upon her white cheek, and remain there without melting."

"I will not scream. I will not give them the satisfaction. They will have my body, but my soul and my story are my own, and will die with me."


JoAnn said...

Your approach to short stories is very similar to mine. I've never read Gaiman and a short story seems like a good place to start. Fantasy, horror, etc. is a little outside my normal comfort zone, but I've bookmarked this to read later. Great write-up!

Paperback Reader said...

Thank you, JoAnn! I think this story would be a great place for you to start.

Ana S. said...

It's such a brilliant story, isn't it? I'd never thought to compare it with "The Snow Child", but you made some excellent points.

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, thank you. It was actually you who prompted me to read this as I had noticed it on your blog, listed as one of your favourites. It was incredibly good and typically Gaiman. I enjoyed drawing the comparison with Carter.

Kake said...

Hello — Kake from the book group here. I'd not seen your blog before so I'm reading through some of your posts now. I just thought I'd stop to mention a recent IF (interactive fiction) work by Emily Short and others, also based on the story of Snow White. It's called Alabaster, and you can find it here. (Emily mentions on her blog that she hadn't heard of Gaiman's version until Alabaster was almost finished; it's quite different from Snow, Glass, Apples.)

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Kake, good to see you here and thanks for commenting! I definitely need to check Alabaster out - thanks for letting me know.