The Origin of the Fairy Tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” comes from a collection of Folk tales published between 1812-1815.. Written and collected by the Brothers Grimm- Jacob and Wilhelm, it was first published in English in 1823, and illustrated by George Cruikshank (who also illustrated the novels of Charles Dickens).
In their book “The Classic Fairy Tales” Iona and Peter Opie describe how “the story of Snow White was one of the tales Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected in Cassel from two sisters, Jeannette and Amalie Hassenpflug, whose brother Ludwig was to marry their sister Lotte
The story, a morality, perhaps, on the spitefulness of which beauty queens are capable, was in fact well known in Hesse at the beginning of the nineteenth century; and it has subsequently been found with little variation over a wide area from Ireland to Asia Minor, and in several parts of North and West Africa.”
The story of Dwarfs feature in many Northern European folk tales, often as miners working with precious metals and stones. In ancient Norse legend Odin, the Norse god had a sword made by these little men.
The number of dwarfs in “Snow White” holds a mystical significance. The number seven being regarded as a magical number: “The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” dating back to ancient Arabian legend. According to the Bible it took seven days to create the world, and ancient astronomers believed that there were seven planets. Shakespeare quotes the “Seven ages of Man”- infant, student, lover, soldier, justice, maturity and senility”
All the great Jewish feasts lasted for seven days, and there are legends of seven hills, seven cities and seven sacred trees. The Sky holds the stars known as “The Seven Sisters” and, of course the bingo callers cry of “Number Seven- lucky for some!” continues the magical significance.
The Opies continue:
“The tale of Snow White contains elements that lie deep in European folk tradition; but it is not necessarily an old story, and has probably come under literary .influence. Thus the theme of the glass coffin, in which lay Snow White's body, remaining ever as beautiful as the day it was laid to rest, was a feature of the story of Lisa in the Pentamerone published 1634.
Lisa, like Snow White, was a lovely seven-year-old child, and she died, or appeared to have died, through having a comb stuck in her head. For years her body was kept secretly in a casket of crystal; and it remained lovely, so lovely that when her uncle's wife discovered it in a locked room, it aroused her most intense jealousy
In addition the aunt's extreme enmity is shown to have been due to her supposing that her husband was having an affair with the beautiful girl. The aunt did not know Lisa was her husband's niece, and does not seem to have been aware that the girl had for years lain in a coma. When the aunt opens the casket she thinks the maiden merely asleep, takes hold of her by the hair and drags her out, fortuitously dislodging the comb in her head and restoring her to life.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho!
Other than the Brothers Grimm publishing their version, the popularity of the tale of “Snow White” must lie with Walt Disney. Before the film of “Snow White” was made, most people regarded cartoons as something that happened before the main feature film- cartoon “shorts” to amuse and entertain. Disney believed that his animators and “imagineers” could do something more- that they could create a feature film that would enthrall and amaze, but in the cartoon medium.
“Snow White” was released at Christmas 1937. It was the first feature length cartoon ever, and premiered at Radio City Music Hall.
Disney himself was influenced by an early silent film based on the story. It was made in 1916 and left a deep impression on him. A cartoon version was made by Max Fleisher- Betty Boop as Snow White, released in 1933. The cartoon short features Betty dreaming she is Snow White.
Walt Disney’s feature length cartoon became one of the biggest box office successes of the era, and gave Disney studios the basis to become what it is today. Walt Disney collected an academy award- one large, and seven small for Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful, Dopey and Sneezy!
To date the total lifetime gross of Disney’s “Snow White” stands at a staggering £97,609,859.64 0r $184,925,486!
In February 2004 Disney premiered “Snow White- an enchanting new musical” in Disneyland. The Tale had come full circle!
The Opies noted the effect of the Disney Film on the ancient folk tale:and remarked on the Grimm aspect of the original-
“ It is interesting, however, that in the film story Disney chose to re-establish an incident glossed over by the early translators, that the queen not only ordered Snow White to be killed, but ordered that her heart be brought back as a token that the deed had been accomplished. In fact in the German original the story was even more unpleasant. When the servant, particularized as a huntsman, came back with the heart of a young boar he had killed, the queen is stated to have had it salted, and to have eaten the heart in the belief that it was Sneewitchen's. To match this, the queen's fate, at the end of the story, was more terrible. At the wedding-feast, when the queen's crime was exposed, slippers of iron were heated in a fire until red hot, and the queen was forced to put them on, and to dance until she dropped dead. “
Disney’s film of 1937 rekindled the art of the folk tale and morality story. Almost immediately (with an eye to marketing that Disney had mastered even then) they produced a plethora of toys, games, puzzles and movie related items that are now highly collectable. The Musical Score of the film, especially the songs created a legacy that continues to this day. The Film also spawned one very important creation- The Pantomime “Snow White!”
Before the release of the film in 1937 (I await correction on this point- and look forward to adding the information) there had been no pantomime that featured the “Snow White” story.
Very shortly after the film was released in Great Britain, the first productions of “Snow White” appeared, with the licence of Walt Disney. They were faithful reproductions of the Disney film, live on stage, with the film’s musical numbers included. More a musical rendering of the story, they soon evolved into a more pantomime version, with specially written plots and characters not in the Disney version included to fit in with the pantomime genre.
Click on Apple for the Original Fairy Tale version of Snow White
THE 'BABY' OF PANTOMIMES
My pantomime “archive” contains no programmes of “Snow White” prior to the film, and no posters in my collection either. It would appear that the first production – in Disney form was at a cinema that presented the subject “Live on stage”, to avoid confusion with the film version.
This would seem to make “Snow White” our newest pantomime. Although the legend was there for three hundred years or so, it was not used as a pantomime subject until Disney created the demand.
It can be argued that a pantomime version of “Peter Pan” is actually “newer”, since there was no pantomime of this enduring children’s classic- performed annually as J.M.Barrie’s play with music, until the author’s rights lapsed- for a short while- and pantomime versions began recently
“Snow White” has also proved that a “panto is not just for Christmas” too- one of this country’s longest running touring pantomimes was “Snow White”- touring annually for a great many years from before Easter up to, and including Panto season. I myself took part in it for one very long summer season, often playing three (and I have a strange memory of four?) a day on certain days throughout the 32 weeks of Summer Season in North Wales!.
As a pantomime it has a very strong box office appeal. The subject is already known to the millions who come to see it- they await eagerly the appearance of the Seven Dwarfs- often wondering why, in this performance they have different names to the ones they expect them to have! Theatre managers will probably tell you of the letters they receive from “Disgusted” parents, and even teachers who complain about “messing about” with the children’s heritage. “Why have you changed their names?” “Everyone KNOWS he’s called Doc, and he’s called Dopey and…..”
It must be wearisome for the managers to constantly point out that THOSE names are the sole copyright of Disney. So for now, and possibly forever, the children will have to make do with “Dozey, Jolly, Prof and Blushful” or whatever they are inventively called this time around!
I was delighted to discover in Paris last year that “Blanche Neige” or “Snow White” as we call it was being performed at the Folies Bergere, playing twice daily during February and March. It was all but a pantomime, with the same lavish costumes and production values that a first class panto would have- and as popular in Paris as our own home grown panto would be.
The British Panto version has a few additions to the cast- but it never loses sight of the gripping story, the goodness of the heroine and the utter evil of one of pantomime’s greatest villains, in the shape of the “Wicked Queen”!.
SNOW WHITE - What's in a name?
Snow White began her life as “Snow Drop” or “Sneewitchen”, and is of course a Princess.
In pantomime, since the Brothers Grimm and Disney didn’t name him, the path is clear to call him any name that sounds fairly regal.Since his character was not around in the Victorian era, he rarely has florid names like Florizel or Charmful. His character was created in pantomime in an era when the Principal Boy, as played by a girl began to wane. Since he has to kiss Snow White (like Sleeping Beauty’s Prince) he is nearly always played by a male actor.
Favourites in the past and present are Phillip, William, Rupert,Michael and Karl- with the odd florid exception like Danilo and even Prince Charming. In many productions he is billed as “The Prince” both in programmes and posters.
“The Wicked Queen” has often had a different name in every pantomime- she too was not christened by the Brothers Grimm. She has been Esmerelda, Queen Antipoda (when played by an Australian!), Queen Lucretia, Camilla, often refered to as “The Wicked Queen” or “The Red Queen”.
In pantomime he has been variously known as “Catsmeat”, “Ramsbottom”, “Jason- the Queen’s aide de camp Igor, and on occasion “Fleshcreep”and “Fang”. Sometimes his role is combined with the Huntsman, sometimes he is a silly character forced to do the Queen’s bidding. He has even taken on the Bond Villain name of “Odd Job” in some productions.
There never has been a traditional name for the Dame in “Snow White”. In fact, there are productions of this pantomime that are WITHOUT a Dame. In those cases the Queen is generally more comic than evil, and can replace the Dame’s role in some ways.
Where the Dame reigns supreme she has been called “Martha”, “Dame Dumpling”, “Dame Clara Voyant”, “Sarah”, “Nurse Nelly”, “Nurse Gertie”, “Dame Doughnut”, “Dolly Doughnut”, “Nurse Cuddles” ,and “Nurse Gertie Glucose” among others.
The Dame is most often the Nurse to Snow White, and obviously not a very good one- a more watchful eye kept on her charge might help, but it would spoil the plot!
The Dame in “Snow White” like many of the other characters (Snow White, Dwarfs and Queen excepted) face a problem plot-wise. Once Snow White flees the woods and discovers the Dwarfs’ cottage- she must not come into contact with Prince, Comic and Dame. Only the Queen knows of her whereabouts. The Principal girl has very little to do with her Prince, and very little do do with the comics in this pantomime.
Considering there is no traditional name for the comic in “Snow White”, over the years most pantomime authors and producers have created their own tradition- he is nearly always called “Muddles”.
Muddles- related to the older panto name “Muggles” seems to have been adopted for this show, by mutual consent.
Collectively often called these days “The Magnificent Seven”- they will NOT be found with the names that every child assumes they will have, which causes a lot of confusion. The names used by Walt Disney are, and remain the sole copyright of Walt Disney and the Disney organisation. Permission to use these names in a non-Disney production is not permitted!
That is why inventive producers and authors have come up with clever alternatives!
You can take your pick of the following samples:
Pops, Surly, Snoozy, Jolly,Wheezy, Blusher, Dozy
Skipper, Fancy, Smiler, Speedy, Dusty, Noisy, Dozy
Growler, Goody, Smiler, Lazy, Sneezer, Shabby, Dozy
Brainy, Cranky, Smiley,Dippy, Sniffy Bumbly and Dozy
I take credit for that last selection in my “Snow White” scripts, but you’ll notice that all of us authors resorted to “Dozy” in the end!
Snow White - WISH Theatre - Bedworth Civic Theatre 2006/7 - Click on Image to Enlarge
SNOW WHITE THE PANTOMIME
The Pantomime of Snow White, not surprisingly follows the Disney version very closely. Even Disney discovered that having a passing Prince discover the body of Snow White was not the most romantic way to begin a relationship, and so, like in the Pantomime versions of “Sleeping Beauty” before, engineered the Prince to meet and fall in love with Snow White before she runs away to the Dwarfs cottage.
The Pantomime generally adds a Dame character- often a Nurse to the Princess, and a comic character (Muddles). It often gives the Wicked Queen a side-kick, a useful device, otherwise the Queen would mainly be talking to herself, or to her magic mirror!
Often a sympathetic Huntsman or Woodsman is sent to take the Princess deep into the forest- sometimes it is the Queen’s henchman who is given the gruesome task. In each case they refuse to do the deed, and return with the casket containing “The heart of a pig”.
Disney’s wonderful creation- the wicked Queen and her transformation into an old crone are nearly always reproduced in pantomime (as they were in the Grimm Brothers version) and gives us one of the greatest villains in panto that an actress could wish for. Stalwarts of Wicked Queen-dom include Lesley Joseph, Linda Lusardi (who graduated to Evil after playing Snow White for several seasons) Vikki Michelle, Rula Lenska, Britt Ekland, Marti Caine, Su Pollard, Anita Dobson- and waiting in the wings- in a world of dream casting would be Joan Collins! I think perhaps Miss Collins has received several invitations in the past to play this role, and who knows- perhaps one day she just might!
THE PANTO VERSION:
The Magic Mirror
Often “Snow White” opens with a prologue- set somewhere in the castle where the Wicked Queen is consulting her mirror. In some productions the mirror spirit is an actor, and in others he is represented by technical means- he could be a “televised” or filmed image, speaking to the Queen, a computer generated video, or, in the case of the Kenneth More Theatre, is a laser generated hologram.
In the version I’ve written before, this hologram is a mask - it can peer at the audience, cast chilling glances, rotate 360 degrees, and can talk- the hologram is “lip-Synched” to a recording, and, to save time and money on programming, “he” talks in rhyme- that way the animation can be “looped” to cover many scenes.
In the prologue the Queen asks the Magic Mirror the question every child knows the answer to-
“Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the Fairest one of all?”
In some smaller scale productions I’ve appeared in, there has not been the luxury of a mirror mounted on the wall, and for economy those lines become
“Magic Mirror in my hand, who is the Fairest in the land?”
Either way, the children know- the answer is always “Snow White!”. Thus the scene is set for the story to unfold.
The Royal Palace:
The next scene is set in, or around the Royal Palace. It is often the birthday of Princess Snow White, and the principal girl and the ensemble will open with a song and dance of celebration.
During this scene, as in all pantomimes, the characters will be introduced. Muddles will tell us that he helps out in the royal kitchens, that he thinks the Queen is very scary, and it is quite likely he might “fancy” Snow White. His character derives from “Buttons” in “Cinderella”, so he brings a little bit of that character with him.
The Queen’s Henchman will be introduced, often with some comic business with the Queen- often proving he is not as bright as a button, and sometimes not as evil as we think. This is useful if he is the one selected to do the “Wicked” deed and kill Snow White later on in the plot.
The Dame will be introduced- possibly as a Nurse, or a Nanny, or sometimes the Palace cook. She will doubtless end “her” spot with a comedy number.
Finally the audience may get to meet the Prince. Often in the plot he has been invited to the Palace to attend the Princess’s birthday party. Sometimes the Queen has deliberately hand picked him for herself, adding to her fury when he falls in love with Snow White- which he does, very quickly, in true panto style by singing a love duet with her.
While the Palace scenery is being removed the action could place back with the magic mirror, or on the road to the palace. It might involve the Wicked Queen and/or the comics- Dame and Muddles and Henchman.
Sometimes the action moves to the Wicked Queen’s boudoir- she is, as always plotting. The plot may involve summoning her Henchman to take Snow White into the forest and to kill her. To prove this, she will give the henchman a casket and utter the chilling line:
“Bring me the heart of Snow White!”
In some versions the Queen will attempt to entice the Prince, only to discover from his lips, or from her Mirror- that he is, in fact, in love with the Princess.
Because the comics are not involved in the plot of “Snow White”- they didn’t exist in the Grimm version, or the much imitated Disney version, they can perform comedy “spots” at random throughout the pantomime, and are often quite self-contained.
The problem with this story-line is twofold. Once Snow White leaves the Palace neither the comics or the Principal Boy can have any contact with her. The Prince has to make appearances in the story, but cannot actually meet his true love until the end.
To solve this, sometimes he gets involved in comedy scenes- tricky, as he has in fact lost his true love and shouldn’t be seen to be too jolly. Sometimes a sub-plot is created. The Queen might kidnap him to force him to be her groom- surely a fate worse than death? Perhaps she wishes to marry him, aquire his kingdom, then poison him too?
The second problem is the “Death” of Snow White-
The comics will perform comedy two and three-hander routines right up to the point where Snow White is “killed”. During and after this they too must remain low key, and let the strong plot take over.
This scene is the one that holds most of the drama in Act One. The Henchman takes the unknowing Snow White into the woods to pick flowers. Often the Juveniles and Ensemble appear as animals in the forest. All is sweetness and light and then (in a scene that mirrors Babes In The Wood) The Henchman turns to kill the Princess.
Of course, he cannot. The children know this, and look forward to a “Spooky Wood” scene to follow, as they have all watched the film many times. Snow White escapes, due to the kindness of the Henchman, and runs through the forest.
This scene is a good opportunity for the producers to use Black light or “UV” effects. The woods can become creepy and spooky- even haunted. The trees change to become shapes with moving eyes and the branches become reaching hands. Puppets can be used, or Black Light costumes and scenery- in recent times projections and animations have been used to portray her flight through terror into the cosy world of…
The Dwarfs Cottage
Often the largest part of the scenic budget is used to create the cottage where the seven dwarfs live. Frequently it is designed as a large truck that can open- like a doll’s house to reveal an interior straight out of a fairy book.
Incidentally- “Snow White” is a magical tale, but not strictly a Fairy tale. There is no need to have a “good” fairy- although some productions do, and the Wicked Queen is a mortal (not a bad fairy) and has to consult books to create her spells.
The discovery of the cottage by the Princess is one of the prettiest pantomime moments. The cottage reveals the interior- seven little beds, a kitchen with seven little chairs, and..no sign of seven little men. Not yet anyway. This entrance is often held back to the latter part of act one to build the excitement!
Children are so excited by the entrance of the Dwarfs they can quite easily overcome their puzzlement as to why they don’t sing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho…” or,in fact any of the Disney numbers during the show. Or not much of them anyway.. like the Dwarfs names, the music is also copyright to Disney, and more often than not permission will not be granted to use their film score. Also, songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come” are not to the taste of this generation of children. A McFly hit song would be more welcomed today perhaps?
The scene where Snow White meets the dwarfs will close Act One. The Dwarfs are often lulled to sleep by a song as the lamps light up and the forest animals snuggle down. The scene is one of sheer magic, and although not as spectacular as some pantomime first half finales, it has a beauty that makes it unique.
In pantomime this act might well open back in the Queen’s Mirror Room. She believes Snow White is dead, and the mirror reveals:
“The Heart that you hold is the Heart of a Pig!”
The Queen is less than pleased, and a scene follows where she berates the Henchman.
Often a comedy scene between Dame and Muddles will follow, and the Prince will appear to sing a solo, to compensate for the fact that he has not been onstage for a while.
The Diamond Mine:
Some pantomimes will open Act Two with the glittering diamond mine. Others may keep this scene until later, when the Dwarfs hear the Queen has visited Snow White. It often uses pulleys and travelling trucks along with star cloths to create every child’s idea of the Dwarf’s workplace below ground.
The Dungeon laboratory of the Wicked Queen again gives the designers free reign for a cross between Frankenstein’s Castle and a Ghost train! Skulls, skeletons and steaming cauldrons abound. It is a scene of great fun between the Queen and her henchman, with the comedy ensuing from mixing up the potions and finally, in a dramatic moment producing the poisoned apple from the cauldron.
The scene will end with the “transformation” of the Wicked Queen into the toothless old hag who speeds off to the Dwarf’s cottage, having been given its location “in the seven hills” by her magic mirror.
The action returns to the Dwarf’s cottage. Snow White is tricked into eating the poisoned apple, and the old crone rushes away, believing she has finally triumphed.
Once the dwarfs have discovered Snow White’s body, there is no place for comedy. Because of this, the Prince will appear fairly soon to discover her lying in the crystal casket, surrounded by the sobbing dwarfs.
As a rule, the Wicked Queen doesn’t meet her end in the manner of the Walt Disney Film- Falling off a cliff is never easy to portray on stage, and certainly not in the manner of the original story- wearing boots filled with molten lead! There are various devices to make certain she gets her just deserts- In one version I’ve written the Queen smashes her mirror in anger, and the spirit of the mirror gets his revenge. She is forced to take his place for all eternity- but, in panto the Wicked Queen can be punished in any way the author of the pantomime feels best suits the plot!
Snow White & Her Prince take their bows as man and wife, and all live happily ever after!
SCENERY / COSTUMES / MISC
CREDITS FOR SOME INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE
"The Classic Fairy Tales" by Iona and Peter Opie
This page was last updated 21st August 2010