“Snow White” is the first movie I can remember seeing. Long before the days of Blu Ray or VCRs, seeing it was a one-off event with all future viewings confined to my four-year-old imagination. My parents bought the soundtrack for me, and I spent hours on the backyard swing singing “Some Day, My Prince Will Come” in a voice still capable of reaching the requisite and dizzying soprano heights. Because I was a little girl, it was all about Snow White – well, and those animals depicted with the gentle, muted lyricism of “old” Disney. I pretended I had rosy red lips and jet-black hair, I made imaginary pies for Grumpy, and felt a frisson of excitement as I lay on my back in the grass, hands folded across my chest, waiting for my prince to come and wake me with a kiss. I never pretended to be the Evil Queen; she was Bad, had no songs, and was (worst of all) a grown up.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Last night, flipping through channels, I came upon “Snow White” in HD. It was still a wonder, and I settled in to watch the familiar story from the Magic Mirror to the appearance of the castle in the clouds. As I sat, it became clear that I had much more in common with the Evil Queen than with the innocent, blank canvas of sweetness that is Snow White. I am not four, but forty-eight, and have more than a passing familiarity with the demons that could drive a person to send a girl into the woods to be killed and divested of her recently beating heart. She behaved badly, spectacularly badly, but she really couldn’t help herself. It is, after all, hard to go from being The Fairest of Them All, a woman of unsurpassed beauty and position, to playing second fiddle to someone who has no credentials besides the accidental gift of youthful bloom.
I know that sense of being cheated, of lacking something as essential as air, and seeing it in the blithe possession of another. At its mildest it is the faintest mark on a life, the friend who always orders a better dish at a restaurant, the woman at the PTA meeting who carries the handbag you have coveted for months and can’t possibly afford. It can be the slow, decades-long burn of being the less-favorite sibling or employee, or the sharp sting of noticing that a close friend is dividing her lunch dates and phone calls between you and the woman she met in yoga class. At its strongest, and most devastating, it is the searing agony of being replaced by a lover, real or desired. Like the Evil Queen, you have remained the same person who enchanted, beguiled and shone; it is simply an unfair alignment of the cosmos that has introduced someone better, fresher, able to win over Grumpy with a coy look from under long, dark lashes.
The jealous rage of the Evil Queen looks like pure hyperbole, particularly because it is so deeply larded with Magic Mirrors and poison apples. I understand her, though, trying to relieve her suffering and get back what should rightfully belong to her. I have known a grown woman to climb through the bedroom window of a man who has moved on, begging for another chance. I have seen both men and women study their own, personal Snow Whites, trying to find the magic that will send a rival into the eternal sleep of the Not Chosen. It is never productive, often objectively pathetic, and oblivious to all that is whole and good and present, but it is real. It is the human condition, bloody and raw, shameful, frantic and potent.
Maybe the Evil Queen deserved to fall off a cliff and die. She was not, as my grandmother would have said, “a nice girl.” She was, however, far more interesting in her relentless, passionate and creative jealousy than Snow White was on her best day of making pies and sweeping floors. It would be interesting to know what she would have done next; she might have realized that she had “it” and always would, while Snow White was a flash-in-the-pan, the Princess equivalent of the cheerleader who loses her looks and becomes dull and lumpen. If she’d kept her cool and waited for Snow White to grow chins and get a minivan, things might have turned out better. We’ll never know – Disney Justice is a black and white kind of thing. She was a selfish, destructive bad-ass, that Evil Queen, but somewhere below that haughty, pale face beat the heart of a woman who just needed to find within herself the Magic Mirror that told her that she was, and would always be, good enough, strong enough, complete.