Snow White and Rose Red: Analysis

by Tolovaj

Snow White and Rose Red was a very popular fairy tale in the golden age of illustration. Today it's out of fashion and we'll explore the possible reasons with a simple analysis.

Snow White and Rose Red is a fairy tale from the collection written by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. It was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century but now it's almost forgotten. There are several reasons for that and we'll try to highlight the background of the story by simple analysis.

If you want to learn more about the tale of two sisters who befriend a bear, save the life of the mean and greedy dwarf, and finally find happiness with two princes, just continue.

Here are 10 essential elements of the story about Snow White and Rose Red with a short explanation for each one:

1. Forest

The setting of the story is in the woods. While countless fairy tales share the same scenery, most of them start outside, in the place of safety, power, and predictability, until at some point (Red Riding Hood has to visit sick granny, Snow White has to escape her wicked step-mother, ...), in this case, the fairy tale starts in the forest.

Instead of a place of instability, danger, and wilderness, it's presented as a safe haven for the sisters and her mother. Such a situation lacks suspension and makes the story less interesting.

Snow White and Rose Red in the forest by Oskar Herrfurth
Snow White and Rose Red in the forest by Oskar Herrfurth
2. Innocence

Like all classic fairy tales, The Snow White and Rose Red tells a story about growing up. This means facing some obstacles, solving some troubles, and showing some responsibility. Yet you have to start somewhere and they start as innocent kids in a friendly environment, under angelical protection, being friends with all the animals and able to sleep outside.

While this description fits the fairy tale formula, the introductory part is just too long and soon becomes a bit boring.

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3. Absent Father

The motif of the absent father is very popular in the fairy tales by Brothers Grimm. They lost their dad at an early age and that shaped the life of the whole family. This definitely had an impact on their fairy tales which were often heavily rewritten to meet especially Jacob's worldview.

But while the fatherly figure in Red Riding Hood or Cinderella appears in the form of the hunter or the prince as a rescuer, the bear (enchanted prince) in Snow White and Rose Red looks more like he is serving his own interests. He kills the dwarf to regain his look and status.

Snow White and Rose Red get a visit from a bear by Frances Brundage
Snow White and Rose Red get a visit from a bear by Frances Brundage
4. Challenge

The introductory part of the story is so full of idyllic scenery it soon becomes boring. The entrance of the bear in the cottage provides a great opportunity to shake up things a bit. The girls should be more afraid and distrusting (like in Beauty and the Beast, for instance), but the bear just starts talking and his good nature is immediately obvious.

The opportunity of facing the challenge is spent without any effect.

5. Beast

We can find numerous Beasts and 'beasts' in classic fairy tales, from the powerful yet melancholic Beast in The Beauty and the Beast to the tiny but unbelievably persistent Frog in The Frog King. Each one of them has at least one 'superpower'.

The bear in The Snow White and Rose Red is an exception. He arrives, he explains to the girls he is a nice guy, they play together and that's that. No developing of the character, no building of relationship(s). Nothing really to write about.

6. First Test

The girls find the dwarf in trouble. They save him. Instead of being thankful he yells at them. Their good deed is paid with cursing. This part of the story is probably the best. The contrast is obvious and there is some humor in it as well.


Rescuing the dwarf's beard by Oskar Herrfurth
Rescuing the dwarf's beard by Oskar Herrfurth
7. Second Test

Once more, the dwarf is in trouble. His life is in danger. This test is different because Snow White and Rose Red already know his nasty character. Despite that, they save him and his reaction is the same: yelling and swearing.

8. Third Test

Yes, more trouble for the dwarf. This time he is the closest to the death. The girls already know how unthankful the little man and they also know he will not change. Anyways, they save him again and face the reaction.

Fighting the eagle by Frances Brundage
Fighting the eagle by Frances Brundage
9. Transformation

The last meeting of the sisters with the dwarf ends tragically for him. No, this time he was not in danger. While he was enjoying the view of his treasures the accidentally bumped into his hideout. When he starts threatening again, the bear (yes, the one from before) runs in and kills the little man.

Bear kills the dwarf by Oskar Herrfurth
Bear kills the dwarf by Oskar Herrfurth

Then the bear transforms into a handsome prince (what else) and explains how the dwarf encountered him into the beast to steal his treasures. The spell could only be broken by the dwarf's death.

Such transformation (especially for male characters) is pretty often in fairy tales. But while the Beast in The Beauty and the Beast earns his transformation through unconditional love and the frog in The Frog King by his intransigence, the bear in this story solves his troubles with just one kick with a paw. Too easy!

10. Growing-Up

Snow White and Rose Red as the title characters go through their own transformations as well. They both got married at the end. There is nothing essentially wrong with this classic fairy tale cliche. Most people in the world experience marriage (or at least some strong romantic relationship) as an important, if not life-changing point in one's life.

Snow White and Rose Red are ready for marriage by Frances Brundage
Snow White and Rose Red are ready for marriage by Frances Brundage

Yet for a good story, we need some development of characters, some obstacles to overcome, some enemies to defeat. In this case, we are just informed that both girls are very nice (at the very beginning) and that they stay nice no matter what (about six more times throughout the story). Think about the challenges of Cinderella, Snow White, or Red Riding Hood! This is the reason why some fairy tales stay popular for centuries and some just fade into the past.

For more curious minds, there's also an article that teaches how to earn by writing fairy tales.

I hope you learned a few interesting facts from this simple analysis of The Snow White and Rose Red!

Image credits:

Updated: 05/14/2023, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 08/13/2023

Yes, you points are valid, WriterArtist. This story could be way better.

WriterArtist on 06/14/2023

Well - I do agree with you that the pace was not quite alright, character development was missing and the story did not have this secret element - unpredictability. I also disliked that a good bear kills the dwarf. The dwarf was obviously an unthankful chap, stubborn as ever and in the story his character did not evolve no matter what. The end is hurried and the learnings are missing.

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

Yes, you got it right, DerdriuMarriner. It's one of many weaknesses of the plot. The story looks like it was written in one breath and only later added some details to make it 'a package'. Having grooms for both girls was very likely and an afterthought of first storytellers.

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

No, DerdriuMarriner, I was not clear enough, probably. Snow White and Rose Red was included in the collection as one of over two hundred tales at the beginning of the 19 century. The popularity at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century is very likely caused by the evolution of picture books as a new medium. Cute girls, a friendly bear, and a grumpy dwarf in vivid colors were more interesting for the publishers than a good plot.

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

The killing of the dwarf is explained later and proved as wrong from the dramatic point of view. Killing the witch in Hansel and Gretel or the wicked stepmother in Snow White is somehow expected because we learned before about their wrongdoings.

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

I believe DerdriuMarriner, such a situation is largely dependent on the real experience of the Brothers Grimm. They had a dead (absent) father and alive mother who was in constant need of help.

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

Hi, DerdriuMarriner, I wouldn't know about the mosquitos. Forests were very important in the lives of Europeans in the 19th century (and in centuries before, of course) and they are useful places for settings of the stories where dangerous stuff happens.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/02/2023

It's interesting that the bear has a brother.

Would it not be according to fairy tale rules for that brother or his princedom to have gone looking for the bear or to have helped him as a bear or to try to take down the dwarf?

DerdriuMarriner on 05/31/2023

Your introduction mentions the "collection written by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm." It then mentions that "It was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century."

Its popularity at the time of its collecting might have been a reason why it was included even as perhaps the Grimm brothers noted the "ticking-clock" popularity of its flaws that would self-destruct its popularity within the near future.

Would the Grimm brothers have left the equivalent of a library of materials and sources that included what they did not put into their collection along with what they did?

DerdriuMarriner on 05/30/2023

The ninth fact, Transformation, observes the bear killing the dwarf. Would fairy tales in general just observe that someone died or was killed without elaborating the cause or means?

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