It’s not a recent release anymore, but when I finally saw Snow White and the Huntsman, I found several features compelling about how our popular culture rewrote the familiar fairy tale with its own peculiar flourishes.
While artistically breathtaking in its presentation of a world overrun with magic, and especially responsible in the complexity of its characters, two distinct but related themes stood out to me: the nature of magic as the manipulation of life, and the quality of royal blood to sustain the created order.
Magic in the world of this story is the ability to manipulate life. For Queen Ravenna, this means taking the life of others in order to sustain her own life. There are several different understandings of what magic is and does throughout the fantasy and fairy tale genres, but this ability to control things is certainly common to all of them. The Queen seeks to preserve her youthful beauty and to control her kingdom.
At first, I found Snow White’s praying the Lord’s Prayer to be an arbitrary imposition on the world of the fairy tale, a superficial way of demonstrating her purity or innocence over against Queen Ravenna’s use of magic. But as I tried to explain why I felt it was inconsistent and a concerning part for me as a Christian, I could not. If anything, the Lord’s Prayer, and indeed, prayer in general, is the perfect foil for the Queen’s magic. What better opposite for a self-sustaining craving for control, than to pray (even in an abbreviated form) a prayer that fundamentally asserts, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and glory forever.”
Related to the film’s portrayal of magic is its understanding of the creation-sustaining quality of royal blood. This is a profound commonality in fairy stories and the entire fantasy genre, but it is usually only an implicit element in the worldview. Snow White and the Huntsman visually and verbally explores it. Snow White encounters the distorted and destructive elements of the world along her journey, and discovers that she is a restorative, healing presence among them. Where she goes, she conquers the pervasive winter and unnatural violence that run rampant in Queen Ravenna’s rule.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, this is also a significant element in the Bible’s worldview. Jeremiah 12:4 reads:
How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it, the animals and the birds are swept away.
Similarly, 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 reads:
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
The only difference here is who the king is. Sorry, who the KING is. It is not so much human royal blood but the divine reign of God and the obedient, covenant faithfulness of his people that leads to the land’s abundant flourishing, a sense that things are “the way things should be.”
The recent riptide of made-over fairy tales in the theaters intrigues me. We’ll see a few more yet before the tide goes out; for instance, Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters (Jan 25, 2013). For a little extra reading, here’s a link to a .pdf of the brilliant essay “On Fairy-Stories” by J. R. R. Tolkien.