All Hail Snow White: A Heroine on a Hero’s Journey

By Julie Wu

You look very fetching in mail.

The Huntsman to Snow White


I recently took a roundtrip flight directly from JFK toTaipei.  That’s 15 hours each way, enough time in one seat to induce post-traumatic stress disorder in most people.  But I am not most people.   I am a mother of small children, and on this flight I had my own TV screen with my own menu of movies and my own remote.  This privilege was, by itself, almost worth the cost of the flight.

I watched Snow White and the Huntsman, The King’s Speech, and Inception.  I recognized that of the three, Snow White was not technically the best.  But it was the only one I watched both to and from Taipei in entirety because, actually, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  (I did watch the opening of Inception two or three times just to figure out what the heck happened.)

What was it about Snow White that captured me?   Was it the gorgeous, fantastical visuals?  Well, they were dazzling, though I could have done without the androgynous fairies, the cute little bunnies, and the computer-compiled dwarves who deprived eight real height-challenged actors of a life-changing opportunity.  Was it the love story?  I very much enjoyed the twist in this, too, and the fact that this movie’s definition of true love required something deeper than the usual physical infatuation that is so sadly prevalent in movies, fairy tales and yes, novels, too.

What really got me though, I think, was that Snow White is a great heroine.  She’s everything I wished my heroines were when I was growing up.  Yes, she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t seem to be conscious of her looks at all, except when she learns that her beauty gives her the power to defeat the Queen.  What’s more, she makes it all the way through the movie without having to demonstrate proficiency in cooking, cleaning, or (makers of Brave, I’m talking to you) sewing.  She makes her own fire and doesn’t know how to dance.  Most of all, she grows credibly from a scrappy, frightened child into a ferocious leader of armies who fights her own, ultimate, mano-a-mano battle.  And unlike so many would-be-feminist Disney heroines, she is not rewarded in the end with a powerful, handsome dude.  She earns her own power.

At the end of Snow White and the Huntsman, I was stunned.  Was it really true?  Had she really been the strong female heroine I thought she was, or had I been hoodwinked, somehow, so used to pathetic female characters that I think Snow White is Superman?

I think, on reflection and re-viewing, that it is really true—in this movie, Snow White is a fairy tale princess who actually earns her own way.  Like all good heroes she is aided by secondary characters like the Huntsman (who, pragmatically, cuts her skirts shorter so she can run through the woods faster) and Duke William.  But in the end it’s her story, her narrative arc, and her hero’s journey.  Minus some gore, it’s a fairy tale retelling that my Cinderella-hating daughter would really love.

Part of the power of Snow White and the Huntsman does lie in its fairy tale origins.  I make no claims to be a rival of Freud or Bettelheim, but at its most basic, a fairy tale can be viewed as an exploration of character and morality within a world unbounded by natural laws.  How damaging is it to grow up hearing, in story after story, time and time again, that even within a magical realm the most supreme accomplishment a girl can achieve is to be married to a handsome prince? Yet this is how we do grow up.  We may be conscious of it, but still we hear it, over and over.  As I read or watch a film version of a fairy tale I cringe, waiting for the prince to leap out of the shadows to save the heroine at the end, a kind of homo ex machina, assuring that the heroine never grows or ascends in power to surpass him.

And this is what stuns me about Snow White.  She actually becomes a hero.  All my years of preparation for her to be turned into arm candy come to naught.  She is not punished or even made to feel guilty for wanting power.  She is not demonized, hypersexualized, or desexualized.  She is not militantly feminist or anti-man.  She simply does what she needs to do and has weightier things on her mind than romance.  Her love interests do not smile down at her from the throne but adore her from the crowd below.  It is a miracle.

So book me another flight. Because I do believe I’ll have to watch Snow White and the Huntsman several more times just to wash away the bad taste from all those other fairy tale heroines.

Hail the Queen.  And may there be many more like her.



  1. Kathy Crowley says:

    Ok so I guess I’ll have to watch *this* Snow White because the one I remember is the one who awakens with… a kiss from a handsome prince.
    Glad we are ready to MOVE ON.
    Thanks, Julie –