Snow White: Not Just a Fairy Tale

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Most of us are familiar with the story of Snow White: beautiful princess, jealous witch, hitman, dwarves, poisoned apple, hero prince. A cute little tale that got even cuter once Walt Disney got in hands on it in 1937, right?

It may have been more than a tale, and the true tragedies the fairy stories might be rooted in are anything but cute. Two young German ladies have been identified as possible inspirations for the story of Snow White and her jealous stepmother.

Margarete von Waldeck

Back in the mid 1500s, there was a beautiful girl named Margarete von Waldeck who lived in a mining town called (...wait for it...) Waldeck, a small community in northwestern Germany. Children worked in the mines there, so you can see where retelling of the tale eventually morphed the children into small men over the years. Possibly due to problems with her father’s new wife, Margarete moved out of Waldeck when she was about 17 years old, headed for Brussels. When she got there, her beauty attracted the attention of Philip II of Spain. Apparently someone didn’t care for the idea of Philip marrying Margarete, and she fell gravely ill. Most people thought she was poisoned, and her handwriting in her last will and testament was shaky enough to make most people think she had developed tremors, a sign of poisoning. This Snow White never got her prince - she died from the mysterious illness when she was just 21. To this day, no one knows who poisoned Margarete, but we can rule out one suspect: her stepmother was already dead.

Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina von Erthal

Behind door number two, we have Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina von Erthal, to be known as Maria from here on out. Born in 1729, Maria grew up in a castle in Lohr, Germany. The castle is a museum today, and if you visit, you’ll be able to look into a certain famous mirror. It’s believed that Maria’s father, Prince Philipp Christoph von Erthal, gave the looking glass to his second wife as a gift. Sounding a little familiar? Maria’s outlook under her stepmother wasn’t quite so bleak - there was no huntsman seeking internal organs for proof of Maria’s death - but scholars think it wasn’t an easy existence. “Presumably the hard reality of life for Maria Sophia under this woman was recast as a fairy story by the Brothers Grimm,” Dr. Karlheinz Bartels, a Snow White scholar, has said. Oh, and Maria’s story boasts “dwarves” in a fashion similar to Margarethe's: it’s said that only smaller-statured men were able to fit in the nearby mine tunnels of Bieber.

True tales or just a case of small German cities trying to generate a little tourism? Have any of you been to "Snow White's castle" in Lohr?

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November 7, 2011 - 7:04pm
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