White As Snow
Tor, 2001 (2000)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
hite As Snow
is part of
The Fairy Tale Series
created by Terri Windling. As can be expected from this author, Tanith Lee gives a dark and masterful retelling of the
story, which in no way brings to mind the familiar (and in comparison, bland) Disney version.
mother / stepmother in Lee's version starts out as young, lovely, fourteen-year-old Arpazia, who descends gradually into a kind of madness after conquest, rape and a very difficult childbirth. The war-leader / king Draco makes her his queen, but soon deserts her to a town and palace by the sea. The queen develops a reputation as a witch, largely due to the unusual and sinister mirror, which Draco took as spoils of war and then returned to her. Arpazia shuns and even hates her child, a daughter who grows up her mirror image.
unning through the story are several different themes: the abysmal treatment of women in a brutal world; conflict between the old and new religions which co-exist for a time; the legend of Persephone and Demeter; the love / hate relationship between a young girl growing into her beauty and an ageing mother losing hers; and how badly societies can treat those who are different. The latter is reflected in Arpazia's being labeled as a witch, but also in people's contempt for the dwarves, used and abused in the mines.
anith Lee never gives an easily optimistic read, and
White As Snow
is not a cheerful story. It is a totally fascinating one, as the reader follows the trail laid by this author, and watches her mould a light and shallow fairytale into a deep and subtle story with a most unusual conclusion; one which cuts through the cycle of abuse that damaged both the child-mother and her daughter. '
Black is the wood, white is the snow / Red the roses that under it grow
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