Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Inner Voice (We All Ignore)

2.5"x3.5", Watercolor, Ink

Above is my latest submission to the Grumbacher ATC Swap, held on their happy little Facebook page. The theme this time around is “Fairy Tales,” and I chose the scene in which the disguised Queen offers Snow White the poisoned apple.

It’s a moment similar to many in our own lives, when that inner voice strains to warn us, but we’re too thick to listen. Most of the time, we’re faced with something more innocuous than impending death. But, afterward, it’s hard to shake off the feeling of “I knew that was gonna happen. Why didn’t I...?”

Oprah Winfrey calls it the whisper. She says the warning starts with a whisper, and when you don’t listen, it becomes a pebble upside the head, then a brick, then a brick wall falling down on you, etc. As individuals, one of the hardest things we’ll ever have to do in life is learn how to listen to that internal warning system. As a species, we have become champions at blowing it off altogether.

In the original story collected by the Brothers Grimm, which was called Snowdrop, the young princess has several chances to get it right, but still falls for the evil Queen’s lures despite repeated warnings from the Dwarves. The first time the Queen visits, she pulls the laces on Snowdrop’s dress tight, cutting off her breath. The Dwarves come back, loosen the laces and revive her. The Queen returns on another day and offers her victim a poisoned comb. Down she goes, again. The Dwarves find her, remove the comb, and all is well.

The apple incident is the final attempt by the Queen. Snowdrop takes a bite and collapses. This time, the Dwarves cannot wake her, and instead place her in a glass coffin which the Prince discovers later on. In the Grimms’ version, he doesn’t kiss her, but rather has the coffin transported to his castle and the movement jostles the piece of apple out of Snowdrop’s mouth. Oh, joy! She’s alive to marry the Prince. The Queen dies from shock at their wedding. Happiness ever after ensues.

After some thought, it occurred to me that perhaps the Dwarves didn’t really try hard enough to save their charge the last time. It would get to be tiresome, don’t you think, coming home every day from working hard at the mines, only to deal with a body sprawled on the floor of your cottage? A discussion like the following might have taken place:
  • First Dwarf: “Seriously? This makes three times!” 
  • Second Dwarf: “That is one daffy broad.” 
  • Third Dwarf: “The apple chunk is probably still lodged in her throat.” 
  • Passing Squirrel: “Y'all are crazy to wake that chick up again.” 
  • Fourth Dwarf: I'm not waking her up.” 
  • Fifth Dwarf: “Well, here's a thought. Let's leave her out in the woods, and maybe someone will come by and take her away.” 
  • Sixth Dwarf: “I like that idea. It worked for that old couch we didn't need anymore.” 
  • Seventh Dwarf: “Right on. But, we'd better put her in a glass case, so the critters won't think she's lunch.” 

Of course, the heroines in the fairy tales of old haven’t exactly been renowned for their mental acuity. Snowdrop’s mother wished her physical beauty, but was content to allow chance to bestow upon her daughter the common sense of a gnat. 

At the very least, these stories call for a follow-up conversation to offset 19th century sexism. After reading a fairy tale to a child, the question should be asked, "What would you have done differently than Snowdrop, Rapunzel, Cinderella...?" Kids today could come up with superbly imaginative responses.

It’s never too early to teach problem-solving skills and nurture attention to one’s inner voice. You never know when a homicidal Queen will show up in your life.


  1. Nice take on a the old tale. I think you're right about that still, small voice we hear warning us of danger. I didn't realize how the actual fairy tale went down, so yea, as a blue-collar dwarf working all day in a hot, dangerous, dark mine and having to come home to a dim girl who managed to off herself yet again... my sympathies.

  2. Haha, I like your take on the dwarves. They definitely got the short end of the stick in the tale. 0.o