The Universe of Discourse

Mon, 01 Feb 2021

The magic mirror in Snow White

A few weeks ago I was thinking about Snow White and in the course of doing that I looked up the original German version of 1812. (Snow White herself is story #53, on page 238.)

The magic mirror is introduced this way:

Die Königin … hatte auch einen Spiegel, vor trat sie alle Morgen und fragte: …

(“The queen… also had a mirror, before which she stood every morning and asked…”)

The mirror is simply einen Spiegel, a mirror, not a specifically magic mirror. That seems to have been a later interpolation. In the 1857 edition, it says Sie hatte einen wunderbaren Spiegel…. There is no wunderbaren in the original.

I prefer the original. The mirror recites poetry; to say it is a magic mirror is superfluous.

But on second thought, is it? There is another explanation: in the original version, perhaps the mirror is an ordinary one, and the queen is psychotic.

Certainly nobody else hears the mirror speaking. And the queen tells the hunter not only to kill Snow White in the forest, but to bring back Snow White's lungs and liver, so that the she may eat them. With salt! (die will ich mit Salz kochen und essen.) Now I prefer the original even more. The later version, which unequivocally states that the mirror is magic, is much less terrifying.

I suppose the argument against this reading is that the mirror also provides the queen with real information: Snow White is still alive, and living with the seven dwarfs. I think the original text does imply that the queen was aware of the seven dwarfs, but how might she have known that Snow White was still alive? Well, she did eat the lungs and liver, which had actually come from a young wild boar (junger Frischling). Perhaps she was satisfied at first, but then there was something about the taste, or the texture, not quite what she expected… it gnawed at her for hours, and then in a flash of rage she realized what she had actually eaten…

[ Addendum 20210202: In case you wanted to see it,
Screenshot of the original 1812 text of _Kinder und Hausmärchen_, which reads as I quoted above.
 Note, by the way, that in 1812 the umlaut marks in Königin etc. still looked like small letter ‘e’; they had not yet been reduced to diareses. ]

[ Addendum 20210207: another startling detail that was revised in the later editions. ]

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