Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a story collected by The Brothers Grimm and published in their 1812 volume Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Published initially as Schneewittchen in Germany, the Grimms’ version of the story became widely known worldwide. However, similar reports were circulating in numerous European countries before the Brothers Grimm published their fairy tale collection.
The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs gained extra popularity in the 20th century after Walt Disney released his iconic animated film version in 1937. The film became famous for being the world’s first feature-length animated film and for its engaging story-telling. The film remains a classic to this day.
Fun fact: The dwarfs didn’t have names in the original tale. They were first given names in a play script of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs performed on Broadway in 1912. Disney kept the concept but invented new names for the dwarfs in his 1937 film. The Disney names stuck and are still used for the dwarfs today.
So, now we know some of the histories, let’s look at a short Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs summary to give us a better idea of the plot.
A short Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs summary
Like many other traditional tales, the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs centers around a beautiful princess. However, the report also uses the trope of the evil stepmother, jealous of her stepdaughter’s beauty and goodness.
Snow White is a princess who lives in a castle with her stepmother, who is a witch. The witch uses an enchanted mirror to tell her who is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. When the mirror answers ‘Snow White’, her stepmother takes her to the forest to be killed. The huntsman charged with the task takes pity on the girl and sets Snow White free. She comes across a little house where seven dwarfs live and makes her home with them.
On discovering her stepdaughter is still alive, the witch disguises herself as an older woman and makes her way into the forest. She finds Snow White and gives her a poisoned apple to eat. Snow White instantly falls as if dead. When they return from work, the dwarfs find her, apparently dead, and place her in a glass coffin.
The next day, a prince rides through the forest and sees the beautiful Snow White in her coffin. He asks to take her back to her father’s castle. During the journey, one of the men carrying the coffin trips, and the piece of poisoned apple is dislodged from Snow White’s throat. She instantly wakes up, and she and the prince are married.
This short Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs summary gives you an idea of the story. Now let’s look at this classic fairy tale in more detail.
The Snow White story
Once upon a time, a Queen sat at a window in her castle. She was sewing with the window open to watch winter snowflakes. She pricked her finger with her needle, and three drops of blood fell onto the windowsill. The blood was red, the snow was white, and the windowsill was black.
‘I wish I had a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony,’ said the Queen.
Sometime later, the Queen gave birth to a little girl named Snow White. But sadly, the Queen died giving birth, and Snow White was left without a mother.
The King soon married again. His new wife was excellent, but she was also a witch. The new Queen also had a magic mirror. Every morning, she asked the mirror the same question: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’ The mirror told the Queen she was the fairest of them all every morning. For years, the Queen was content, but one day, when Snow White was seven years old, the Mirror said that the princess was now fairer than the Queen.
The Queen couldn’t bear it. She was so jealous and angry that she ordered a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. She told him to return with her heart as proof of her death.
But, when the Huntsman took Snow White into the forest, he found he couldn’t bear to kill her. As he raised the knife to kill her, Snow White begged for her life. She promised to run far away and never return to the castle again. Reluctantly, as he was terrified of the Queen, the Huntsman agreed and killed a wild animal instead so that he could present the Queen with its heart.
Snow White walked through the forest for hours. Finally, she came to a small cottage. The door was unlocked, so she stepped inside. Everything in the house was small, and there were seven of everything. Snow White was very hungry, thirsty, and very tired. She ate food, drank wine, and tucked herself into one of the beds. She soon fell asleep.
A few hours later, she woke to find seven small men around her. The men were dwarfs, returned from a day of work in the mines. Though initially alarmed at the idea that someone had broken into their home, the dwarfs soon took pity on the little girl when she explained her stepmother’s plan to kill her. However, they agreed that she could stay with them if she took on the cooking and cleaning of the cottage. Snow White was delighted.
‘One final rule,’ said the dwarfs. ‘You must be careful when alone at home. Don’t speak to strangers or let them in the house.’
Ten years passed. Snow White grew into a lovely, beautiful young woman who was getting on well with the dwarfs. However, the evil Queen was still obsessed with the idea of her beauty. So she turned to her mirror again and asked: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’
The mirror told her that Snow White was still the fairest. The evil Queen was incensed. She thought she’d had Snow White killed ten years ago. So she asked the mirror where Snow White was and, because the mirror was always bound to tell the truth, it showed her the cottage in the forest.
Having already been betrayed by the Huntsman, the Queen decided to kill Snow White herself. So, she set out to the cottage disguised as an old peddler. She knocked on the door, and when Snow White answered, she showed her the beautifully laced bodices she was selling. She even offered to show Snow White how to lace them up. Snow White agreed, but as the Queen tied the laces, she pulled so tightly that Snow White couldn’t breathe and collapsed. Thinking Snow White was dead, the Queen left. But luckily, the dwarfs returned and unlaced the bodice just in time. Snow White took a huge gasp and was revived.
Pleased with herself, the evil Queen returned to the castle and turned to her mirror, asking: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’
‘Snow White,’ said the mirror.
Again, the Queen raged. She returned to the cottage, this time dressed up as a tradeswoman. She knocked on the door and showed Snow White a beautiful jeweled comb. She told Snow White how to wear it, but the comb was poisonous. When the Queen tucked it into Snow White’s hair, Snow White collapsed.
Once again, the Queen was convinced that she’d killed Snow White and fled back to the castle. But, when the dwarfs returned home, they removed the comb from Snow White’s locks, and she revived.
The Queen asked her mirror: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’
‘Snow White,’ said the Mirror.
The Queen was livid. One final time, she made her way to the cottage. This time, she was dressed as a farmer’s wife. She knocked on the door and offered Snow White an apple. She cut the apple in half to make Snow White feel more comfortable taking a bite. The evil Queen took the green half and offered Snow White the red half.
‘You see?’ said the Queen, taking a bite. ‘It’s fine.’
Snow White took a bite, and, of course, the red half was poisoned. She fell to the floor and, convinced Snow White was dead; the Queen fled back to the castle.
The dwarfs returned to the cottage and found Snow White lying on the floor. This time, nothing they did could revive her. Together, they placed her in a glass coffin outside and mourned her death.
The next day, a Prince was riding by. He came across the coffin and was struck by the girl’s beauty beyond the glass. He knocked on the door of the dwarfs’ cottage and asked for the story. The dwarfs told him all about Snow White and the witch, how they’d found Snow White lifeless on the floor for a third and final time. The Prince asked if he could take Snow White’s body back to her father’s castle, her rightful resting place. Reluctantly, the dwarfs agreed.
The Prince and his men transported the coffin through the forest. As they walked, one of his men tripped over a root and stumbled. He dropped his corner of the casket, and a piece of apple was dislodged from Snow White’s throat. Once it was free, she was magically revived.
The Prince opened the coffin and immediately asked for Snow White’s hand in marriage. She agreed and went with him to his kingdom. The Prince invited everyone in the land to their wedding except the evil Queen.
Meanwhile, the evil Queen was back at the castle. She consulted her mirror: ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’
The mirror explained that a Prince of a nearby kingdom had a new bride. This new bride, the mirror said, was much fairer than the evil Queen.
Furious, the evil Queen went to the wedding to investigate. When she saw the bride was Snow White, she was overcome with rage, fear, and jealousy. Unfortunately, the Prince spotted her just as she was hatching yet another dastardly plan. Remembering the stories the dwarfs and his new wife had told him, he ordered the guards to seize her. As punishment for her crimes, he ordered her to wear a pair of red-hot shoes and dance. Unfortunately, the boots burned her feet, and she hopped from one foot to the other until she died.
Where does the Snow White story come from?
It’s not known precisely where the story comes from. However, there are several possible influences and origins from various places worldwide.
Some scholars believe that the fairy tale is loosely based on the life of Margaretha von Waldeck, the daughter of a medieval German count. Famed for her beauty, Margaretha was sent away from her father’s castle in 1549 after the arrival of a rigorous stepmother and forwarded to the court of Mary of Hungary. Her father owned many copper mines, and most workers were children, a possible connection to the dwarfs in the Snow White story. The children all lived together in single-room huts, like the dwarfs in the fairy tale.
Another connection between the life of Margaretha von Waldeck and the Snow White story is that it’s thought that Margaretha was poisoned. She died aged only 21 in 1554. At the time, however, her stepmother was not a suspect in her murder.
But this is not the only possible source of the story. The Greek myth Chione tells the story of a young woman that is so beautiful that the god’s Apollo and Hermes fall in love with her. The report features old-crone disguises and jealousy between women around beauty and status.
There are also fairy tales from Armenia, Italy, and France that feature similar themes of fugitive princesses and kind woodsmen, dwarfs, or thieves that take her in. Sometimes Snow White is the daughter of a King, sometimes the daughter of an innkeeper. While some versions cast the antagonist as Snow White’s stepmother, she’s her biological mother in other versions. For kids, versions of the Snow White story are sometimes slightly edited, particularly towards the end, so there’s little mention of the evil Queen’s terrible fate.