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Vicente Khao

Professor McClure

Writing 39B

11 February 2018

Damsel in Power

In a typical fairy tale, we are presented with a kind, caring, and charismatic character who

is beloved by all and typically ends up in saving the kingdom, or even the world. Many fairy

tales have princesses such as Princess Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Belle in Beauty and the

Beast, and Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In these fairy tales, the princess

is usually in need of saving by a prince, or a male figure. In literature, the princess is a hero who

shines the light through the dark and evil elements. That is until two brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm

Grimm began to publish their own take on classic fairy tales such as Snow White and Cinderella.

Their collection of fairy tales later became known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales that included sex and

other repulsive scenes not suitable for children. A vast majority of these stories contain sex,

violence, abuse, incest, wicked stepmothers and explicit feminism (Greenspan). Neil Gaiman, an

English author of famous novels such as Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard

Book, published a short story in 1994 titled Snow, Glass, Apples that takes a on a whole new

twist, rejecting the original Snow White and tells it from the evil stepmother’s perspective.

Gaiman’s purpose of this novel is to denounce the role of women where they play in the damsel

in distress and instead uses their sexuality in the pursuit of power and control. He does so by

comparing the wise and faithful queen to the violent and bloodthirsty princess in an attempt to

sway the audience into respecting young women, especially those in power rather than looming

over them like they are the bottom of society. To accomplish this, Gaiman uses the art-horror
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genre and his concerns over the independence of women, the stereotypical roles of gender

between men and women, and the sexuality of women.

By demonstrating the art-horror genre, Gaiman displays fear as a way of gaining respect

for women. Noel Carroll an American philosopher and professor, who teaches philosophy at the

CUNY Graduate Center, writes in The Nature of Horror: “that the monster is an extraordinary

character in our ordinary world” (Carroll). This distinguishes the two extraordinary characters in

Snow, Glass, Apples. The stepmother is a witch and the young princess is a blood-sucking

vampire who is more of a monster than her stepmother. Gaiman introduces this new Snow White

to create fear, a monster that will come at us, seduce us and feed on our blood. The purpose of

this is to make the audience respect and acknowledge the princess, which mirrors the respect

towards women. While the stepmother is someone to be pitied because she is the one living in

fear and respcct of her stepdaughter, the princess (Pity). Gaiman is challenging the role of

women in this fairy tale that reflects the world we live in.

Another way the art-horror genre is applied is through sex. In horror, when there is sex

there is typically consequence that follows. In the text, “There were scars on my love, her

father’s thighs, and on his ballock-pouch, and on his male member, when he died” (Gaiman).

The King would engage in incest and abuse the princess, hence where he got his scars. The text

also suggests that the princess struggle and was forced to have sex and that would conclude

where all the scars came from, ultimately leading to his death. In the forest, the princess feeds off

a man that was trying to prostitute her for sex. The prince who has sex with the queen, does so in

a dreadful way, for she was not allowed to speak or move, but lay there. He used that as a way to

bring the princess back into the palace. The prince asserted his dominance over the queen and the
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descriptions relate to how women are typically treated. To not speak, or move, or anything and

letting a man control her. Regardless of how women are treated, they still depend on men.

In fairy tales, the damsel in distress is dependant on a male character. Gaiman emphasizes

the independence of women by expressing the princess and queen’s dependence in the story.

Throughout the story, we encounter things that the young princess and the queen depend on. In

Gaiman’s version, Snow White is described as the antagonist who is not human, but resembles a

monster that feeds on people’s blood, “...she sank her teeth into the base of my thumb, the

Mound of Venus, and she drew blood” (Gaiman). In the beginning of the story, the woman who

would later become queen sees the king’s face in her dreams for all her life until he finally asked

for her name. There was no way this was a coincidence and it was possible the queen used

sorcery to get the king to take her in. She does this because she wants not just any man, but one

with power such as the King. The queen also relies on things for safety from the princess after

her terrifying experience when she drank the blood from her hand. Like how women need men to

protect themselves, the queen felt in danger, “After that night I locked my chamber door at dusk,

barring it with an oaken pole, and I had the smith forge iron bars, which he placed across my

windows” and so depended on iron bars and locking her doors in order to be safe. Gaiman

conveys his concerns over the independence of women but showing their how dependent they

are, the idea that women need some sort of manly figure to protect and keep them safe, or even

to fulfill their desires. One thing is certain, the queen relied on one thing to believe that she is in


Sometimes when we are in possession of power, it becomes the very thing that destroys

us. When the queen orders her huntsmen to kill the princess and give her the heart, she hangs it

above her bed. This gave the impression that she has her heart, now she cannot do anything.
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When the queen awakens to the beating of the heart and the princess entering the room, “She

pulled down the twine on which her heart was hanging. She pulled off the dried rowan berries,

one by one; pulled off the garlic bulb – now a dried thing, after all these years; then she took up

her own, her pumping heart — a small thing, no larger than that of a nanny-goat or a she-bear —

as it brimmed and pumped its blood into her hand” (Gaiman). This becomes the moment where

the position of power she thought she held, was taken away from her. Regardless of what power

women have, it can easily be taken away from them, with the heart symbolizing control and

power. The heart is not the only piece of power the queen is in possession of.

Gaiman tells the story from the point of view and the voice of a woman, the queen. By

doing so, he makes a stand that the story through a woman’s voice is just as good, maybe even

better than a man’s voice telling the story. Normally in fairy tales, we are told the story by an

omniscient narrator, but Gaiman opts out of that choice and settles with giving the power of

storytelling to the queen. The queen becomes the center of the story, with everything happening

through her voice as she guides the audience through her story. This breaks the norm and

challenges the power of a man’s voice, replacing it with a woman’s. The ability to speak and use

one’s voice is the same as giving them power. At the end, ”I shall make no sound at all. I shall

think no more on this” Gaiman. The queen surrenders her voice and mind to the princess.So

despite being given the power to narrate, it is taken away from her as she dies. This is just the

stepping stone as we dive into the stereotypes challenged throughout the story.

In the stereotypical fairy tale, the female heroine is seen as perfect. She is beautiful, kind,

supportive, compassionate and of course, perfect. She is also helpless, naive, and isn’t very

intelligent. This is where the men in fairy tales come into play. They become the supportive

pillar that guides, protects and does everything in their power to help the princesses achieve their
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goals. Gaiman illustrates the broken stereotypical gender roles through the parent’s failure to

raise their child properly. To begin, there is nothing said about Snow White’s real mother except

that she died during childbirth and in that context, makes her seem more malevolent. The King,

her father is mentioned, but rarely, even as a father. Thus the mother and father figure is almost

nonexistent and leaves the princess without a parental figure to teach her the rights and wrongs

or even to grow up and become a proper lady. Hence why she becomes this vengeful vampire-

like being. This leaves the stepmother as being the only parent-like figure to approach the

princess. Unfortunately, the stepmother meets her end as she is to blame for the princess’

behavior, pushing her aside and to the point where she tries to kill her multiple times. It is also

due to the fact that the actual mother is not in the picture and causes both the princess and king to

engage in dreadful acts (Fairy). Fairy tales display the perfection of it’s character’s, but Grimm’s

Fairy Tales pushes the perfect vision of princesses with imperfection. They display the princess

as imperfect as they can to challenge the typical princess (Fairytales). The stereotype of a typical

princess is ruined when the parents are not there to encourage and create that kind,

compassionate and loving child. Maybe it was due to the king and queen’s feeling of inferiority

that led to them utterly degenerate what should be the one thing every parent should care for the


Men tend to think of women as inferior and see them as an object of sex, believing that

they have control over their mind and bodies. Alternatively, Gaiman uses women’s sexuality as a

tool of power. He implies that women have the control and power because only they can give

men what they want their bodies. This is seen when the King brings his new queen to the palace

and only calls upon her to pleasure him until then they both remain in their own rooms. When

the princess uses her chance with the King to kill him and seducing the forest-folk is proof that a
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woman’s body can be used for power and gain control of they want. The queen is a weaker

example of this because she succumbs to the prince, being dominated and used in a strangely

perverted way. She wants to move and talk because she wants to at least have some control and

power to do as she pleases, but the prince being strange as he is, only wants to feel pleasure for

himself, not to give pleasure. This is why he finds and falls in love with the princess because he

can do whatever he wishes to her cold, lifeless body (Short). This scene reminds us of how low

women are treated, to the point where they can’t do anything but be treated like objects.

Gaiman wants to shine a light on our society, where men are the dominant beings and

have all the power as opposed to women. Gaiman argues against the roles of women in fairy

tales and uses the queen and princess to demonstrate that, along with swapping the roles of men

and women to prove his point. With the queen who stands up for feminism and the princess who

resembles the dominance of men, so he gives the narrative voice to a woman and giving them the

leading roles as protagonist and antagonist. The men become the inferior ones who live under the

fear and control of the women, mainly the princess. The overall idea presented by Snow, Glass,

Apples is to respect women and not exploit them immorally, whether it be through asserting

dominance or sexually. The events that occur symbolizes how women feel toward men with

power and this is seen through the queen, that maintains her sexuality as a woman, and the

princess whose power resembles a man’s. The princess’ power frightens and has complete

control over the queen, like the women in our society who are shunned down upon. Women are

afraid of taking power because someone will be there to knock them back down again. If men

greedily keep power for themselves and continue to live with the behaviorism that they should

have complete command over everything, they end up destroying everything. Hence forward, the
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queen represents women that are set ablaze in the world where the social norm is that men are

the only ones that can be in power, while the voices and rights of women are undermined.

Works Cited

Carrol, Noël. The Nature of Horror. New Jersey: Wiley, 1990. Jstor. Web. 10 Feb. 2018

Fairy Tales and Fantasy Literature,


“Fairytales and Feminism: ‘I Don't Wanna Be Like Cinderella.’” The Artifice,

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Gaiman, Neil. “Snow, Glass, Apples.” The Dreaming, 10 Oct. 1999,

Greenspan, Jesse. “The Dark Side of the Grimm Fairy Tales.”, A&E Television

Networks, 17 Sept. 2013,

“Pity the Stepmother.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 May 1991,

“Story Review: Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman.” The Short Story Station, 4 Sept. 2014,