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Weekly Reviews: New Look Snow White

Today we have two brief books, each a “fractured fairy tale” version of Snow White.  First up, Catherynne Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White shares connections with a couple of recent posts on this site.  As the first half of the title should make clear, it shares with Six-Gun Tarot a Western setting, but also partakes of the same intense genre-blending Angela discussed in her review of that novel, relying heavily Westerns, American Indian folklore, and fairy tales.  Which brings us to the second half of the title, as the novel is primarily a fairy tale adaptation, which we discussed at the end of last year.  Valente primarily relies on the Grimm version of “Snow White” for her plot, but there are intriguing hints of several other fairy tales, including most prominently “Thousandfurs”.  This is a novel so dense in meanings and playful allusions that it would probably take a dissertation to tease all of them out of it.  But it should also be just plain fun for teens who love a fairy tale retelling, a Western, or both.

Next is Richard Sala’s graphic novel Delphine, which according to at least one interpretation, tells the “Snow White” story from the perspective of Prince Charming.  As with Valente’s novel, though, Delphine is much more than a simple retelling–it also contains pieces of many other fairy tales and familiar stories and it takes on a momentum and horror all its own.  Add to that the gorgeous artwork and mysterious plot, and you have a tremendous new graphic novel.  Read this together with Valente’s novel and Philip Pullman’s new translation of “Snow White” and get a whole new way (or ways) of looking at a story you thought you knew.

*VALENTE, Catherynne M. Six-Gun Snow White. 168p. Subterranean. Feb. 2013. Tr $40. ISBN 9781596065529.

Adult/High School–Valente has crafted a version of “Snow White” set in the mythic Wild West, with Snow White as the daughter of a corrupt miner and an American Indian woman. Where most book-length adaptations of fairy tales use their extra length to deepen characterizations and motivations, iron out plot inconsistencies, and generally make the tales more novelistic, Valente moves decidedly in the opposite direction, making her story even more fairy tale-like, if that is possible, by adding layers of myth and metaphor derived from Westerns and American Indian folklore. As one example, Valente is particularly interested in investigating the subtext beneath the tale’s concept of “the fairest of them all”–Snow White’s mixed-race background ensures that her skin cannot be “fair”; and Valente reimagines the stepmother’s murder attempts with lace, a comb, and an apple (representing forced starvation) as a more mundane introduction to the ways in which women mutilate themselves and each other for the sake of beauty. This last change allows Valente to refocus her account of the real murder attempts on a different piece of subtext from the tale: that of the conflicted relationship between the generations, and the collapsed identities of Snow White’s mother and stepmother. Fans of Valente’s teen novels, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (2011) and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (2012, both Feiwel) should be more than familiar with this sort of playfulness, and all fans of fairy tale adaptations should find something powerful and intriguing here.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

SALA, Richard. Delphine. illus. by Richard Sala. 126p. Fantagraphics. Jan. 2013. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-60699-590-7.
Adult/High School–In a book done in Sala’s typical style that combines beautiful watercolor with creepy narrative, readers travel along with a young man seeking his old love, a young woman named Delphine who went abroad, supposedly on family business, as soon as they finished school. In mythopoetic chapters featuring symbolic birds and crones, our hero finds himself wandering ever more deeply into a landscape that grows increasingly threatening, from tooth-baring barking canines to old men who refuse to take him toward his goal after promising to do so. He catches glimpses of folkloric beings–Snow White’s dwarves among them–while fending off brutal assaults. Full-color chapter openings move into sepia washes that lend further mood and distortion to the horrors he encounters. Is Delphine a prisoner or a lure? Was she trying to ditch him or asking for help? As he ponders the possibilities, he becomes increasingly entangled in a world that leads to a transformation of both feelings and corporeal identity. Excellent reading for fractured fairytale fans who want a walk on the dark side.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is the Young Adult Librarian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA. He reviews for a variety of library journals and blogs and recently contributed a chapter to The Complete Summer Reading Program Manual: From Planning to Evaluation (YALSA, 2012). Contact him via Twitter @droogmark