Last night I heard the screaming

White as Snow — Tanith Lee
Fairy Tales, book 7

white-as-snow

Tanith Lee’s 2000 stand-alone White as Snow was the eighth and second-to-last entry in Terri Wildling’s Fairy Tales series. Published by Ace and then Tor, Windling’s Fairy Tales  was

a series of novels that (retold) and (reinterpreted) traditional fairy tales

In White as Snow , Lee sets aside modern interpretations of the Snow White story, framed to offer Depression Era Americans some solace in poverty, to draw from the original source material. The result?

“Unrelentingly grim” may be too upbeat a description.


Spared the general massacre after her father’s castle falls to would-be king Draco, Arpazia is raped by the conqueror. Pious Draco then insists on marrying his victim as a sop to his Christian morals. When the product of rape is a mere girl child, Draco sets mother and daughter aside to focus on more important affairs. As in, affairs with accommodating women elsewhere.

Arpazia sees her unwanted baby as curse made flesh. In turns indifferent to and then hostile to her child, Arpazia leaves rearing the girl to servants. Arpazia sinks ever deeper into depression and madness.

The daughter, Coira, yearns for motherly love she will never have. She is all too naive and is easy prey for Cirpoz, a huntsman bribed by the queen to dispose of the girl. It is only after he has dragged Coira far from her home that Cirpoz learns that his victim is the king’s daughter. Surely his only hope is to murder her and hope that the king never discovers his role in Coira’s mysterious disappearance.

Cirpoz’ seven dwarf slaves see Coira as an opportunity, not a complication to be erased as quickly and quietly as possible. For the dwarves, a mistress beholden to them is the key to something their deformities deny them in this Christian realm: freedom.

 ~oOo~

In many cases it is better to be an orphan in a Lee book than to have living parents. This book is somewhat equivocal on the question. While Coira has to deal with a murderous mother and worse, orphan Arpazia’s life is one long cavalcade of horror and PTSD.

Maybe the only way to avoid utter misery is to avoid being a protagonist in one of Lee’s darker novels.

If only the story ended with Coira and her seven dwarves settling down in pleasant rustic retirement with their hoard of stolen silver. Lee’s goals include incorporating as many traditional elements as possible into her short novel, so she disposes of the dwarves and their master. Coira still has to deal with her obsessive hag of a mother, not to mention a prince considerably less than charming.

Lee’s characters may be fearfully pious (some of them to two incompatible sets of gods) but mythic resonances do not translate into any obligation on the part of the universe to ensure justice for the characters. Draco suffers at worst mild inconvenience for his actions; being saddled with a queen he finds increasingly loathsome only means he needs to store her in a castle distant from his capital, while more pleasing women sit at his side. Arpazia is broken, offered false hope, goes mad, and ultimately suffers a horrible fate for no fault other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Only Coira manages something a little like a happy ending. This may be an illusion created by the fact the book stops at a moment when things are going well for Coira and her chosen lover. Or perhaps Coira’s superior ability to cope will grant her a tolerable fate. Imagine the ending as you wish.

Lee’s prose is as beautiful as her story is ugly. I appreciate the craft and the steadfast faith to the source material without wanting to reread this work any time soon.

White as Snow is available here.



Title

Missing or dead mothers

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Silver Metal Lover

0

0

Delusion’s Master

1

1

Cyrion

0

0

Anakire

2

1

Sung in Shadow

1

0

The White Serpent

1

1

The Book of the Beast

0

1

Electric Forest

1

0

The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Lycanthia

0

0

A Heroine of the World

1

1

The Winter Players

0

2

Delirium’s Mistress

1

0

The Blood of Roses

2

1

Castle of Dark

1

0

Prince on a White Horse

0

0

Heart-Beast

0

0

Quest for the White Witch

1

0

Shon the Taken

0

0

Black Unicorn

1

1

Gold Unicorn

0

1

Dark Dance

1

1

Personal Darkness

1

1

Darkness, I

0

0

Wolf Tower

1

1

Faces Under Water

0

0

Red Unicorn

0

1

Saint Fire

1

0

A Bed of Earth

1

1

Louisa the Poisoner

2

1

Venus Preserved

1

2

Metallic Love

1

1

White as Snow

1

1

39 books

37* absent mothers

32** absent fathers


* Includes one aunt.

** Includes one uncle.


1: As far as I can tell, the complete list published as Fairy Tales  is:

The Sun, The Moon and the Stars by Stephen Brust (1987)

Jack the Giant Killer by Charles de Lint (1987)

The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey (1988)

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede (1989)

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean (1991)

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (1992)

White as Snow by Tanith Lee (2000)

Fitcher’s Brides by Gregory Frost (2002)

For the most part, the covers were by Thomas Canty, with the exception of Jack the Giant-Killer, whose cover was by Jim Warren. Ace published the first three, and then the series moved to Tor with the de Lint.



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