Catherynne M. Valente’s 2014 Six-Gun Snow White is a stand-alone retelling of the Snow White folktale.
History says that famed mine entrepreneur Mr. H had one wife and one son. History lies. Before he met and married Mrs. H, Mr. H met and became infatuated with a Crow woman, Gun That Sings. Consequences followed, most of them unhappy.
Determined to marry Gun That Sings, Mr. H tried compliments and lavish presents. When those failed, he resorted to blackmail: if Gun That Sings did not marry Mr. H, he would use his government connections to ensure a terrible fate befell her Crow people. Gun That Sings submitted, endured life as Mr. H’s plaything, and then died after giving birth to the protagonist of the story.
Mr. H had hoped his daughter would be as fair as he is. Crow genes win and she is not fair. She is raised by a succession of servants and encouraged in her pursuit of boyish skills. Her life is as happy as it could be under the circumstances … until Mr. H has the fancy to marry again. The new Mrs. H is white, from back East, has a mysteriously scandalous past, and does not care for her stepdaughter at all.
Mr. H is rarely home; he’s too busy chasing money. Mrs. H relegates the girl from daughter to ward. Mrs. H. invests a lot of energy into making the girl miserable, contemptuously naming her “Snow White” in honour of the skin color the girl will never have. Nevertheless, Mrs. H does need her stepdaughter for a very important role, so it is inconvenient when the girl steals a horse and rides away.
Snow White is tough, adept with a pistol, and determined to find her place in the world. Unbeknownst to her, a bounty hunter is on her trail, determined to help Snow White find her destiny … as a human sacrifice in Mrs. H’s dark rite.
This is a novella that was not published by tor dot com.
I am sure that Mr. H doesn’t see himself as malicious. He just wants what he wants and isn’t particular about how he gets it. The idea that other people might not want him to get what he wants must be a bit confounding for him, although not enough that he doesn’t have coping mechanisms.
Mrs. H, on the other hand, is in a bad place, having turned to dark magic because the 19th century didn’t offer her any other path to happiness. As it turns out, neither does black magic, because black magic has a price. Readers might have some sympathy for the witch, if it weren’t for her racism, spiteful cruelty, and desire to cut out Snow White’s heart. I guess it shows that someone can be legitimately oppressed and still be a jerk.
Readers and colleagues loved this novella. Six-Gun Snow White placed first in the Locus Best Novella1, and was a Hugo finalist for Best Novella2, a Nebula finalist3, and a World Fantasy finalist4.
Why the popularity? In part: the setting, an old West presented warts and all. In part: the prose, written in an engaging vernacular. In part: the characters, some of whom are despicable but none of whom are forgettable. The only question I have is why it took me nearly ten years to get around to reading this novella.
1: Placing ahead of a dozen fine works I don’t have energy to list at this time.
2: Losing to Charles Stoss’ Equoid, and beating Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages’ Wakulla Springs, Brad R. Torgersen’s The Chaplain’s Legacy, and Dan Wells’ The Butcher of Khardov.
3: Losing to The Weight of the Sunrise by Vylar Kaftan, placing after Annabel Lee by Nancy Kress and Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes, and placing ahead of Trial of the Century by Lawrence M. Schoen and Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages.
4: Losing to Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages, placing after Black Helicopters by Caitlín R. Kiernan and Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes, and placing ahead of The Sun and I by K. J. Parker