Friday, April 18, 2014

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente is an interesting take on the Snow White fairy tale. Snow White is given her name ironically by her evil, magical stepmother, as Snow White is half white, half Crow Indian. Her mother was a Crow woman named Gun That Sings who was forced into marrying one of the richest men in the west.

After trying to kill herself, Gun That Sings died in childbirth anyway. Mr. H treats his daughter like a doll, one locked away so that no one realizes he has a half-breed daughter. When she is 11, her father marries again. The new Mrs. H brings with her a fascinating, terrible, magical mirror. Under the guise of “love” she tries through abuse to civilize and whiten the child she calls Snow White. Snow recalls, “Mrs. H called me something new. She named me cruel and smirking, she named me not for beauty or for cleverness or for sweetness. She named me a thing I could aspire to but never become, the one thing I was not and could never be: Snow White.” (p. 37)

Eventually Snow runs away on her horse Charming and the fairy tale plays out. Elements of the original exist – a man who is a Pinkerton follows after Snow to bring her heart back to Mrs. H. Seven outlaw women, not dwarves, save Snow when she arrives in the town of Oh-Be-Joyful. Apples come into the story at various places. Snow eventually ends up in a glass case.

I enjoyed Six-Gun Snow White. Valente puts her own interesting spin on the tale of Snow White by combining it with imagery of the Old West. One phrase resonates throughout the text: “It looked like a choice but it wasn’t.” There are some lovely passages.

 The author comes through the narration as a little smug and self-satisfied with her own cleverness, and I feel the book would have been stronger if it had ended before the last chapter. I still recommend it to anyone interested in alternate fairy tales or Native American mythology.

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