AppLit Home Appalachian Tales of Strong Women Tina L. Hanlon

Snow White's Appalachian Descendants


“A Stepchild That Was Treated Mighty Bad,” collected by Marie Campbell around 1935 and published in Tales from the Cloud Walking Country. 1976. Rpt. Athens: U of GA Press, 1999. This Kentucky tale is quite similar to "Snow White," except that the narrator expresses skepticism about the existence of a magic mirror.

"A Stepchild That Was Treated Mighty Bad," edited by Virginia Haviland. North American Legends. Illus. Ann Strugnell. New York: Collins, 1979. This is a reprint of the tale collected by Campbell. This collection emphasizes the blending of cultures and folklore traditions in America, and includes notes on the sources.

Willa: An American Snow White. Dir. Tom Davenport. Screenplay by Gary Carden, et al. Videocassette. Davenport Films, 1996. 85 minutes. Longer and more sophisticated than Davenport's earlier fairy tale films, this one blends a fairy tale plot in innovative ways with other literary motifs and elements of rural life in 1915. Davenport’s initial screenplay, titled The Stepchild, was based on “A Stepchild That Was Treated Mighty Bad,” a Kentucky tale collected by Marie Campbell around 1935 (see above). The final screenplay by Gary Carden and other collaborators weaves through the fabric of the old tale a number of historical, intertextual and metadramatic threads that highlight the psychological, emotional, and artistic development of a young actress. There are fascinating parallels with Sunset Boulevard, Great Expectations, and Shakespeare, as well as details of rural folklife in 1915. Willa flees from her Virginia mansion when her jealous stepmother Regina, an aging actress, turns murderous like Snow White’s stepmother and Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Instead of keeping house for seven dwarfs, Willa travels with three rural medicine men, raising the levels of the morals they live by and the entertainment they offer to the public. The head pitch man also acknowledges that she “gladdened our hearts” before she leaves with a young English filmmaker headed for Hollywood. This Romeo who riles Willa’s surrogate fathers by stealing their audiences and their star has been attracted by her strong ethics and her talent, as well as her beauty.  

Some of the information above is from e-mail received by Tina Hanlon from Tom Davenport and Gary Carden in 1999.  See also Camp, David. The Making of Willa: An American Snow White. Interview with Tom Davenport. Press Release on Willa. Delaplane, VA:  Davenport Films, 1998.

Davenport, Mimi and Tom. Willa: An American Snow White, 1999. This web site (no longer available at contained the screenplay, interviews with director and actors; teachers’ guides; background on folktales, medicine shows, influences, the cast, and the making of the film. Other criticism is listed in Bibliography of Davenport's Fairy Tale Films.

Yolen, Jane. Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All. New York: Philomel, 2007. Novel based on Yolen's short story listed below. The setting, called Addison, is based on her husband's family home of Webster, WV in the 1930s and 1940s (Yolen's husband was born in 1937). Except for some names and a wealth of culturally specific details, the plot and characters are imaginary, with fairy tale themes and magic woven into a realistic story about Summer's grieving and then deluded father; her mistreatment at the hands of her stepmother (a witch practicing unrealistic dark magic); and her escape into Snow in Summer coverthe forest where she finds refuge with a group of German jewel miners who are brothers. Cousin Nancy, a widow who takes her to the Catholic church, brightens Summer's early childhood after her mother dies and tries to rescue her as she approaches adolescence. Nancy provides rowan seeds, briars, and Summer's own caul to ward off the witch. A remote rural church that uses rattlesnakes and strychnine to test faith and a ruthless young man named Hunter are manipulated by the stepmother with evil intentions. Summer is the narrator, with a few chapters switching to Nancy's, the stepmother's, and one of the German brother's memories. Read this novel to see how Yolen replaces the romantic kiss of life at the end (from the Disney movie, of course, as it's not a kiss in older versions) and other intriguing transformations in this blend of European tale and realistic American regional fiction. Page on this book in Yolen's web site gives links, excerpts from reviews, and a few personal observations.

Yolen, Jane. "Snow in Summer." In Yolen's Sister Emily's Lightship and Other Stories. New York: Tor, 2000. Also in Black Heart, Ivory Bones. Ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. New York: Avon, 2000, pp. 90-96. Datlow and Windling's series of fairy tale anthologies contain contemporary fairy tales for adults. Snow in Summer is a girl named after flowers on the front lawn but after her mother dies, her stepmother coldly calls her Snow. Some dialect in the dialogue, place names, and other details place this tale in Appalachia. The wicked stepmother goes to a Holy Roller church with snake-handlers, while Snow prefers Webster Baptist. Snow takes refuge with little men blackened by coal dust. She is less gullible than the traditional Snow White and makes unconventional choices in the end. This tale was reprinted (in 2008) in the Story Sampler on Yolen's web site, where changing samples of her short stories appeared.

The World of Snow White by R. Rex Stephenson. Newport, ME: Leicester Bay Theatricals, 2016. Originally produced as The New Snow White at The Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre, Ferrum, VA, 2000. Although this play written and produced in southwestern Virginia does not use Appalachian settings or language, Stephenson was influenced by Campbell's Kentucky folktale (see above) and other variants from different parts of the world. This revision of the traditional folktale gives Snow White's father a more prominent role in raising and rescuing her, while the jealous villain is not Snow White's stepmother, but her mother, the evil Queen Mother, Lady Wicka.

See also:

"The Little Princess of the Forest." Told by Marshall Ward. Burton-Manning Collection, The Archives of Appalachia, Eastern Tennessee State University. This tale includes a witch who wants to eat a girl raised by eagles in the woods. The witch's son has long claws and one of them poisons the princess, causing her to fall asleep as if dead. She lies in this condition long enough for the dog and cat in her foster home to die and become bones. Much like Snow White, the girl is revived when a prince finds her in her treetop home, removes the poison claw from her jaw, and takes her to be his wife. The eagles had raised and educated her like human parents, naming her the Little Princess of the Forest, but they had left her alone while going on a long journey to get her a diamond ring. As in "Sleeping Beauty," a kiss from the prince is associated with the girl's revival (he takes out the poison claw and kisses her cheek to remove the scar), and the prince has a jealous mother and sweetheart who try to kill the princess. Like Cinderella, the princess has a fairy godmother; she appears late in the tale to save the girl after the mother-in-law drowns her. A strange sequence of magical transformations completes the series of rescues of the princess, restoring her to both her parents and the prince who will marry her. She turns into a water lily that looks like her, making all the men obsessed with it and all the women of the kingdom jealous; when the mother-in-law has the lily burned, the fairy godmother uses the ashes to create a giant magnolia blossom that the men also fall in love with. In spite of the king's strict orders to guard the blossom and not touch it, the blossom's huge fruit falls into her human mother's pail, and when her parents cut it open, the princess emerges and grows back to her normal size.

Daughter of the Sun is a Cherokee tale online at Stonee's Web Lodge, from James Mooney's work collecting myths of the Cherokee. It contains helpful Little Men and Uktena, the water monster. It is like the Greek myths of Demeter and Persephone (or Ceres and Proserpine), and Orpheus and Eurydice, and a little like "Snow White," when seven men carry Sun's daughter from the ghost country in a box they must not open, but she convinces them to open the box, escapes and becomes a redbird. Thereafter, people can never bring others from the ghost world. Sun is a cruel and sad old woman until the people's dances cheer her up at the end.

Compare with many variants of "Snow White" from different countries. Detailed background and a hypertext comparison of 36 different versions are found on Kay Vandergrift's Snow White Web Pages.

The Annotated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Annotated text (from Grimm Brothers, Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884) with background, illustrations and links to related tales and literature, at Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages by Heidi Anne Heiner.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" is a section in Once Upon a Time . . . a personal web site with a list of novels based on fairy tales and synopses of individual tales with lists of novels and blurbs on each one. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales has similar lists with other genres in addition to novels.

A translation of the Grimm Brothers' "Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs," illustrations by Walter Crane and Wanda Gäg, and the text of  Fiona French's Snow White in New York (1986) with one illustration are reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006. French's picture book is a fascinating spin-off of "Snow White" set in Jazz Age New York.

Top of Page   |   Last update:   11/17/19


Return to AppLit Folktale Index

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

Links to Online Texts

AppLit Home

Site Index