Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Saga Press
Published on: November 10 2015
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A New York Times bestselling author offers a brilliant reinvention of one of the best-known fairy tales of all time with Snow White as a gunslinger in the mythical Wild West.
Forget the dark, enchanted forest. Picture instead a masterfully evoked Old West where you are more likely to find coyotes as the seven dwarves. Insert into this scene a plain-spoken, appealing narrator who relates the history of our heroine’s parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him.
Although her mother’s life ended as hers began, so begins a remarkable tale: equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have.
Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, this is an utterly enchanting story . . . at once familiar and entirely new.
When you’re a booklover, you read all kinds of books for all kinds of reasons. Sure, you have your favorite authors and series, but what about the lesser known quantities?
Could be the hype, could be a recommendation, but whatever it is, you go into the reading of it with hope.
Hope that it will make you feel something. Hope that you’ll love it. Hope that it will teach you something about yourself. Hope that it will teach you something about the world.
Hope that this book will change you somehow, for the better.
It rarely works out that way.
But sometimes . . . Sometimes it does.
Any version of Snow White that I’ve read is a variation of the same basic story: a girl’s widowed father remarries, and her new stepmother is the stuff of nightmares.
But in a very generic sense.
Stepmonster wants the kingdom, money, power, whatever, for herself, and she’ll kill her husband and/or Snow White to get it.
Stepmonster bad. Snow-White good. Simple.
Valente’s version, at its core, is just as simple.
Mrs. H isn’t a cardboard place holder for evil. Her evil has weight. And Snow-White isn’t a stock damsel in distress. She’s a child left to the mercies of a woman incapable of love.
And it hurts, ye gods, it HURTS. B/c Snow-White so desperately wants to be loved. Only she doesn’t know that’s what she wants, b/c she never learned the word for it.
Maybe the new Mrs. H would sit with me the way the fox did. Maybe she would come to my saloon and play cards around the table where no one else ever upped an ante or called. It might be good fun to play with another body. Maybe she would brush my hair and sing to me, and that would be nice. Maybe she liked to shoot. Maybe she would teach me Latin and French and dancing. Maybe she’d want to dress me up as something. Maybe she would love me the way I loved my gun.
In Mrs. H, Snow-White gains not only a (truly awful) mother, but also an instructor. And based on that instruction, having no other frame of reference, she develops skewed ideas about things like love:
Love is what grown folk do to each other because the law frowns on killing.
And what it means to be a woman:
She put jasper-and-pearl combs in my hair and yanked them so tight, I cried—There, now you’re a lady, she said, and I did not know if the comb or the tears did it.
By itself, this would be enough to set SIX-GUN SNOW WHITE apart from other retellings, but fleshing out stock characters is the least of what Valente did.
Snow-White’s father isn’t a king. He’s an acquisitive man with a talent for sniffing out mineral deposits. His first wife was a Native American whom he essentially blackmailed into marrying him, and when she died in childbirth, he hid his halfbreed daughter from the world (<——gross oversimplification).
So you see . . . This is no simple retelling. It’s a commentary on how white colonists treated Native Americans.
Now, I have had a long time to cogitate on this. I guess I know something about magic after everything that’s happened, enough to know you don’t go talking about it when it’s not around. But I think back East they have Puritan magic and out West we have animal magic, and I’ll tell you the truth for nothing: Those goodies and goodwives and poppets and dark woods scare me worse than any crow with the sun in her mouth.
Snow-White is the unfortunate product of a union between the two, belonging to neither.
Despite the irreparable damage inflicted on her by her father and stepmother, and despite the choice she later makes for herself . . . Her story ends with hope.
Is this story painful?
Is it worth it?
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