Snow White, Cinderella, and Mother Holle Drop By

This month I met three old friends at university whom I haven’t seen since childhood. You’ve probably heard of them: Snow White, Cinderella, and Mother Holle. They were part of a larger cultural group but these three in particular revived memories, albeit with meaning I wasn’t ready for when heard them for the first time as a little girl. So fascinating were they, I thought I’d share them with you.

Snow White Cinderella

The Tale Behind the Tale

In case you think I’ve succumbed to the pressure already, let me explain. This year’s courses in cultural studies are relevant to those I’ll be continuing next year as a grad student. How better to explore German culture than through a German Folklore and Mythology course, which is where I met these friends. These are straight out of the pages of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s 1857 collection. The story lines speak for the times, before Disnification and may differ slightly from the version we grew up with.

Folk tales are often thought of as stories told to children for entertainment, intended to leave children feeling good, and hopefully sleepy. Less often, they’re remembered for the possible psychological, therapeutic and moral themes embedded within them, sometimes more subtly than others. As students, this is but one of the facets we look at.

These stories are always about the star of the story. All the other characters support her journey. The villains are parts of her personality that she needs to deal with if she wants to get to the “happy ever after.” The last line in the story (per the Grimms’ version) is the one to remember to secure that happy ending. Looking at these tales from a very high level and from just that one aspect, here’s what these friends had to say.

Snow White, Cinderella, and Mother Holle Drop By

Snow White had to overcome all-consuming feelings of jealousy and vanity portrayed by her evil stepmother. In order to do this, she had to leave the security of her home and go on an inner quest into the unknown. Even though she was frightened, help and support appeared when she needed it. She was challenged three times by the evil queen. Snow White knew that if she was ever going to get over this, she’d have to deal with these feelings once and for all. This was symbolized by her wedding to the prince to which the “evil queen” was invited.

The story ends with, ”But iron slippers had been placed over coal flames, now they were carried in with tongs and set down in front of her (the queen). Then she was forced to put her feet into the red-hot shoes and keep on dancing until she fell to the floor dead“ (Grimm 161). Feelings managed, Snow White goes on to live a happy life.

Mother Holle is a kindly and just woman in the underworld. She is visited first by a widow’s daughter who is hardworking and diligent. The daughter returns to her stepmother covered in gold. Seeing the gold, her stepsister who was filled with indolence, avarice, and sense of entitlement, demanded to be allowed to travel to the underworld. She however was lazy and wouldn’t help out once there. Rather than coming back covered in gold, when it was time to return, Mother Holle poured pitch over her. “And the pitch stuck to her. It wouldn’t come off as long as she lived“ (Grimm 95). The lesson? Acting from a kind heart bodes well.

Cinderella is treated cruelly but remains humble and conciliatory. Still, she needs to overcome her feelings of greed, vengeance and cruelty as reflected to her through her evil stepsisters. They persist in their mistreatment and end up with their eyes pecked out by doves. “And so, because of their malice and falseness they were punished with blindness for the rest of their life (Grimm 89).

Folk Tale Endings

And you thought folk tales always had a happy ending! They can – but only if you do your work, and the sooner the better. Also, it doesn’t mean you won’t need a reminder. Those mentioned above may not be the exact feelings you’re facing but we all have something. We’re usually blind to seeing them in ourselves and it takes others to project them back to us. The stronger the feeling they elicit, the greater the lesson for us to learn.

A few years ago I had to deal with unexpected feelings of intense rage. They were prompted by the actions of someone else and directed towards that person. Until I realized that the anger I felt was directed at me for having that person in my life in the first place. The actions of that person were completely in character. It was my choices I had to deal with.

Often, the last line teaches children, no matter what age, that happy endings don’t come without overcoming challenges in folk tales or in real life. Thanks to Snow White, Cinderella and Mother Holle for dropping by!


Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. Selected Folktales/Ausgewählte Märchen: A Dual-Language Book, Ed and trans. Stanley Appelbaum, Dover, 2003

Photo Above by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash


Author, writer, and student Liz Jansen combines her artistic mediums to create stories that inspire readers to embark on their own journey of self-discovery.

2 Comments on “Snow White, Cinderella, and Mother Holle Drop By

  1. I had known the original tales were quite “Grimm”, but I had never learned the psychological interpretation that the other characters were the inner demons of the main character. That is quite fascinating! And your own realization of anger and what it meant–great stuff, Liz. Thanks for sharing! Glad university is going so well. 🙂