Released in movie theaters in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the first Disney Animated movie and considered by many as a masterpiece. And why not after all? From the score to the characters' animation and the mix between a childish fairy tale with yet some dark scenes which are, (un?)fortunately expanded in this retelling.
It all started with a ( no doubt thrilling) mail from an editor at Disney Press to Serena Valentino, a comic-book writer, known for her urban gothic novels ( GloomCookie) and grizzly adaptations of childhood bedtime stories such as Cinderella or the Little Red Riding Hood ( Nightmares and Fairy Tales). The latter grant her a childhood dream; working for Disney. Miss Valentino always dreamed of acting and singing for Disney. She went to university to teach theater and due to this background, she has easily immersed herself in the head of those complex characters that are the villains. Snow White is her favorite Disney Princess, her evil stepmother received the honorable spot of 'first novel in the series'.
Fairest of All doesn't start during this iconic interview between Queen Grimhilde and her magic mirror nor when the Queen is a young child. Our first introduction to Serena's conception of the fairy tale world ( known as the Many Kingdoms), is a few minutes before the Queen's first (and last) wedding, with Snow White's father. Our protagonist is already depicted as a beautiful, young woman, yet her coldness and vanity aren't apart of her personality yet. Forging progressively a bond with the daughter of her husband that she loves deeply, we would almost forget we're reading a retelling of Snow White. The first pages tell us all about the Queen's meeting with the King, and surprisingly, the Queen wasn't born in royalty but she isn't an old witch in the guise of a young beauty either. Daughter of a renowned crafter, mourning the loss of her mother at childbirth, Grimhilde is here portrayed as someone much warmer, yet her insecure nature about her beauty and worthiness already show us a mysterious, bruised woman, far away from the cliche of the young cheesy and pure heroine turning evil in the twinkling of an eye.
If the first chapters appear as nothing but wholesome and heartwarming, a welcome mature and dark tone soon cast a shadow upon the royal family's happiness. The King decided to fight along with his men at war while Grimhilde tries to maintain Snow White happy and safe. A useless attempt due to the twisted reflection of lavender and green theatrical mask in the glass of a mirror given as a wedding gift, as well as the arrival of three triplets witches who will cause trouble, not only to the White family but to other villains and princesses, chaos and misery.
Serena Valentino brilliantly portrays the burden of grief and insecurity, describing a terrifying childhood, as well as the unstoppable plague of fever dreams with a glimpse of foreshadowing in the Queen's future. If some scenes can seem out of place or shocking for some readers, I think it adds to the idea that the Queen is slowly but surely descending into an endless madness where she will embrace witchcraft at the expense of friendship, family, and senses to reach her ultimate goal: be the fairest of them all.
Find yourselves projected in a story which, in tribute to the animated film, is filled with boy utter joy and compelling darkness. While the origins of the Magic Mirror and the real reasons behind the Queen's vanity and reason to murder her stepdaughter are revealed, this novel will not only provide a rich background for an undeveloped character but also answers all your burning questions( why an apple? How Grimhilde learned the Black Arts? How does she know the Hunstman?) and allow you to take a fresh look at this story.
With the tiny chapter illustrations representing events and places of the novel, combined with the visual and flowing writing style of Serena, you will find yourselves immersed in a world where not all beautiful girls get the admiration and happiness they deserve. To conclude, a brilliant cautionary book on the danger of grief and insecurity, on true beauty, with a good portion of envy and dark magic.
* Since the book spells belonged to Grimhilde's mother and as she was a witch as mentioned by the Odd Sisters, it does raise an important question: was she a good witch or an evil one? Perhaps she abandoned her powers during her pregnancy or perhaps she was so powerful the witches decided to kill her and torture her daughter. If she was indeed evil, she would be as much of an influential factor in Grimhilde's descent into madness as her father was.
Rating: 5 out of 5 poisoned apples.