Mirror, Mirror: A Twisted Tale, by Jen Calonita

Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is…something of an obsession of mine. Even as a kid, I freaking loved the tale of kind and gentle Snow White, her friends the seven dwarfs, and, of course, the cruel and jealous Evil Queen. I’ve even cosplayed as Snow White twice. In fact, when comic conventions become a thing again, I plan to cosplay as the Evil Queen.

The Evil Queen is a tragic villain to me. True, she is quite evil, as befitting her name, but there was something more compelling about her than just the bad things she did. Unlike other Disney villains who thrive on being evil, like Maleficent or Chernabog, the Evil Queen felt slightly more vulnerable—more relatable—than other bad guys. Mirror, Mirror, part of the Disney Twisted Tales series, takes a closer look at the Evil Queen’s backstory, while also adding—what else?—a twist to the classic Disney tale.

Mirror, Mirror | Disney Books | Disney Publishing Worldwide

The Evil Queen is growing increasingly jealous of her beautiful stepdaughter, the princess Snow White. One day, she sends her huntsman to kill Snow White. But rather than fleeing into the haunted forest, Snow White stands her ground and asks that the huntsman tell her how to defeat the Evil Queen. Meanwhile, the Queen plots to kill Snow White with the poison apple, but eventually comes to a different conclusion. What if, rather than poisoning Snow White, she poisoned the one that Snow White loves most: her prince?

Snow White, I’ve learned, is a difficult fairy tale to retell originally. Many retellings have Snow White rising up against her stepmother, like The Shadow Queen or Snow White and the Huntsman, or paint the Evil Queen as a flawed anti-hero, like Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples. Mirror, Mirror goes the former route of having Snow White take a stand against the Queen. And it’s…kind of strange.

Disney’s Snow White is not necessarily the kind of person who would take a stand against evil. She does have conviction in the film, but seeing her at the head of an angry mob of villagers, staring the Evil Queen down, is difficult. It’s almost…out of character for her.

The writing is also kind problematic. The characters say things that you really cannot picture them saying. I cannot hear Snow White, or any of the characters, saying contemporary words like “okay” and “issue.” And again, Snow White taking such an active role is kind of strange.

But the writing probably does the greatest disservice of all to the dwarfs.

I love Snow White as a character, but the seven dwarfs help bring a little more life and personality to the film. I have my favorites (Bashful and Happy), but all seven of them have their own distinct character, and each one is so lovable. So, when a writer turns the most colorful characters of the film into exposition-droning cutouts with almost no personality at all…the Snow White purist in me gets just a little bit angry.

The dwarfs’ only purpose in this book is to spout exposition and gather Snow’s army. Doc doesn’t have one word mixup, and Bashful never blushes. Dopey never does anything, well, dopey, and Sleepy is almost never sleepy. The only one with any bit of personality is Grumpy. But even that slips up from time to time, because the dwarfs almost have too much to say. They’re simple characters that could easily split the dialogue among one another. Heck, they could even get into petty little fights about who gets to share which pieces of info.

Maybe I’m too much of a Snow White purist, but anyone who has seen the film knows each of the dwarfs’ quirks and could easily write dialogue for them without going overboard.

Also, the names. Rather than Grimhilde, the Queen’s name is Ingrid. And instead of Ferdinand or Florian (depending on who you talk to), the Prince’s name is Henri. It was at this point that I wondered whether the author did any research about what these characters are called in the Disney canon. And I know I shouldn’t put too much stock in character names, as long as they retain their personalities, but again, Snow White purist.

I promise this will be my last bitch-and-moan point of contention with this book, but Mirror, Mirror is the most clichéd title you can give to a Snow White property. We already have the Lily Collins/Julia Roberts movie, and the Gregory Maguire novel to hog up that title. And “Mirror, mirror” is not even how the incantation goes in the movie! When is anyone going to get it into their heads that it’s not “Mirror, mirror on the wall” but rather “Magic mirror on the wall”…!

I’m sorry. I know I should not be getting so angry about all these small details, but as someone who has seen Snow White hundreds of times at this point, it’s hard to imagine these characters as anything but what Disney initially created. And don’t worry: there are some things I like in this book. But one more thing.

The twist with this book is that, rather than poisoning Snow White, the Prince gets poisoned instead. Long story short, the twist is not that great, it doesn’t add a lot to this new story, and also doesn’t make sense in the story’s context.

But now, onto the good stuff.

The Evil Queen offers herself to a variety of tragic possibilities. In this case, she had an abusive father who she and her younger sister, Katherine, ran away from. The way her story pans out, you feel sorry for the Queen, and wish she had had a better life. Incidentally, I found the Queen’s scenes infinitely more compelling than those of Snow White and the dwarfs.

If you want a creative and engrossing backstory for the Evil Queen, you’re better off going with Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All. Everyone feels a lot more in character and the backstory is a lot grimmer than this version.

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