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Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
Book Name: Six-Gun Snow White
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher(s): Saga Press (US) Subterranean Press (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fairy Tale / Western
Release Date: November 10, 2015 (US) February 28, 2013 (UK)

Simply put, I loved Six-Gun Snow White. Although many have adapted fairy tales across a variety of media, very few have done it this well. This isn’t a simple retelling or putting an old tale in new set dressing; Catherynne M. Valente transforms the story of Snow White and tells it beautifully, painfully well. She remakes Snow White into an American fairy tale and creates something new and tragic and wonderful.

The story begins with Mr. H., a silver baron, who spots a beautiful Crow woman, Gun That Sings, and covets her instantly. He then pursues her like he would any other piece of property: using charm and gifts and finally threats. When Gun That Sings dies in childbirth, the half-native, half-white daughter is hidden away and ignored, like the deed to a mine that didn’t produce. When Mr. H. remarries a beautiful and cruel woman, it is this wicked stepmother that names the girl Snow White, a constant reminder of the pale skin (and other privileges) she will never have. Hardened by years of abuse, Snow White eventually takes her pistol and her pony, Charming, and rides into the territories.

As you can see, this isn’t the Brothers Grimm or the Disney version. It’s not traditional, and it’s not even European. This isn’t a story of dark woods, royalty, and dwarves. This is a story of prairies, racism, and outlaws. Yes, there is a magic mirror, and yes, there are poison apples. But there are also pistols and Pinkerton men and coyotes. Whereas the classic fairy tales were morality stories or allegories designed to impart practical lessons, Six-Gun Snow White warns of sexism, colonialism, class divides, company towns, shootouts, and the ills of America.

But like those old tales, Six-Gun Snow White is written as if it is meant to be told, first by Snow White herself and then by an unnamed narrator (as if the story is already being passed down, retold, exaggerated). While the individual voices change at the transition (Snow White’s runs thick with the patois of the Wild West, while the narrator is a little cooler, but definitely that of an experienced storyteller), Valente’s voice shines throughout the novella. I’m hard pressed to think of someone who writes like her—poetic, gut-wrenching, funny, and wise.

When Valente writes about magic—mysterious and dark—her words cast a spell over you, hypnotizing you like the shine on a ruby-red apple. It’s haunting. And Valente’s use of chapter headings like “Snow White Secures Fire” and “Snow White is Instructed by Heron and Lizard” are sometimes more evocative than descriptive. They call to mind a table of contents in a collection of fairy tales or the characters found in folk tales from around the world. They are little mysteries that pull you deeper into the story and deeper under Valente’s spell.

And when Valente has Snow White talk of her isolated and lonely youth, it hurts. When she is isolated further at the command of her stepmother, and when Snow White talks about learning what love is amid insults and pain and abuse, Valente’s description is agonizing. And yet out of this abuse a hero is forged. This isn’t a silly Disney princess. This Snow White is strong, capable woman who doesn’t need a prince to save herself. Through it all, I rooted for Snow White to be free, to find a place of her own even if the outside world can be just as cruel and harsh in its own way.

And I haven’t even mentioned Charlie Bowater’s illustrations. Even with my aging Kindle, the illustrations were gorgeous, depicting the heart of the story in a way that made all my childhood storybooks jealous.

Although the Snow White many of us are familiar with is a simple story about a largely passive woman, Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White has a depth and agency that elevates the story. And while the ending is perhaps a bit rushed, this is a gem of a story that you should read immediately.


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