If you were to ask a magic mirror whether this book were outwardly fair, few would contend that Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman with artwork by Colleen Doran is one of the “fairest in the land.” However, the enchanting art belies its dark storyline and graphic adult content.
Snow, Glass, Apples is a dark retelling of the classic “Snow White” fairytale. Instead of using an omniscient narrator, Gaiman tells the story from the perspective of Snow White’s stepmother. In a twist, Snow White is the monster of the story. Or at least that is what the queen wants you to believe. However, the queen seems to be an unreliable narrator, and little cracks in her story leave the audience wondering how much she is covering up. Not a single character comes off well in this version, even secondary and tertiary ones, and the novel feels like it is wallowing in this all-pervasive evil. Due to the book’s length and nature, there is no character development or improvement, and the ending is as dark and hopeless as the rest of the story, leaving the reader wondering what the point of it all was.
To give the book’s creators credit, Gaiman and Doran did not intend this novel for young audiences, explaining in the endnotes how they explicitly designed the cover art to appeal to a more adult audience—and with good reason. To give you an example of how much nudity and gore there is, almost every illustration I chose for this post had to be strategically cropped to omit objectionable content.
In some cases, I think an argument can be made (by others) in favor of graphic novels with sex scenes and gore. However, the rare instance where I might find that content defensible would be when it helped the development of a valuable theme. In this story, though, the themes are nihilistic, inscrutable, and not constructive. After reading the novel once and skimming it a second time in search of illustrations for this post, my takeaway from this rewrite of “Snow White” is that it is about how people are sometimes more like the monsters they abhor than they want to admit. Gaiman also plays with the concept of an unreliable narrator, and you can quickly spot ways in which the queen is biased in how she tells events, trying to airbrush some of her flaws and overlook her similarities to her monstrous stepdaughter.
Sadly, Gaiman’s storytelling skill and Doran’s amazing artwork don’t reach their full potential because the story is unnecessarily R-rated and has flawed themes. I think this book really had promise, but the evil it portrays—and seems to revel in—outweighs its aesthetic value in my opinion.
My advice? Don’t fall for this poisoned apple, no matter how beautiful and tantalizing it may appear. Perhaps the best lesson Snow, Glass, Apples provides is a reminder of the original “Snow White” advice not to accept an apple from a suspicious-looking stranger no matter how beautiful and alluring the fruit may be.
Want to check out another graphic novel adaptation of “Snow White?” Here’s my review of Matt Phelan’s take on the fairytale.