Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snow White's Glass Coffin Comparisons

After seeing the beautiful sculpture collaboration by Benjamin Lacombe and Julien Martinez (see post HERE) I got to thinking about the different designs I've seen for Snow White's coffin. This has been simmering in the back of my brain since the Once Upon A Time pilot where we saw Snow White's coffin in Fairy Tale as the whole design of it, including the way it almost grew out of the ground, struck me as quite unusual and very lovely.

So I hunted around a bit and found various illustrations and a few film images which show Snow White in her coffin (ie one with glass encasing her, or at least showing that it was encasing her).

Turns out this is one of the most unique coffins we've seen for a while so, while this post wasn't meant to include ABC's Once Upon A Time except in passing reference, it turns out I would be remiss to ignore it - especially considering how well received this has been (and is still being) by the public at large.

Click for a larger view - it's a rather big spread! (Apologies for the slight spill into the margin for this one but you can almost see the entire sheet this way and any other size option given me by the blog looks like a teeny patchwork instead.) Please note, many of the images are cropped to fit together or to help focus on the coffin itself, though I've tried to keep as many as I could intact.

Turns out, while there was a nice lot of variation during the Golden Age of Illustration, there really hasn't been a whole lot of innovation regarding the coffin design since. In fact, this particular scene really hasn't been illustrated a whole lot since Disney's Snow White came out in 1937. I truly expected to find a lot more than I did, and while I'm know I've probably overlooked some classics in my hurry to finish this, it's still clear there are not nearly as many drawings of Snow White lying in repose as there are of her collapsed with an apple somewhere in the scene.

I find this curious and fascinating! I don't think many people realize just how influential and iconic the scene from Disney's Snow White and the Sevens Dwarfs is. In the Disney movie all we actually see is a shot of the cottage floor, hear a thump and see Snow White's arm fall gracefully to the floor, letting a bitten apple roll loose from her hand.

It makes me appreciate the design for ABC's Once Upon A Time coffin even more, especially considering the Disney influence on the series. Their coffin seems to grow almost organically from the ground - almost as if it's part of the curse - which I have a feeling is intentional.
ABC's Once Upon A Time: Snow White's coffin, a coffin shard and the shattered coffin

(Have you seen the promo shoot photos for the Evil Queen and Snow in the bramble/nest tangle? Or noticed the Evil Queen's outfit on the OUAT cast photo header? Perhaps the evil queen really is just as trapped in the curse as Snow is...)
I'm now waiting to see how Snow White biting the poisoned apple will play out.

But back to the coffins themselves:

So here in this post are many versions of this scene by illustrators old and new, most well known, others unidentified and others completely new on the scene. I haven't made an effort to put them in any arrangement or order as I thought the comparison works better if you just see them all mixed up. (Please forgive the down-and-dirty presentation - this took a bit longer to put together than I thought it would!) I've included the artist's name where I could verify it (which I did for most of them) so if you like an image you should be able to track it down pretty easily. :)

While there are a few different angles most illustrators - and even cinematographer's key scenes - seem to go for the horizontal angle with Snow White's face in profile, or close to it. I like looking at different options other than the standard approach as they definitely make for a different effect/atmosphere to the scene. Some work well, others less so. One angle strikes me as missing altogether and that's the one from inside the coffin, through the glass to the outside world... I think the only film to try this is Snow White: A Tale of Terror but the view is pretty much limited to seeing a worried face through dirty glass and I wish they'd gone a step further. Again, Once Upon A Time did a unique job of this and it's worth noting. Nice use of the coffin design, the imagery (snow falling, soft focus etc) and the angles used helped shift the atmosphere toward the big moment.

So what do you think? If you had the challenge to portray this scene of Snow White lying in her glass coffin in a unique way, how would you approach it? I wonder how Errol Le Cain might have approached the scene? He always showed you familiar scenes in new and enchanting ways, making you think a bit differently about the tales he illustrated. Or what if Robert Ingpen or Gennady Spirin were asked to illustrate a fresh and different Snow White picture book, what they would do? Would they come up with something new, adding layers of meaning or would they stay with the dwarves finding her body and focus on the seven reactions as so many illustrators have? What, if anything, do the different ways of showing Snow White's beauty in death say?

(Can you tell I've been thinking about this a bit??)

PS: If you're wondering why I'm thinking about all this apparently morbid stuff in December it's two-fold: partly I'm inspired by seeing people talking about Snow White so much at the moment but also the idea of Snow White's coffin is very much like a Winter cocoon. That's what Winter Solstice, in part, celebrates. There is life within the depths of Winter and in hard times, even if it's hard to detect and hard to believe in. It's just waiting fro the right piece of warmth to wake it up so it can start a new phase. In the meantime we can at least hope for happy dreams... :)


  1. wow,, i don't know there r so much movies bout Snow White.

    I love fairytales (tho i'm already old enough for kids stories) ^ ^

    Nice stories, thank u.

  2. @Key's Box! Thanks for the comment! There are quite a few - lots of European ones too. I have a draft post waiting to be finished about a wide variety of Snow White movies. I just haven't posted it because Snow White seems to be taking over the blog lately! lol Thanks for reading.

  3. Wow! What a beautiful post. I appreciate all the work it must have taken to put this together. I do love this blog.