Girls made of snow, language made of thorns, and putting ourselves back in the narrative
I’ve had some ideas swirling around my head ever since I finished reading Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust that condensed while I was reading Leigh Bardugo’s short story collection The Language of Thorns, so I want to talk about it a little.
It started with the realization that Girls made of Snow, while it is a Snow White retelling (or perhaps better called a reimagining), completely leaves out the whole seven dwarves part of the story. In my review, I pointed this out as something I liked — the story didn’t need to sidetrack there, and it kept us focused on the real core of the story: Lynet’s relationship with her stepmother, Mina. Lynet being Snow White, Mina is the Evil Queen.
The book alternates chapters between Lynet’s present day and Mina’s journey from the daughter of a sorcerer to the bride of Lynet’s father, making Mina the second main character. This is where the book’s “feminist fantasy reimagining” tagline comes in. The point of Bashardoust’s story is to explore the stepmother-daughter relationship and how they could come into conflict without it being about who is the fairest of them all.
The point of tension Bashardoust goes for is about politics and power, a much more satisfying reason than “well, women get angry when another woman is prettier, that’s all”. But the framework of Snow White also gives her plenty of room to work with how women’s appearances and age are seen and judged. What if Lynet’s beauty binds her to her dead mother in a way that strangles her, while Mina struggles with knowing her beauty gains her what respect she commands and aging could steal it away? The commentary that emerges isn’t new — I think we all realize how damaging the value placed on women’s appearances is — but using the cultural touchstone of Snow White makes this version powerful. It’s probably my favorite thing about the book, even above giving Lynet a female love interest, which is something we’re going to circle back to.