Snow White is the conflict of mother and daughter as one grows toward marriage and queenship as the other steps aside. This forces a conflict and reintegration far more profound than the epic battle of father and son. “Snow, Glass Apples” reverses the traditional pattern, casting the young princess as a murderous werewolf and leaving the heroic queen to try to save the kingdom from this threat.
The Grimms’ stepmother is clearly threatened by her daughter’s beauty and the fear that the daughter will supplant her. She neglects the kingdom to peer selfishly into her mirror each day and reduces her vision to the two of them, valuing only herself and the need to be uniquely desirable. More frightening still is her demand for Snow White’s heart. Eating one’s enemy is far more intimate than any other form of possession; by consuming Snow White’s youth and beauty, the queen hopes to absorb them.
Gaiman’s stepmother, by contrast, looks outside the two women’s relationship to see the needs of the kingdom, as trade and the population are slowly dying from Snow White’s destruction. This innocent side of the queen has become a killer. The queen takes her heart and protects it, guarding it with berries and garlic to save others from Snow White’s power, rather than taking it for herself.
At the same time, like the original story, the two women are inextricably bound as they desire the same men and prey on each other, Snow White biting her stepmother and the stepmother keeping Snow White’s heart, until they’re bound like two sides of the same self, innocent and evil, light and dark, nurturing and devouring. The greatest tragedy is that the people of the kingdom, like those who read the story, assume the stepmother must be the monster.