One fine summer morning, a boy was walking through the woods. He loved the woods, the way the sun filtered through the trees, the way the little creatures seemed to have no fear, and most of all, the way he could be alone with his thoughts.
Suddenly, a little man carrying two large buckets appeared directly before him. “Who are you?” the little man asked gruffly.
The boy smiled and said, “I’m Sebastian. And who are you?”
“I’m Grumpy,” the man grumped.
“I can see that, but what is your name?”
Clearly annoyed, the man jumped up and down, saying loudly and emphatically, “MY NAME IS GRUMPY!”
“Oh,” replied Sebastian, still not understanding, “Well, obviously you’re not happy.”
“No,” Grumpy replied, “Happy is a sweet boy, but a little bit different, if you know what I mean.”
Sebastian didn’t know what Grumpy meant, but he continued a little sarcastically, “I suppose you know Bashful and Dopey and Sneezy as well.”
“I do, as well as Doc and Sleepy.”
“And Snow White?” asked Sebastian, not really believing a word of what this strange little man was saying.
“Oh, yes, she’s our mother.”
“Really? I’d love to meet her.”
“Well, I can’t take the time,” Grumpy harrumphed. “I’m supposed to fill these buckets with water and take them back to our cottage.”
“Why not let me carry them for you?” Sebastian suggested.
Grumpy frowned thoughtfully. “Can I trust you not to steal them?”
“Oh, yes. I have no use for two wooden buckets.”
“Hmmpf,” replied Grumpy, seeing that agreeing would mean he wouldn’t have to carry home the buckets full of water. “All right, I suppose it won’t do any harm. Follow me.” He handed the buckets to Sebastian and walked off into the woods.
Soon, they came to a stream and Grumpy ordered Sebastian to fill the buckets. Then, again saying “Follow me,” he set off back the way they had come. They crossed the dim path which Sebastian had been following earlier and walked for some time before a cute little white cottage appeared in a clearing.
Grumpy took Sebastian into the cottage, showing him where to put the water, and then called for Snow White.
Sebastian heard footsteps on the stairs and a woman appeared. She was neither old nor young, beautiful nor ugly. As far as Sebastian could see, she was simply a middle-aged woman.
The woman waited for Grumpy to make the introductions, but when he failed to, she said, “I’m Snow White. Who are you?”
Sebastian introduced himself and she invited him to sit and have a cup of tea.
Well, he thought, she certainly isn’t what I expected but she seems nice enough. He sat and thanked her for the tea she placed on the table. Sitting opposite him she asked, “How did you find Grumpy? Usually the dwarfs hide from strangers.”
“He found me,” Sebastian replied. “I was simply walking through the woods when suddenly he was there in front of me. He certainly does live up to his name, doesn’t he?”
She laughed a merry, twinkling laugh and said, “I suppose all of the dwarfs do.”
Curious, Sebastian asked, “How long have you been here?”
“I’ve never counted the days or the years. I’m happy here and I adore the dwarfs. If you stay for supper you can meet them all.”
“Thank you, but I’m afraid I can’t stay today. Perhaps another day.” Looking around he asked, “And where is Prince Charming?”
“Oh, he’s off trying to slay a dragon. I really don’t see much of him because he’s always out trying to keep order in the country.
Sebastian thanked her for the tea and said he needed to get home. She gave him directions for the shortest way, seeming to know where he lived.
Over supper he thought about telling his parents about the cottage and the dwarfs but decided to keep them a secret for the moment.
A few days later he returned to the cottage. It was a Sunday, so all the dwarfs were there.
“Hi,” said a cute dwarf, “I’m Happy.”
“I’m so glad,” said Sebastian.
Happy introduced him to all the other dwarfs. When they came to Bashful, Happy said, “We’re all friends, but he’s my special friend.” Bashful blushed and looked silently at the floor.
Doc was fluttering about, trying to organize the others for a little entertainment to greet Sebastian.
Grumpy sat at the piano and banged away as the others began to dance and cavort about. Sebastian saw that Sleepy was snoring happily in a corner. He noted that Happy and Bashful were dancing together and looking into each other’s eyes. Hmm, he thought, could they be? Can dwarfs be? But he didn’t finish the thought as Snow White swept him up in a dashing polka.
The days passed and Sebastian often visited the cottage, but when the snows of winter came, he remained closer to home, chopping wood, repairing places where the wind whistled through the walls, and shoveling off the front path when needed.
In spring, when the new, yellowish-green leaves began to appear on the trees, Sebastian began to think once more about his friends the dwarfs and Snow White.
Meanwhile, in a castle far away, where Snow White’s father, stepmother, and her stepbrother Frederick lived, her father had discovered the stepmother’s magic mirror.
One day the father stood before the mirror and said:
Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the handsomest man of all?
You are the most beautiful man in the land.
Compared to you the others are but grains of sand.
Day after day he asked the mirror the same question, until one day when he asked it, the mirror, which couldn’t lie, replied,
You were once the handsomest by far,
But Frederick has now become the star.
Snow White’s father was enraged that his stepson was now handsomer than he was, so he began to plot to eliminate the boy. He was no magician, but in secret, he consulted many of his wife’s books of magic. At first he looked for ways to make the boy simply disappear, but nothing seemed satisfactory.
On the third day of his hunt, he came across the recipe for the poison apple. Very carefully, he followed the recipe. When he finished, the apple was the shiniest, most beautiful one he had ever seen. He made some watercress sandwiches, knowing that Frederick was especially fond of them, and placed them and the apple in a basket. Calling his stepson, he handed him the basket and suggested that he explore the woods and have a picnic.
Frederick was most willing to take the suggestion. Usually his mother kept him close by, and he had never had an opportunity to explore before. He stepped out of the castle whistling a merry tune and walked into the woods.
He walked and walked, and in time grew hungry. He sat down by a stream ─ the same stream where Grumpy and Sebastian had fetched water ─ and began to eat the sandwiches, saving the apple for last.
When the sandwiches were gone, he took the apple and admired its shiny skin, which reflected his face back to him. He took a large bite… and fell over, dead.
That afternoon, Doc came to the stream with two wooden buckets to get water and was startled to find a beautiful young man lying on the ground, apparently dead.
Putting down the buckets he ran as fast as his stubby legs allowed back to the cottage. Bursting in the door, he said, “Th ─ th ─ there’s a d ─ d ─ dead young man by the st ─ st ─ stream.”
All of the dwarfs and Snow White raced to the stream, and sure enough, lying on the bank of the stream was a man, a beautiful man, with a partially eaten apple in his hand.
Snow White went to the man as the dwarfs drew back respectfully. She gasped and said, “Frederick.” Kneeling on the ground beside him she took his head and shoulders in her lap as she wept.
“You know him?” asked Doc.
Nodding sadly she said, “He’s my stepbrother.”
“We can’t just leave him here,” said Grumpy. “Should we take him back to the cottage?”
They all agreed, and the seven dwarfs managed to pick Frederick up and carry him back to their home.
When Snow White had been poisoned, the dwarfs had constructed a glass coffin for her. They found it undamaged, stowed in the back of a cluttered shed. Carrying it back to the cottage, they cleaned all the cobwebs off it and washed it before gently and respectfully placing Frederick in it and setting it outside where he would be warmed by the sun.
The dwarfs were quite certain that Frederick’s mother wouldn’t poison him as she had tried to do with Snow White, so in the morning they nominated two dwarfs, Doc and Grumpy, to go to the castle and ask the wicked queen, Frederick’s mother, what to do.
Doc and Grumpy walked for three days. Towards the end of the third day they saw the huge, dark castle, with its towers and parapets, looming against the evening sky.
Grumpy, who knew no fear, pounded loudly on the castle door. He waited and then pounded again. The third time, the door was opened by a very old man in the castle livery.
“Yes?” his voice quavered.
“We need to talk with the queen. It concerns her son, Frederick.”
“Wait here, please,” the man said and closed the door. Within a few moments, the door reopened, and the man invited them in. He led them up a wide, curving stone staircase, opened a door, and told them to enter the room. Like the castle itself, the room was dark, with black drapes on the windows and black furniture. Only a few candles provided light. The queen, dressed in black, looked extremely impatient and unhappy, while her husband, the king, sat opposite her. He appeared frightened ─ as he often was.
It was not a happy marriage and had not been for some time. The king was constantly henpecked and was too timid to stand up for himself.
“Well,” said the queen, looking at the dwarfs with open distaste, “what do you know of my son?”
“He ─ he ─he’s either d ─ d ─ d ─ dead or in a trance,” said Doc hesitantly.
“We found him by our stream with a partially eaten apple in his hand,” continued Grumpy.
“WHAT?” she roared, and then looked malevolently at her husband. “What do you know about this?”
“N ─ n ─ nothing, my sweet,” he replied.
“Liar,” she roared. “You’ve been into my books, haven’t you?”
Without awaiting a reply, she turned to the two dwarfs and said, “The only thing that will revive him is a kiss on the lips from the one who will love him for the rest of his days. Now go, and leave me with this creature,” she roared, pointing to the king.
As they left the castle, they could hear her screaming and threatening the king. They looked back and saw brilliant flashes of light, heard loud explosions, and witnessed rockets shooting out of the castle’s windows and chimneys.
It took Doc and Grumpy another three days to return to their cottage. They told the others what the queen had said, and they decided that they needed to put out an invitation to all the unwed damsels of the realm to try to revive Frederick by kissing him on the lips.
The first that Sebastian knew of the troubles was when he was walking in the woods one day and saw a poster attached to a tree. It said that unwed maidens were welcomed on Saturdays to visit the cottage to try and revive Frederick. At once, Sebastian hastened to find out what had happened.
Outside the cottage Frederick was lying in the glass coffin, hands folded across his chest, and looking for all the world like he was asleep. Oh my, he’s beautiful thought Sebastian. His lips look so… so… so kissable.
The boy received a subdued welcome from the dwarfs. They had already been visited by multitudes of maidens, which surprised them, for they had no idea there were so many unattached and eligible young ladies in the realm.
After the second Saturday, the dwarfs and Snow White grew discouraged. Sebastian had hoped that perhaps there would be another dance in the cottage, but clearly the dwarfs were not in the mood.
As dusk began to fall, Sebastian said goodbye and returned home. He lay in his bed that night, thinking of Frederick and how beautiful he was. Each night after that, it was Frederick who appeared in his dreams.
The next Saturday Sebastian returned to the cottage. Concealed at the edge of the forest, he saw the dwarfs and Snow White sitting on stools around the coffin. He watched as maiden after maiden tried to revive the prince. None of them had any luck.
When the last of them left and the dwarfs went into the cottage, Sebastian stepped out of the woods, opened the casket, leaned over the prince, and kissed him softly on the lips. After a moment the prince’s eyelids began to flutter. When they opened, he looked up at Sebastian and asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Sebastian,” the boy answered, “and I am deeply in love with you.” He helped Frederick step out of the casket and held his hand as they walked into the cottage together.
The dwarfs had been talking quietly among themselves, and at first none of them noticed the two boys standing hand in hand in the doorway. As one noticed, followed by another, the talking faded and there was complete silence in the room. Snow White, shrieked and rushed over and kissed her stepbrother. At that, there was a cheer and all the dwarfs gathered around.
Snow White prepared a delicious feast that night, and after it, Grumpy began to play the piano and everyone danced, except Sleepy, who was snoring in a corner.
Frederick asked Snow White for the first dance, but he joined Sebastian for every dance after that. They joined the rapid, upbeat dances and held each other close during the slow ones.
Sebastian noticed that Happy and Bashful danced together the entire evening.
When everyone was exhausted they all went to bed. There were no beds big enough for the two boys, but the dwarfs provided blankets and pillows and they stretched out on the floor. They were exhausted, but they held hands and kissed lovingly as they dropped off into a deep sleep.
The next day was Sunday, so the dwarfs didn’t go to work. They watched the two boys surreptitiously, wondering what Frederick and Sebastian would do. The boys went for a walk in the woods, holding hands. When they returned they announced to the dwarfs that they wanted to get married.
Nobody had ever heard of two men marrying, but, as Happy said, “Why not? The important thing is that they love each other.”
In the following days, the dwarfs stayed home from work and constructed a large bower of trees, branches, and limbs behind the cottage.
On Saturday, Sebastian and Frederick exchanged vows of love and devotion, while Happy and Bashful filled the roles of best men.
Following the ceremony there was a large and delicious feast. When all had eaten everything they could, the boys retired to the bower, pulling the makeshift door closed behind them.
The dwarfs were somewhat naive about what went on between newlyweds, but they knew the boys needed their privacy.
Each day the dwarfs placed breakfast, lunch, and dinner outside the bower door. While the dwarfs never saw the boys, somehow, the food for each meal disappeared.
A full week passed before the boys stepped out of their bower. They were holding hands and smiling happily.
That evening they ate with the dwarfs and slept once more on the floor. As they prepared to depart in the morning, Happy and Bashful came to them and said they had a secret. Encouraged to talk about it, Happy said, “We’re in love.” Bashful nearly dissolved from embarrassment and his face was bright red. “Until you wed,” Happy continued, “we never thought that we could, but now we want to. Do you think that’s foolish?”
“Not at all,” said Frederick.
“I heartily recommend it,” said Sebastian.
The day before their wedding, Happy and Bashful asked to talk with Sebastian and Frederick. When they were alone together, Happy said, “We have a question.” Bashful simply stood, seeming to be very embarrassed.
Sebastian asked what the question was.
“Well,” began Happy, “we know that the bower is a private place for private things to happen, but we have no idea what those private things are.” As Happy talked, Bashful’s face glowed red.
After thinking about the question, Sebastian asked, “Do you know anything about sex?”
Bashful giggled and Happy shook his head.
So over the next two hours, Sebastian and Frederick told the dwarfs all about sex and how they could go about enjoying it. At one point, Bashful fainted, but they revived him and continued.
And so it happened that, one Saturday, Sebastian and Frederick acted as best men for Happy and Bashful. Poor Bashful almost didn’t make it through the ceremony, but with quiet encouragement from Sebastian he managed. When the two dwarfs retreated to the bower everyone gave them a cheer.
A week passed without a sound from the bower. Finally, after he delivered breakfast at the bower one day, Sebastian waited for someone to retrieve it. A slim arm reached out and began to slide the tray into the bower.
“How are things going?” Sebastian asked, unsure of whose arm he was talking to.
Happy peered out from the bower and smiled at Sebastian. “Fine,” he said. “We’re going very slowly but everything is fine.”
It was another week before Happy and Bashful exited the bower. Happy was grinning and Bashful was blushing, but they were holding hands and appeared to be very happy.
Sebastian and Frederick walked to Sebastian’s home, and continued life together.
From time to time, they visited the dwarfs. It was clear to the dwarfs that the boys were deeply in love, as were Happy and Bashful. In fact, Grumpy was sometimes a bit envious, but he clearly had no desire to wed anyone.
The folk story of “Snow White” was first published in 1812, by the Brothers Grimm. The volume contained many other stories, among them “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella”. In the version by the brothers, there were seven dwarfs but they were never named. Many of the features of the story, including the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, and the glass coffin, appeared in that first version.
In 1912, a Broadway play of the story named the dwarfs with nonsense names such as Snick and Quee.
The film version by Walt Disney named the dwarfs according to the characteristics Disney gave them, such as Grumpy and Sleepy. The film was released in 1938 (three months before I was born), became incredibly popular and was for a long time the highest grossing hand-drawn animated feature length film.
The movie was the first one I saw in a movie theater, probably when I was about five. I remember being enchanted by the dwarfs and terrified by the evil stepmother to the point of hiding under my seat.
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