7 Villainous Sins: The Evil Queen (1937)

Note: All quotes in this post are directly from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film citation is listed at the end of this post.

“Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” We first heard Disney’s version of these words in 1937 by way of the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Considered Disney’s first villain, the Evil Queen is equal parts foreboding and intimidating as she commands the screen in the opening scene of the film. Their first villain was no novice effort; she is haunting in her words and actions alike. Seeing as a depiction of her was also the inspiration for this series to begin with, it made perfect sense that she should kick it off. Since we’re starting at the very beginning, each villain we cover will be presented in chronological order based on when their original movie was released.

From the initial images of the storybook, we learn that the Evil Queen is Snow White’s “vain and wicked” stepmother who demanded that Snow White meet certain requirements in order to keep her beauty “below” the queen’s, such as wearing tattered clothes and doing the work of a maid. We also see that the Evil Queen asks her magic mirror daily who the “fairest one of all” is to confirm her beauty as the greatest in the land. In the terms of the 7 Deadly Sins, this immediately struck me as vainglory and thus pride. So long as she got the answer she wanted from the mirror, that she was in fact the fairest, Snow White was spared from further punishment from her. Throughout the film, we are also able to get insight on how her subjects view her through the dwarfs’ descriptions: “She’s wicked” (Bashful), “She’s bad” (Happy), “She’s mighty mean” (Sneezy). Grumpy gives us additional information, describing that, “She’s full of black magic.” Prior to the dwarfs leaving for work the day the queen arrives at the cottage in disguise, Doc also warns Snow White, “The old Queen’s a sly one, full of witchcraft. So beware of strangers.” It’s safe to say that while the Evil Queen might be physically beautiful (the Magic Mirror even tells her, “Famed is thy beauty, Majesty”), people still perceive her as she truly is: a vile person. 

The Evil Queen’s deadly sin trajectory is rooted in pride, but quickly progresses into envy as she aims to put down Snow White’s beauty throughout her life. From envy comes wrath when the mirror tells her that Snow White is still the fairest in the land, and she also shows a sprinkling of sloth. So often, we focus on the deadly sins as individual concepts, when in actuality, they are extremely adept at working together to lead to one’s downfall. Just ask the Evil Queen, from all the way back in 1937. 

The first deadly sin we see from the queen is pride, and like St. Gregory The Great and Thomas Equinas noted in the history of the 7 Deadly Sins (see intro post for these references), it was the root of all of her sinful ways. We see this sneaky sin woven through many of her actions throughout the film, and she even has a peacock embellishment creating the backing of her royal throne, further showcasing her vanity. Right off the bat in the opening scene, we see her both obsessing over her own beauty and positioning herself above others to indicate her perception of superiority. The first words we hear her say are, “Slave in the Magic Mirror, come from the farthest space. Through wind and darkness, I summon thee. Speak!” Here, she is addressing her seer as her slave and commanding him to come to her aid at a moment’s notice. Not only are we as an audience meant to see her as powerful in her position of royalty, but also in the magical power she appears to hold. Even to those she is apparently closest to (as the Magic Mirror seems to be in as good graces as one can get with her and one of her closest confidants), she is sure to make it clear she is above them and directs them in commands.

Paired with this, we know that she asks the Magic Mirror who the fairest is each day as validation of her superior beauty. Once again, she wants to be above all other people, but she also desires to have someone externally tell her just how beautiful she is, the most beautiful. This is her edition of vainglory, which as we know, contributes to pride.

Once she finds out that Snow White has become the fairest and decides she wants to get rid of Snow White altogether, we see a brief interaction between the Evil Queen and her Huntsman. Here, she demands that he kill Snow White and thus the queen will be fairest once again, in theory. However, when the Huntsman expresses concern for Snow White and is shocked at the cruelty of the plan, the queen will not hear it and immediately puts him in his place: “Silence! You know the penalty if you fail.” We see her give another harsh command, as well as using intimidation to flex her power to someone who clearly has less. This need to present oneself as higher, more powerful, and more important than another, especially to get them to fall in line, is a clear indication that pride is lurking close.

However, it quickly becomes clear that the sense of pride that the Evil Queen has is rooted in a deep wound of insecurity with the next sin that she displays.

“Magic Mirror…”

Envy is perhaps the hallmark sin of the Evil Queen. From the start of the film, we learn that she has been trying to subdue Snow White’s beauty for years because of how much she envied it and what it could become. The pride to envy pipeline is pretty seamless, and the Evil Queen is a perfect example of this process. The vanity and superiority complex that contributes to her exhibition of pride directly feeds her envy of Snow White because what Snow White has threatens what pride says that the queen needs. Therefore, she desires what Snow White has because that’s what she needs to feed her pride.

The Evil Queen’s envy is put into explicit terms to Snow White by the Huntsman when he fails in his attempt to kill her in the wildflower field: “She’s mad, jealous of you! She’ll stop at nothing!” It’s here that we see that this story will not end with both Snow White and the Evil Queen alive. One must go, and the queen’s pride and envy are in a constant state of building one another.

In terms of the queen verbalizing her own envy, I found it when she was creating the poison apple: “And now… A special sort of death for one so fair.” Now, the envy isn’t necessarily dripping from this statement, it’s all in the sarcasm in “for one so fair.” She’s using humor to disguise the fact that she so greatly covets what Snow White doesn’t even try to have, and once again, trying to make a joke of Snow White’s beauty to reaffirm her own (pride).

We also see that the color of the apple’s coating, as well as the Evil Queen’s eyes when in disguise, are green. This is a small touch from Disney that reinforces how integral her envy has become both in her being and obsession. The cycle churns on.

It’s here that I’ll briefly note a sin committed by our lovely queen that can fly under the radar, and because of that it gradually constricts our lives: sloth. She shows her tendency for laziness when she sends the Huntsman to do her bidding for her. Sloth often has a large component of cowardice involved, and yes, I do believe the queen was a coward when she wanted Snow White dead but initially refused to be the one to kill her. While sloth is nowhere near the star of her sinful show, it does inevitably lead to the final nail in her coffin.

Wrath is very good at wrapping things up. The Evil Queen shows two clear instances of wrath, and she escalates from one to the other. The first is when she orders the Huntsman to take care of Snow White for good: “And there, my faithful Huntsman, you will kill her!” The news that she was no longer considered the fairest was enough to anger the queen into killing someone. However, all of that compounded even further when the murder attempt was failed.

As the story goes, the Huntsman tried to pass off a pig’s heart as Snow White’s to go in the queen’s box as proof of Snow White’s death. When the queen finds this out, she is enraged: “The heart of a pig! Then I’ve been tricked!” We then see the queen hurry down to the dungeon to create her ultimate plan to get rid of Snow White. Her sloth has caught up to her and now she realizes she has to take matters into her own hands if she wants things to pan out in her best interest, and wrath was the spark that initiated this motivation. She then indicates several times throughout choosing the spell she will perform that her plan is ideal. Pride comes seeping back in yet again to refuse failure as a possibility, especially when she disparages the fact that love’s first kiss could undo everything she accomplishes. Pride and wrath begin to dance just as pride and envy do, as she says, “A blast of wind to fan my hate,” during the spell. And then… all of the physical beauty we’ve seen in her to that point in the film is gone and she is transformed into the hag, matching her internal turmoil.

“Just one bite…”

There is a clear progression of the 7 Deadly Sins in the Evil Queen’s story, and we know what happens from there: she gets Snow White to eat the poison apple while in disguise, the dwarfs come home and chase her away, and she eventually comes to the edge of the cliff, falling to her death and being crushed by a large boulder. In my mind, the boulder represents all of the energy her deadly sins bestowed upon her and the actions that came from them. They really did crush her in the end; there is no other reason she would be on the edge of that cliff if not for her pride, envy, sloth, and wrath.

Once Snow White eats the apple and collapses, the Evil Queen proclaims: “Now I’ll be fairest in the land!” But what she doesn’t realize is that even if there’s a hypothetical spell to change her back to her original form, she lost her chance at being fairest in the land long ago. Snow White’s beauty simply caught up to her already virtuous nature, and we see her display strong patience, charity, humility, and diligence throughout the film. Snow White and the Evil Queen act as direct opposites in their sins and virtues.

The queen’s death is increasingly foreshadowed as she progresses in the development of her sins. Once she has accumulated all four and she’s in the dungeon, the spine of her Black Magic book reads “death.” A few scenes later, as she’s making her way toward the dwarfs’ cottage, we see two vultures begin to follow her. They continue to do so as she is chased toward the cliff, and then finally circle her once she has fallen, indicating her death. There were warnings as to what acting on the emotions of these sins could lead to, and yet she followed through anyway.

The Evil Queen’s last words in the film are, “Look out!” She is directing this at the dwarfs, intending to launch the boulder at them, but then the ground crumbles beneath her and she falls to her death instead with the boulder quickly following. In our discussion of the sins, I think this is an appropriate warning for all of us. We should look out for when these eerie attributes make their way into our lives, as they often intertwine to create larger issues. The main lesson I glean from this classic film is the strongest different between Snow White and the Evil Queen. Snow White was focused on her own actions, doing her best where she was at, and putting her efforts toward where she wanted to go. The queen, on the other hand, was focused on the status of other people and what they had that she didn’t instead of looking inward. Our focus is one of our greatest tools, and where it lands directs our path.

She may have been the first, but the Evil Queen was far from the last to display just how easily these 7 Deadly Sins can infiltrate and invade, even for the most regal target. Onto the next.


Film Citation

Cottrell, William, et al., directors. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney+, Walt Disney Animation Studio, 1937, https://www.disneyplus.com/?gclid=47767d80b59a1ccbf19e1ed7e150e2af&gclsrc=3p.ds&&cid=DSS-Search-Bing-71700000089414475&s_kwcid=AL!8468!10!79783502887522!disney%20plus&msclkid=47767d80b59a1ccbf19e1ed7e150e2af. Accessed 24 Oct. 2022.

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