Six-Gun Snow Whiteby Catherynne M. Valente
A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents - a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no
A plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents - a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new.
Valente (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, 2015, etc.) reimagines "Snow White" as a story set in an extravagantly imagined Wild West and propelled by a sharpshooting, half-Crow heroine. Valente's Snow White is the daughter of Mr. H, a greedy man who made his fortune on Nevada silver mines and married a woman of the Crow people named Gun That Sings as a way to possess her beauty completely. When Gun That Sings dies in childbirth, her daughter is left to a lonely childhood cloistered in luxury and often neglected by a father embarrassed by the reality of her half-Crow, half-white heritage. Mr. H remarries, and his new wife, a cruel woman with mysterious and unpleasant powers, gives her stepdaughter the name "Snow White" as an insult against her darker skin. Snow White endures outrageous and inventive abuse of mind and body until she grows up and finds herself a young woman with the grit and fierceness necessary to run away and discover her own life. Valente tells Snow White's story with an enjoyably distinctive voice, one that nods to the vernacular of both the fictional Old West and fairy tales, and manages to be equally vivid when coming straight through Snow White as she narrates her childhood and through the voice of a narrator describing her adventures when the novella pivots partway through. Her Wild West is crammed with fascinating details (a gemstone mine with an underground saloon; a town run by extraordinary women outlaws) and disturbing magic (a mirror whose reflections have their own enchanted life; a boy who's part deer), all offered with a sharp eye for how the strange reflects the most ordinary, most interesting parts of being human. Though the ending rushes in unexpectedly, this is an engaging and delightfully written tale.
- Dreamscape Media
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.04(w) x 5.04(h) x 1.13(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
Six-Gun Snow White
I accept with equanimity that you will not credit me when I tell you Mr. H married a Crow woman and had a baby with her round about the time he struck his fortune in the good blue, which is how folk used to designate Nevada silver. It don’t trouble me none if any soul calls me a liar.
The biography of Mr. H is well known: He had one wife and one son and that was the beginning and the end of his capacity for love, excepting of course the copper lode in Peru, gold prospects in the Dakota Territories, the Idaho opal mine, and other pursuits I cannot tell you about as they are beyond my ken. Most everyone grants he was a kingly fellow, else the blue would not have showed itself to him. That is a wholly peculiar way of thinking, but it is very common.
This is the truth of it:
Flush and jangle with silver and possessed of a powerful tooth for both spending and procuring more of whatever glittered under the ground, Mr. H traveled to the Montana Territory on a horse so new and fine, her tail squeaked. He disliked to travel in company, being a secretive man by nature. Mr. H had a witch’s own knack for sniffing out what the earth had to give up. The notion of a sapphire rush brewing in the Beartooth Range pricked up the north of that Comstock-compass stuck in his heart. All the way out in San Francisco he felt the rumble of the shine. However, upon his arrival in Billings and establishment at the Bear Gulch Hotel, the whiskeytalk leaned another way: black diamonds. That is how coal miners appellate their livelihood. In my experience, folk find it nigh on impossible to call a thing what it is.
It never mattered much to Mr. H whether silver or sapphires or coal or copper weighed his pockets just so long as he never walked empty. He made his arrangements to accompany a pair of Cornishmen into the range the next morning. He strode out into the bone-cracking cold to survey the town, though Billings in those days could barely be called more than a camp. Horseshit outnumbered honest men by a margin.
Mr. H encountered the woman who would be his first wife by chance alone. She turned up like an ace of spades in the general store, trading elk meat for cotton cloth and buttons. Her brother, who had shot the beast, escorted her. But the girl did the bargaining. She had good English and did not like the owner of the general store.
The terrible covetous heart of Mr. H immediately conceived a starvation for the girl not lesser in might than his thirst for sapphires or gold. In the lamplight her hair had the very color of coal, plaited in two long braids and swept up at the brow into what I have heard called a pompadour. Her dark mouth was a cut garnet, her skin rich copper, her eyes black diamonds for true. She looked over her shoulder at him and her body hardened to run if such became necessary. Mr. H took this slight stiffening as a sign that his feeling was returned. He saw no reason any person should fear him, being well dressed and pleasant enough in his features. He had loved women already in his time, though never married, all of them of good though not old family. Square-shouldered, sunburned freckles and kisses like milk and hair brushed a hundred times before bed. He savored a rich seam of shame over his lust for the Crow woman, and this shame made him only more needful.
Mr. H purposed himself to have her. He inquired after her name, her family, how often she visited the town to trade, where she and hers might make their camp. The Beartooth coal ran thick and deep, but he did his business by rote. Mr. H had sung his song many times. It sang itself. His true occupation was now the striking of the Crow woman, whose name was Gun That Sings. At first, his imagination wakened only to the possibility of bedding her. He saw no reason this should not be possible and right quick. Silver speaks louder than sin. But when Gun That Sings returned to town with her relations and Mr. H had opportunity to clap eyes on her again, he knew he could not be satisfied except to own her entirely. A man don’t rent a silver mine. He buys it right out.
He attired himself in a fine new suit sent by coach from San Francisco along with jewelry, gowns, and other items indicating his affection, for he was prepared to make her a civilized woman. He would put silk on her body and emerald combs in her hair. He would teach her to read Shakespeare and encourage her to play out the part of wild Titania in his parlor at home, naked save for a belt of violets. He would instruct her in the saying of the Lord’s Prayer and the keeping of the Sabbath; he would deliver to heaven a sterling modest maid. The anticipation of transforming her inspired a pleasure so sharp that Mr. H necessitated an entire afternoon to recover from it.
When Mr. H deemed the great moment of his matrimonials to have drawn close, he rode out on his combed and curried horse across the Bighorn River to the village of Gun That Sings’s people. Mr. H had often purchased meat and horses from Indians at what he considered a fair price and foresaw no trouble. The card-men at the Bear Gulch Hotel had informed him that the Crow allow their women to rule like heathen Cleopatras, and so Mr. H addressed himself to an old and august lady he spied leading a horse to pasture, requesting the presence of his bride-to-be.
When Gun That Sings was produced, Mr. H suffered some disappointment. She would not look at him, but kept her eyes fixed on the dirt. Her braids caught the winter light and seemed now not only as rich as coal but veined with liquid silver. Mr. H felt a powerful need. He behaved himself as though to a white woman. He presented his prospects to the maiden’s mother, his silver mine, his hopes for Dakota, his colleagues in Sacramento, his friends in Washington. As he described himself, the resolve of Mr. H hardened along with his impression of his own endowments, and he lost any doubt that he would be married before the night. Only an addled woman would despise the ring of such an excellent example of frontiersman quality.
I do not know what Gun That Sings said to him. If I had my rather, I would put words in her like bullets. I know she spurned him. That I do know.
Mr. H recovered his pride on the quick. Sometimes a man finds it necessary to work a claim for a space before it gives up the blue. He returned to his rooms to collect the bride gifts that would ensure her. Mr. H chose a gown like the sun to represent him. It sported a high bustle as was the fashion in the city, with sharp pleating at the skirt-hem and a neckline I would not wear if it were stitched in paper money. But the color did not recall the wholesome sun of spring. Its model was instead the terrible inferno of the sun itself, hanging in black space like a Utah ruby, erupting into eternity, pocked with lava.
Once again, Mr. H rode out past the river and presented the baleful dress to Gun That Sings. She looked on it and began to shake in her shoes. Mr. H pressed the gown upon her, but she wept bitterly into the cloth and said to her mother: “These are white woman’s clothes. Put them in the river; I will burn up inside them.”
Mr. H brought next a gown like the moon. This one presented a wasp waist and high lace collar. So much fabric in that skirt, it bent a back to lift it over its skeleton hoop of leather and wire. The shimmer of it took after the moon itself, hard and without poetry, stuck in the orbit of the thoughtless earth like a California pearl. Mr. H laid the dress across the flank of his horse like a stolen girl and forded the Bighorn to lay it out for Gun That Sings. She trembled something fearful and tore the brocade wrestling herself free. She said to her mother: “These are clothes for a white woman. Give them to a white woman. Put them in the fire; I will choke on them.”
Mr. H suffered no discouragement, for desire speaks louder than decorum. He drew from his trunk a gown like the stars at night. Its long sleeves and gathered skirt were black as Bibles, stitched all over with tiny crystals. In its folds Mr. H concealed a necklace of Colorado diamonds so fine and luxurious, anyone who looked at it felt like they were looking at a naked woman and turned away. The dress of stars glowed with cold, lonely fire, like the Dog Star howling in the black. Mr. H saddled his horse and rode out a third time. When Gun That Sings saw the dress and the necklace, she tried to run from it like it was death come for her, but Mr. H caught her up in his arms. He felt a big man with her there, not going anywhere at all. He held her by the throat. He put the necklace on her, all them diamonds hanging down her chest like war medals. Gun That Sings did not cry but stared him down with fury and didn’t say a damn thing.
Mr. H didn’t let her go for a second. He stood to Gun That Sings’s brothers and her mama and her father with his hand on the butt of his gun and told stories about how hitched up he’d got with General This-and-That and Senator Big-Name, and wasn’t it a nice patch of earth you people have here, right on the river and green as you please. All his Washington friends would just pick up and move right on out here fast as a cough if they could see it. Gun That Sings heard what he had to say and what he didn’t say, too, and the next Sunday she stood there in her dress of stars and said her vows and signed her name Sarah H on the register, because you can’t name a girl for a gun in civilized society.
And I guess that’s how a man gets a wife. I’ve heard it told elsewise, but I don’t believe it.
Well, Mr. H took his bride to a place he was building, a castle by the sea. He put silk on her body and emerald combs in her hair. He brushed out that hair every night, wrapped himself up in it, drank up the color and heat of coal in it. He kissed her dark blood-bright mouth over and over as if he could drink out the color of it, too. Mr. H told it with pride that he taught her to read Shakespeare, even though she had English letters just fine already. He made her play wild Titania for him wearing nothing at all, not even violets. He instructed her in the saying of the Lord’s Prayer and the keeping of the Sabbath, and he got her with child.
In his private prayers, Mr. H said the following: Let this child have hair like hot coal, and lips bright and dark as blood, but, oh Lord, if you’re listening, skin as white as mine.
By now I expect you are shaking your head and tallying up on your fingers the obvious and ungraceful lies of my story. Well, I have told it straight. A body can only deliver up the truth its bones know. Its blood, which is its history. My body is my truth, and I have laid it out as evidence on the table of my father’s reputation, for by now you may have guessed my next revelation: I was the child Mr. H put inside of Gun That Sings.
Mrs. H uncovered her condition in wintertime. It did not snow much in that part of the country, but the ground did freeze, and frost over, and purchase from heaven a meager dusting of the cold stuff. Gun That Sings went out into the forest at night. All the stars like dresses hung up in the sky. She took up a kitchen knife and hacked at her arms until steam rose out of her like she was a kettle. Her blood dripped down onto the white ground and she hoped she’d die, but she didn’t. Mr. H’s people found her and patched her up and locked her in a little room till the baby could come, at which point she died anyway, all alone in that big, unfinished house.
Meet the Author
Catherynne M. Valente, acclaimed author of many books for adults, made her children's book debut with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her husband.
Earphones Award winner Julia Whelan grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but currently resides in Los Angeles. She is a former child actor, having appeared in multiple television shows, most notably ABC's "Once and Again." After receiving her college degree, she returned to acting and is pursuing a career in the film industry, as well as creative writing. Her audiobook credits include romance, supernatural thrillers, young adult and adult fiction.
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Catherynne Valente has a gift for telling fairy tales that never fails. In this unique book, she masterfully blends the mythos of the American west with the timeless tale of Snow White - and even manages to mix in some tragically accurate history. Valente's Snow White is a beautifully complex character, with the most real hurt and depth of any fairy tale character I've seen. This retelling removes her prince and returns Snow's voice and salvation to her own hands, without betraying the familiar motifs and elements of the beloved fairy tale. Clocking in at just 168 pages, this story is a quick read, but one to put down and mull over, and come back to, again and again.