Fairy-Tale Files: Sacrificial Mothers

Fairy-Tale Files

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


Fairy-tale mothers are often noticeable for their absence. In a pre-antibiotics world, childbirth was a leading cause of death for young women; ironically, even more so for the queen and princess class. In the Grimms’ classic Snow White, a queen who likes to sew by windows wishes for a child. She pricks herself and bleeds; is it also a blood oath, or a death wish? Within the first few sentences, Snow White’s mother is dead, seemingly having traded her own life for her daughter’s. There’s no room in this tale for both of them.

Snow White’s mother’s sacrifice, like that of a mother octopus, leaves her child alive, but unprotected in the world. Plenty of animals die shortly after they reproduce (or, in the case of the male praying mantis, as they copulate) but the mother octopus is the only one who starves herself to death to care for her eggs. When the babies hatch, the mother octopus uses her last “breath” to send them out into the world; without her protection, most of them end up as fish food.

In Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe, the hero Steven’s mom sacrifices herself for his birth, but she doesn’t leave him to fend for himself. Rose Quartz isn’t a passive queen, but the leader of a rebellious faction of alien humanoid gemstones. In order to pass her power on to her offspring, she must give up her physical form. Unlike other sacrificial mothers, Rose Quartz is able to better prepare her child for her absence. She leaves him in the care of four extraterrestrial warrior women, and records a video for him, explaining how this all makes sense.

This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by staff reader Margaret Chapman.