Once upon a time and a million posts ago I mentioned the possibility of doing a ‘Fairy Tale Friday.’
So here it is, the first in what I hope will be many. It may not be every Friday (and it’s doubtful that it will be) because boy did this take me forever to write.
Do I think that you’re going to gain knowledge and wisdom from reading these posts? No, not particularly. I’m not a scholar in fairy tales, many are, but I am not. I am a fairy tale fan and that is all I have to offer the world.
If anyone has anything that they would like to share I gladly encourage it because I truly love fairy tales. The more I learn, the happier I am.
I may not just stick to fairy tales because I also love mythology and folklore but I feel that Mythology Monday is just a little too much. Simply because it’s Monday. Monday. Does any day more yeuch exist?!
Enough of this preamble. Onto the ramble. It’s lengthy.
No story is ever truly original. Story C can often be inspired by Story B which in turn is a form of Story A. Story A may even have once been a tale told verbally rather than written down on paper.
Sleeping Beauty is no exception.
There are two versions which are similar; Sleeping Beauty written by French writer Charles Perrault in 1697 and Little Briar Rose (based on Sleeping Beauty) written by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. There is a third which precedes both, but we’ll come onto that later.
The story should be a familiar one to you and that’s why I’m starting my Fairy Tale Friday’s with it.
For those unfamiliar, the story is below in the form of a Gerry story dump…
there was a King and Queen who had a daughter and they were so happy about her birth that they threw a Christening party and invited fairies from across the Kingdom so that they could bestow the new Princess with gifts.
Unfortunately the King and Queen had a particularly bad party planner. When the festivities were underway an old fairy entered the castle and the royal family soon realised that she had been unintentionally left off the guest list.
She was welcomed to the table and joined the feast but was slighted even further when she wasn’t served food on a gold plate with the other fairies. This made her mutter about the horrific revenge she was going to seek but fortunately she was overheard by the youngest fairy who decided to not tell any of the other fairies present for… reasons.
When the time came to give the Princess her gifts, the fairies gave the good stuff; beauty, wit, grace, dance, song and musicality. The youngest fairy hung back and waited for her moment to shine.
The old fairy then stepped forward and gave her gift in the form of a curse that the Princess would prick her finger on a spindle and die.
Everyone was devastated but not the youngest fairy who declared that she couldn’t undo what had just been done (why didn’t she try and PREVENT IT?!) but that she could alter it.
The Princess would still prick her finger on the spindle but instead of death she would fall asleep for a hundred years and be woken by a Prince.
This was good, but not good enough and frankly the King was once a Prince and knew what they are all like, so he ordered the destruction of all the spindles in the land.
Sixteen years passed and as the Kingdom’s textile industry grew more dire the Princess grew more beautiful until one day the Princess came across an old woman in a tower who was spinning wool with her spindle.
At this point I have many questions – why did the King and Queen not lock these random rooms up? How did this old woman not know about the ban? Did the King and Queen hire the Spindle Destruction Project Team from the same place they got their party planner?
Anyway…. the Princess pricks her finger and falls into the predicted deep and unbreakable sleep. The fairy who performed the sleeping spell heard what happened and decided that it would be an awful thing for the Princess to wake up in a hundred years knowing no one and so enchanted the Kingdom to fall asleep along with her.
During this time brambles grew around the castle and many men, having heard the rumours of a sleeping princess, tried to cut through them to get to her. They all failed until a hundred years passed and a curious Prince decided to investigate.
The spell allowed the brambles to part for him. He found the Princess asleep in her room and then kissed her. The kiss woke her from her sleep and when she woke, so did the sleeping Kingdom.
But it isn’t.
Now some versions (including the Brother’s Grimm) like to stick with this being the ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ ending but the tale continues on for a bit longer in the Perrault version.
In Perrault’s version, the Princess bears the Prince two children – a boy (called Day or Jour) and a girl (called Dawn or Aurore). There is no indication if the Princess’ father is shaking his fists and cursing the fact that he was right about Prince’s but we do get randomly introduced to another parent.
It turns out that this Prince has an overprotective mother who (somehow) has secret Ogre lineage and when her son informs her that she is now a grandmother she gets very angry.
Her attempt at fixing this whole pesky thing is to demand that her grandchildren be brought to her so that she can eat them. Because there’s no reaction like an overreaction am I right?
Luckily the palace cook has a sense of morals and thwarts the attempt and the Queen Ogress is found out and killed.
Then they live happily ever after.
So the Grimm’s cut off the second part completely while the Perrault version adds some more trauma. But earlier on I’d mentioned a third version which preceded both. This third version (or first version really) contains both parts but is even more disturbing.
If you haven’t heard of it already let me introduce you to…
In this version written in 1634 by Giambattista Bastille the Princess is actually a Lord’s daughter and was given the name Talia.
The first half of the story is what we know with some changes, for instance there are no fairies, just bad luck and a piece of poisoned flax takes the place of the spindle.
The end result is the same.
Our beauty still sleeps.
This time round the King that finds her isn’t satisfied with a kiss. In this version he ‘gathers the first fruits of love.’ To be blunt, he has sex with her unconscious body. No, hold on. He rapes her. That’s what happens. And he comes back several times for more of the same.
Talia falls pregnant and while unconscious gives birth to twins (Sun and Moon) and when one tries to suckle it pulls out the splinter (or piece of flax) that has caused her to sleep.
On one of his return journeys the King finds an awake Talia with babies and brings her back to his Kingdom but hides them all away. Why? Well he is married. Some unfortunate talking in his sleep reveals to his wife that he has two babies with Talia and in her anger the Queen decides that she will feed her husband his twins. So this is much like the Perrault version except he swapped a wife for an Ogress mother.
The ending plays out the same though, the Queen’s attempts at induced cannibalism are thwarted and she is killed. The King marries Talia.
They live happily ever after.
I have so many.
I don’t know where to start. I’m going to bullet point for ease here.
Is there a moral of ‘be careful of who you forget to invite to your party’? Lest you risk the wrath of upsetting fairies? If I’d been accidentally left of the guest list I wouldn’t seek revenge via death curses. But, despite all my wishing, I am not a fairy. Or a Greek goddess but that’s another story.
But leading on from that – this tale also tells us what fairies are like (if they were to exist). They are dangerous and unpredictable creatures who take grave offence at simple errors of oversight. But then, they also seem to act in accordance to what they want. Why, after hearing the old fairy mutter about revenge, did the youngest fairy do nothing? Is it that with age comes greater power and nothing could be done anyway as a prevention? The ‘bad’ fairy was supposed to have been the oldest of them all after all.
The tales differ in their representation of how many fairies were present at the feast. Some say 7 and some say 13 with the 13th being the old and uninvited fairy. Could there be links here to Christianity and the belief that the 13th guest is the most unwelcome (at The Last Supper it was Judas who was guest 13)? Some folklorists state that this is a story of the yearly calendar and the removal of a 13th month to limit it down to 12.
This story is not friendly to women. There is much discussion about the sexism of fairy tales and yes I am trying not to go off on here about it but Sleeping Beauty and Sun, Moon, and Talia is rife with it.
The Grimm and Perrault versions have a vindictive female fairy be the cause of the curse and they also have an old woman be the ignorant bystander who inadvertently ensures it happens. In some way I’m like sure, fairies are not rational creatures and also if anyone is likely to be spinning in this time period it would be a woman.
But then… in the Perrault version we have an unreasonably angry Queen who despises her grandchildren and wants to eat them. First of all I’m surprised that no one (including husband and son) knows she has Ogre lineage. Second, doesn’t that mean that the Prince and his children also have Ogre lineage? But why does she want to eat the children? She must know that the Prince will need to marry and have children. He’s a Prince! It’s what they have to bloody do! Her motivations are not clear and she’s evil ‘just because.’
The Queen in the Bastille version has more reason to be angry and jealous because her husband has had two children with another woman. Her reaction is incredibly disproportionate but again I’m learning that fairy tales = evil women are evil = just because.
The Princess/ Talia is a passive character in what is a story about her. She receives gifts that are traditionally ‘feminine’ in beauty and grace and music and her worth is her beauty and youth. Her fate is determined by magic/ bad luck and then her fate is sealed further when she is awoken. In the Grimm version it is a kiss. In Perrault’s version it is a kiss and more danger that she has no part in thwarting.
In Bastille’s version she suffers even more as a victim of rape. Because that’s what’s happening here. The actual worst of it, is that the King in this version (i.e. her rapist) is somehow a good guy. It is his wife that is evil. Sure, she does an evil thing but she gets killed and the King marries Talia.
No scratch what I said about the worst of it being the ‘King as good guy.’ The worst is the fact that the King marrying Talia is presented as the happy ending. Yes it is. For him. The fact is that Talia, who has been raped and impregnated while unconscious, has to marry her rapist.
In the original text we get the wife calling Talia a ‘whore’ and refusing to listen to Talia’s desperate plea that she was blameless because… female misogyny and the King refers to his wife as ‘bitch’ a few times. That and combined with his actions presents a clear picture as to what kind of person he is.
The tale actually ends with the moral that ‘good fortune can occur to the fortunate, even while sleeping.’
It’s just… eugh.
This is a popular fairy tale so there are probably a trillion retelling’s and other versions.
The one’s that come to my mind/ I have found that look promising are:-
- Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (movie)
- The Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky ballet)
- Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley (book)
- Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (book)
- The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)
- Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (book)
- The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by Anne Rice (books)
If I had my way and was doing a retelling it would be based on the Sun, Moon and Talia version. I have no clue how it would go in terms of the curse and who was setting it and why (and there would be a why) but I would 100% change the ending.
What I want to see is the King bringing Talia and the babies back to his palace where his wife, the Queen, is outraged at what she perceives as his betrayal. This outrage turns to horror when Talia declares to the Queen all that has happened to her and expresses her own anger at a) being a cosmic plaything and b) that the King is her rapist who believes that she will quietly acquiesce.
Talia and the Queen (who would have a name dammit) relate to the dire situation of both their lives in a time period where being a women is not a good thing. They decide to plan to kill the King (which they do via the piece of cursed/ poisoned splinter which Talia kept) and serve him to the unsuspecting guests, including fairies, at a party. Talia’s son is legitimised by royal decree of the Queen and she adopts him and acts as regent until he comes of age.
Meanwhile she, Talia and the children live together happily in the castle and keep hold of the piece of splinter, just in case.
‘Tis lengthy. ‘Twas fun to write.
I asked my friend what her favourite fairy tale is and she said Little Red Riding Hood. So I may do that one next.