Friday’s Fairy tales: The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

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(By Henry Maynell Rheam)

“The Old Fairy’s turn coming next, with a head shaking more with spite than age, she said that the Princess should have her hand pierced with a spindle and die of the wound. This terrible gift made the whole company tremble, and everybody fell a-crying” (Lang 1965:55)

Here it is guys! The first ever Friday’s Fairy tales! I’m excited to see how this goes down, but obviously I’m still trying to find a structure that works well for it so bear with me! For those who do not know, with the popular resurgence of Fairy Tales in current literature (a lot of YA retellings), I’ve decided to do a weekly feature where I explore the original tales, discuss the changes which occurred within the tale over time, and provide a place for the discussion of these tales

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In this Friday’s Fairy tales, I will be discussing the story of Sleeping Beauty,or as it was originally called “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood/La Belle au Bois Dormant”. I will be basing my discussion around two main sources: Basile’s original tale,and Perrault’s more recognised tale. I will also be discussing the main interesting topics within this tale, such as the ending Disney conveniently cut out: cannibalism, and also, did the Prince actually rape Aurora while she was asleep?

I will actually be referring to two main tellings of this story- first the earliest documented one, and then the slightly later, more known and recognised telling of the story.

The Story?

Credit where Credit is Due: Wikipedia I love you. (aka it’s 00.20am and I’m tired)

For the main body of text, I’ve discovered an earlier version than Perrault’s, which was written by Giambattista Basile, in 1637, which is called “Sun, Moon and Talia” or “Sole, Luna, e Talia”, which goes like this:

  • A Great Lord has a daughter

  • Astronomers read the daughter’s horoscope and inform the parents that she will later be in danger from a splinter [we all knew they were dangerous!] from flax.

  • Protecting his daughter, the Lord orders that no flax should be brought into his house

  • Years on, Talia comes across a woman spinning flax on a spindle, she decides she wants a go [oooh no], and winds up getting a splinter under her fingernail, and promptly falls to the ground, seemingly dead.

  • The Lord cannot stand the thought of burying his child, so he sets her up in one of his country estates.[Damn- maybe I should get a splinter if it sets me up for life?]

  • Years later, a King who is hunting in the nearby woods, follows his falcon into the woods.

  • He finds Talia, cannot seem to wake her and proceeds to rape her whilst she is unconscious.

  • He leaves her in the house and returns home.

  • Still asleep [or seemingly dead, because you know, necrophilia is what our King here is into], she later gives birth to twins- a boy and a girl [but how did they get food while inside her to grow!?]

  • Anyway, one day the boy can’t find his mum’s breast to suckle and winds up sucking her fingertip instead and he draws the splinter out [convenient, eh?] Talia awakens, and names her children “Sun” and “Moon”.

  • The King returns and finds Talia awake [I’m sure he is so disappointed] and now a mother. Feeling guilty, I guess, for betraying either them or his wife the Queen, he begins calling out the names of Talia and their children in his sleep. Naturally, the Queen hears him do this and it turns out she is not the nicest of people. After getting the whole story from the King’s Secretary, She summons the children to court and orders them to be cooked and served to the King,

  • The cook hides the kiddies instead and serves lamb instead [SHE COOKED THE “KID”, GEDDIT?] and the Queen taunts the King whilst he eats.

  • Talia is then brought to the court and the Queen orders a giant fire to be constructed in the square, for Talia to be thrown into. Talia screams, the King hears Talia and comes running. The Queen brags about burning up Talia and cooking the kiddles- so the King orders Queenie to be thrown on the pyre instead.

  • The King and Talia marry [I guess creeper love is deeper love?]

  • The Moral is this: “Lucky people, so ’tis said, He who has luck may go to bed, And bliss will rain upon his head

Perrault’s Version: La Bella Au Dormant (1697)

Credit where Credit is Due: Perrault’s Book of Fairy Tales, and Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book (pg. 54)

The Perrault version of this tale,  is not very different from the actual Disney version, so I will not go into detail for this telling of the story, apart from the interesting ending- since most people are familiar at least with the Disney rendition of the tale. Perrault’s version is known for being “La Belle au Bois Dormant”, originally published in 1697. It is also referred to by the Brothers Grimm as “Little Briar Rose”.

So 100 years pass, and eventually, a prince conveniently stumbles by, and after being told there is a pretty princess stuck in the castle asleep for 100 years [eesh, think of the morning breath!], he decides to attempt to be the hero, the wild forest of thorns and brambles parts as he approaches the castle and he enters the castle. He passes the sleeping citizens of the Kingdom and heads straight to the bedroom [no comment]. He falls to his knees at the sight of her beauty and she awakens- that’s right folks, there is no kiss! She just wakes up because he is in the room! They talk for a long time, “They did weep more than talk- little eloquence, a great deal of love” (Lang 1965:59) and the citizens of the Kingdom wake up, and then they go to eat dinner and are later married by the chaplin.

The End- kind of

There is now a slightly lesser known ending, aka. “My Mother-in-Law from Hell.”

So the Prince and Princess are now married, the Prince continues to see the Princess [as expected, I mean they are married], and She has his babies- two children, L’Aurore (Dawn) and Le Jour (Day). The prince however, kept this fact a secret from his mother, who is apparently of Ogre Lineage [Shrek?! Is that you!?] Apparently he thought hiding all of this from his mother was a good idea.

So when the Queen Mother found out about this, once her son ascended the throne, she was not a happy ogre. She demanded that the Princess/Queen should cook her dinner, and that the dinner should be of her grandson. The cook however, cleverly substitutes the son with a young lamb, and later, the daughter, with a young goat. The Queen Mother then orders that the Queen should be killed and “reunited with her children”. Upon finding out that she had been tricked three times and that the Queen and her Grandchildren had indeed not been killed and served on a plate to her, literally, she prepared a tub in the courtyard filled with all sorts of horrible things, vipers and the like. The King however, returned just in the nick of time [damn, way to spoil all the fun mate], and upon being discovered to be an Ogress, the Queen Mother throws herself into the pit of horrors which she herself had created, was consumed by it and they all lived Happily Ever After.

Now, that is  The End.

Bloody hell, so I bet that reads a little different from the Disney version we all know and love, eh?

Looking at those two tales, there isn’t actually that much difference between the two “original” tales, in terms of the end goal of the tale, although one is certainly less gorey and erm… violent than the other. There, interestingly, is an even earlier version, dated from 1528 called “Perceforest”, in which again the girl is impregnated whilst asleep, and again in an Italian variant by Italo Cavino.

At this point, I’m actually surprised Perrault didn’t follow suit and include rape in his version of the tale, although I am certainly thankful he didn’t. I also wonder if this tale is one of the origins of the whole “mother-in-law” stereotype? I’m not saying that every mother-in-law is going to want to eat your children, but certainly the whole bitchy, can-never-please-her stereotype.

One main difference between the two, is that in the original tale, they are all human and there is no element of magic to any of the tale, really- and then some fifty years later, Perrault fills his tale up with magic and witchcraft. This at a time where people were still quite persecuted for witchcraft and sorcery across Europe…

The version featured in Lang’s Blue Fairy Book is certainly the more romantic of the tales.

Main Differences:

  • Predicted event vs Magical Curse

  • Somewhat accidental event vs Fairies- Good vs Bad (Plain Reality vs Magical intervention)

  • Rape/Necrophilia vs Romanticised encounter

  • gives birth during sleep/gives birth after awakening and marriage

  • Human mother-in-law problems vs Ogress

  • and of course, the entire emission of the cannibalistic mother-in-law, human or not- as the later version of the tale simply ends with Briar Rose waking up.

Re-tellings:

  1. Spindle’s End – Robin mcKinley

  2. Beauty Sleep: A Re-telling of “Sleeping Beauty”- Cameron Dokey (Once Upon a Time series)

  3. Little Daylight- George McDonald

  4. The Ordinary Princess- M.M Kaye

  5. Enchantment – Orson Scott Card

  6. A Kiss in Time- Alex Flinn

NB: All of these- as far as I’m aware- follow Perrault’s story, including the Fairy godmothers and the gifts.

Question Time!

I got some of these questions of a study guide I found regarding Grimm’s fairy tales and thought it’d be a good way to enhance a discussion- feel free to answer them yourselves!

Could this be classed as a Cautionary Tale? If so, how?

Well, I don’t think I’d say “Sun, Moon and Talia” is a cautionary tale, but La Belle Au Bois Dormant certainly could be. Mainly in terms of teaching people not to neglect others, or to assume people do not want to be invited to parties- because that will come back and haunt you- and apparently, your children. Also: Lamb tastes like Children.

Do you think this tale is aimed towards Children, or can it be for Adults as well?

Hmm. I think this probably started out as a bedtime story for children, to be honest. Although I can’t imagine parents even working rape into a bedtime story, so maybe this was more towards a “myth” for adults? I saw a theory that this story is also a representation of Nature- that the forest surrounding the castle is “winter” and the Princess being awoken is bring back the “Spring”, which I suppose isn’t entirely different from the myth of Persephone?

Did you notice any interesting patterns or underlying themes in this story?

The main theme that sticks out to me from this tale is what always stood out to me in the Disney version: the only reason Maleficent curses the baby is to get back at the parents and society for shunning her from the biggest celebration in the Kingdom. If they had remembered to invite her, it may not have happened at all. I notice, as well that Perrault’s version with the fairy godmothers and magic seems to be more popular all around than that of Basile’s work, in which there is no real “magic” as such, everyone is surprisingly human.

Is this a tale you would tell your children? If so, which version would you prefer? If not, why not?

I always loved the story of La Belle au Bois Dormant, and I am a huge fan of both the beautiful Tchaikovsky score for the Ballet and the amazing animation in the Disney movie. To me, it is the most beautifully crafted Disney movie, because the animators spent years purposefully drawing every scene to look like a tapestry from the era it is set in, so it definitley is one I would tell any children. I probably would not, however, tell the dodgy rape element of the original tale (at least, not until they were much older). Then again, I come from a household where instead of being read the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, my dad would tell us the story of “Goldilocks, and the Three Hell’s Angels”.

Readers: Is there a specific tale you would like me to discuss/analyse in the future?

Next Week’s Friday Fairytale:East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, a Norweigian Folk Tale, and it has become one of my favourite Fairy Tales. My main source will be Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book and two/three modern re-tellings of the tale. Feel free to read up on it and join the discussion next week!

I am open to any suggestions as to how these posts can be improved as well? Was this a good post? how could it be improved upon next week?

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10 thoughts on “Friday’s Fairy tales: The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

  1. I will be looking forward to Fridays from now on. What an in depth and well put together post. I love it!!! I’m trying to come up with answer for these questions and I’m failing miserably. The first telling was CAH-REEP-PY!!!! And then she marries him after he rapes her in her sleep? Gross. Just….no. I’m shocked that somehow that story morphed into the pastel tale as told by Disney and loved by most. I’ll come up with better comments as we go 🙂 and I’ll be prepared (I dropped the ball on this one- I blame the book I was reading)

    • thebookheap says:

      Haha awh thank you, glad this made a good impression! I was surprised when I stumbled upon that original tale because I did think Perrault’s *was* the original. So to see an even gorey and more realistic, I guess, version was a surprise. I suppose she married him because he fathered her children and was king? I mean rape in a marriage in the UK was only made illegal around 1990 and prior to the 1900s, it wasn’t unheard of for women to stay with a man despite him raping her…*sigh* a sad truth.

      Haha no worries. Next week’s is a little simpler in that it doesn’t have an earlier version really. Although there is an interesting comparison being made with another popular tale…*spoilers*

  2. arianrhod123 says:

    This is such a good idea for a Friday post, because the original fairy tales are always so interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever heard the original version of Sleeping Beauty before, and it’s so creepy. The Disney version is really good though, and I’m definitely glad that they didn’t follow the original versions 😀

    • thebookheap says:

      Haha me too! Talk about a downer. I find it interesting that Perrault added in elements of magic and fairies and witchcraft to a tale that originally was quite…plain.

  3. Yeay! Fairy Tale Fridays have begun! 🙂
    I had no idea that the original was anything like that. It is all a bit strange really, she was raped in her sleep, gave birth in her sleep and then upon waking up married the man who raped her. I worry about women back then who would let themselves be controlled by such horrible men.
    I didn’t know about the whole eating the children thing either, I think I have been very much sheltered with the Disney version that I never knew how un-happy the older versions were. Interesting though.
    I’m very much a magic lover, so I think I would definitely prefer Perrault’s version. But as a happily-ever-after at heart kind of girl, nothing can beat Disney’s adaptation which keeps the scary/horrible bits to a minimum and gives us some sing a long moments to keep us smiling 🙂
    Great post, very well researched and definitely has me intrigued on the older versions. Can’t wait until next week! 🙂

    • thebookheap says:

      haha I know, they kept that one quiet, didn’t they!? I think the giving-birth-to-twins-while-asleep is very strange too- mainly cos she was asleep for the whole pregnancy and I don’t understand how they could develop healthily under those circumstances.

      I think everybody prefer’s Perrault’s version after that!
      Awh thank you 🙂

  4. Ahhh. I forgot how creepy the original fairy tales can be. Kind of makes you wonder why we read these to our children. Thankfully they’ve evolved into much happier type of stories.

    • thebookheap says:

      Well that’s the thing. Most of them are “cautionary tales” but I don’t really see how this one is a “Cautionary” tale…

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