Since writing “Dreaming Beauty,” I’ve realized that most people are unaware of the various versions of the fairytale, Sleeping Beauty. Today, most Americans know about Disney’s 1959 animated version. A few others know about the Brothers Grimm version (1823) which was the base for Disney’s.
It’s a classic right? Sure, I’m not here to bash on Disney. In fact, my Bachelor’s capstone final was titled “In Defense of Disney.” I wrote 25 pages to argue that if anyone wanted to bash on the creators at Disney for “commercializing” the fairytales, they also needed to bash on Shakespeare, Grimms Brothers, Charles Perrault, and Madame Beaumont. Because they did exactly the same thing.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert, but after my ENGL495 class on English, French, and German fairytales at BYU, I’ll claim to know more than the average joe.
First of all, let’s debunk any beliefs that Disney created the original version of Sleeping Beauty. Or the brothers Grimm. Or Charles Perrault. Or any specific writer. Because writers didn’t create the “original” story.
Every fairytale we know was originally created orally by storytellers. Now, if you’ve ever played the game of Telephone, then you know that words change with each person who shares the story. The tales changed and grew until some folklorist writers decided to collect the tales, write them down, then distribute them.
What I’m about to explain to you is a condensed version of information found in “The Classic Fairy Tales,” by Iona and Peter Opie (1974).
Let’s start with a little Norse mythology.
Within the Volsunga Saga, we have a story of Brynhild, who was banished to earth and forced to wed. Her biggest fear was to marry a coward, so Odin put her in a deserted castle surrounded by flames. Then, he touched her with a “thorn of sleep” to preserve her. When a man (Sigurd) removed her armor, he would instantly fall in love with her and she would wake.
I’ll admit, I prefer the above version of Sleeping Beauty to this next one, despite its intriguing links between the legends of Alexander the Great and King Arthur.
Deities Venus, Lucina, and Themis were invited to a banquet to honor the birth of the king’s daughter, Zellandine. Themis was offended by a missing knife at her table setting and put an unknown curse on the babe. After growing up a bit, Zellandine fell asleep while spinning flax. Years later, Prince Troylus finds her and . . . well, she wakes up pregnant.Synopsis of a section in Perceforest, 1531
Yep, how many of you knew that version?
Unfortunately, it’s not alone.
A king assembled wise men to foretell the future of his newborn daughter, Talia. They conferred together that peril would find her from a splinter in some flax. The king ordered no flax or similar material to enter his palace. But Talia (grown up) saw an old woman spinning outside and asked to try. She drew out the thread, got a splinter, then fell dead. The king placed her on a velvet chair, locked the palace, and abandoned her.
Unknown time passed, and a new king came by while hunting. The king went inside the palace, found Talia, did some things without her conscious consent, then left. Talia had twins (boy and girl named Sun and Moon- Jour and Aurore) who were looked after by fairies until one sucked on her finger, sucking the splinter out, and waking Talia. Soon after, the king returned and they bonded for several days.
Except the king was married, and his wife guessed his adultery. By a trick, she obtained the twins and told the cook to make into hash. Instead, the cook killed two kid goats to serve to the king as the queen said, “You are eating what is your own.” The king believed that he ate his children.
Talia was ordered to be burnt alive, but she played for time, suggesting she first undressed because her clothes were beautiful. She was down to her underclothes when the king arrived and saved them.Synopsis of Day 5, Tale 5 of Basile’s “Pentamerone,” 1636
I hope I wasn’t the only one surprised by the small but obvious similarities to Disney’s animated version. Yep, Princess Aurora is named after Talia’s daughter, and she’s raised by fairies…
I’m going to skip ahead in time to a synopsis of the Grimm’s tale since this is the written version most commonly known.
A barren queen saved a fish by putting it back into the river. In return, the fish foretold the birth of her daughter. At her birth, the king held a feast, inviting 12 of the 13 fairies because they only had 12 gold plates. They each blessed the babe, but after 11 had blessed her, the 13th arrived. She scolded the king for not inviting her then cursed the babe to be killed by a spindle on her 15th year. Then the 12th blessed her to only fall asleep for 100 years.
The king ordered all spindles burnt, but on her 15th birthday, the king and queen were gone, and she found an old woman spinning. The princess wanted to try, but the spindle wounded her and she fell.
The whole court was also put to sleep, then a large hedge of thorns grew around the palace until only rumors remained of Briar Rose sleeping inside.
Many years later, a king’s son heard about the castle with the princess inside. The very day as the 100 years passed, the prince came to the thicket and he saw nothing but beautiful flowers and shrubs. He went through easily, but they shut up behind him. He found Briar Rose, gave her a kiss, then she woke and smiled. They went out to the court where everyone else woke. They were married and lived happily ever after.Synopsis of Dornroschen (Briar Rose), Brothers Grimm (1823)
Did you notice all the similarities with Disney’s version? Would you believe that this was one of the first times Sleeping Beauty woke with a kiss? The kiss awakening became popular as the story was told in pantomimes in the 1840s, but not much before then.
I’m not saying it’s bad, and I understand why the creators at Disney added humor with the fairies, romance between Aurora and the prince before the spindle, and suspense with a dragon. (I mean, seriously, dragons make all stories cooler, right?)
But this next version is my favorite and the one that I used for inspiring “Dreaming Beauty.”
A detailed summary of Perrault’s La Belle au Bois Dormant, 1697
A daughter was born to an old king and queen. To celebrate, they invited 7 fairies, but an old fairy came without invite (they thought she was dead). They tried to set the table, but left out a gold plate. A good fairy heard the old one mutter threats, so she hid herself to be the last one to bless the babe. They blessed her, but then she was cursed to die from a spindle. The last fairy came to say that after 100 years, a king’s son would wake her.
The king banned all spinning with a distaff and spindle. 15 or 16 years later, the princess was alone in the castle and met a woman with a spindle. The princess tried to spin, but pricked herself and fell. The king lay her in finery without aging.
The good fairy returned to the castle and put everyone in the palace to sleep too. Trees, bushes, and brambles grew so nothing could pass through.
A king’s son was hunting and saw the tops of the castle towers, and believed himself to be the one to wake the legendary sleeping princess. The wood made way for him to pass through, but the trees closed around him, allowing none others to pass through. The prince found her laying on the bed. He approached and fell before her on his knees.
She woke saying, “Is it you my Prince? You have waited a great while.” He confessed his love and loyalty, then they talked for 4 hours, weeping more than speaking.FIRST HALF of Detailed summary of Perrault’s La Belle au Bois Dormant, 1697
No kiss, but no abuse. Remember, this version is from 1697, and the kiss wasn’t popularized until the 1800s.
Don’t stop now! That’s only the FIRST HALF of the story!
The castle woke, music played, and they were married. The prince returned to his kingdom the next day with the excuse that he got lost and stayed at a cottage. The king believed the lie, but his mother didn’t when the prince went hunting every day with some excuse. She was of the ogres and had ogreish tendencies to fall on children as they passed by.
After two years and two children (Morning and Day), the king died and the prince became king, declaring his marriage publicly, and welcoming the princess with their two children.
The young king left for war, but as soon as he was gone, the ogre mom sent the princess and children to a country house in the woods. After a few days, she asked the kitchen clerk to cook Morning. He knew better than to trick an ogress, so went to kill the 4 year-old girl. She hugged him and asked for candy, and he lost heart, killing a lamb instead, and sending Morning to his wife in his lodging on the other side of the courtyard.
8 days later, the ogress asked to eat Day, and the clerk did the same as with Morning. Then, she wanted to eat the princess (who was 20 years old now), but the clerk wasn’t sure how to fake adult flesh. Going to kill her with a dagger, he couldn’t surprise her, but told her of his orders. Thinking her children were dead, she bore her neck and said, “Do it.” The clerk explained what he’d done and took her to his lodgings too. He fed the ogress a young horse and she planned to tell the young king that wolves had eaten his wife and children.
But one day, she heard Day crying. The ogress demanded a large tub of toads, vipers, snakes and serpents for the princess and children, clerk and his wife. They were about to be thrown into the tub when the king arrived. Unwilling to confess, the ogress dived into the tub and was devoured.Detailed summary of Perrault’s La Belle au Bois Dormant, 1697
Yes! Gimme some more of that! Seriously, Disney creators, why did you cut all of that out?
Whatever, I get it. Dragons are cooler than ogres.
If you want more of Perrault’s version, you can find my retelling of it in “Dreaming Beauty.”
PS. If the varieties of Sleeping Beauty blew your mind, just wait until book 2 when I retell a version of The Frog Prince.
Just. You. Wait.
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[…] mentioned at the end of my Not Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” post that Book 2 of my Dreaming Princesses Series would be based on a version of “The […]