As part of my fairytale origins series, I delve into the origins of popular fairytales we all know and love. From a young age, I have been fascinated by the gruesome stories behind our best loved classics and Sleeping Beauty is no different. There appear to be three major variations of the Sleeping Beauty myth. (Trigger Warning: rape & attempted cannibalism)
The first version of the story, by the Brothers Grimm, is the tale we all know and love. A princess on her christening day is cursed by a malevolent and disgruntled fairy. On her 16th birthday she pricks her finger on a spindle (not sure how as a spindle is blunt, but anyway…) and falls into a deep sleep for a hundred years. She is finally awoken by a kiss from the prince of a neighboring kingdom that just happens to discover her whilst out with a hunting party. The spell is broken, the castle wakes up and the prince and princess marry to live happily ever after.
There is then a variation that goes one step further and delays the happily ever after. In Perrault’s version of the story, The prince marries the princess in secret and they eventually have two children together. The prince’s mother is an ogress, and when his time comes to ascend to the throne, the prince brings his wife and two children back to his kingdom. His mother is furious and while her son is away, orders the cook to serve the children and the young wife up in the stew for dinner. The cook tricks the queen, serving beef and lamb instead and when the prince returns his mother’s treachery is exposed and she throws herself in a tub of vipers. Only then do they live happily ever after.
But it is Basille’s narrative that gets really dark. In his version, named Sun, Moon, and Talia, Talia falls into a deep sleep after she is hurt by a splinter of flax (no evil fairies here, just a prediction from astrologers). A king passing by finds Talia asleep in a tower and rapes her in her sleep (I know, super dark). While asleep, she bears him two children; twins! The children suck on her fingers and one removes the splinter of flax (you would have thought they would have already tried that before now, but let’s not get hung up on the details). The king goes to see Talia again, and to his surprise she is awake and raising his children. He promises to take her back to his kingdom and leaves.
The king however is already married (shocker… really turning out to be a great guy, isn’t he?). One night his wife hears him muttering the name Talia in his sleep and finds out about his little dalliance. The queen, pretending to be her husband, writes to Talia asking her to send the twins to the palace. When they get there, the queen asks the cook to boil the children and feed them to the king. The cook (as with Perrault’s tale) hides the children and feeds lamb to the king instead. The queen reveals to her husband that he has eaten his children and he is furious. The queen then brings Talia to the palace to burn her alive, but the king stops her and burns the queen and all those who betrayed him alive instead. He is reunited with his children, who the cook reveals are actually unharmed, and he and Talia live happily ever after.
Maybe not so much. If I were Talia, I would run for the hills…
So there it is, the rather gruesome origins of the Sleeping Beauty tale. If you want to read my favorite retelling adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, January’s Book of the Month is Spindle’s End by Robert McKinley.