Sleeping Beauty

Therein being my absolute favorite fairy tale of all time–as well as favorite Disney movie that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen them all up until 2005, a few of the newer ones are still on my to-watch list). I absolutely adored Prince Philip when I first saw the movie when I was a kid; which is after all kind of the point. But he was by far my favorite Disney-prince, far better than Prince Charming from Cinderella or The Prince from Snow White.

Obviously, back when I saw this for the first time at like…eh, 5 years old? maybe younger…I don’t really remember anymore the first time I saw this movie. I didn’t realize the really awful fairy tale backstory that lay behind Sleeping Beauty, or just what disneyfied really meant, or why they did that. For little child me, this was exactly how the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale went. Which is rather hilarious the longer I’ve done research and the more I’ve read about the earlier versions of this fairy tale. Because there is a lot of stuff that disappears from the Disney version, for some rather very good reasons.

The castle! Oh how I loved this castle. It just…it was the perfect fairy tale princess castle. I wanted to live here, and I know this was the castle I always pictured when we’d play pretend at being princesses while growing up. (I, of course, also loved Belle’s library from Beauty and the Beast, but that’s only 1 room, not a whole castle) To me this is the quintessential castle. If I could really go and live in castle, this is the one I would pick–of course assuming that we ignore all real world practical concerns like heating, cost of management, staffing problems, and just where it would be located. Still, this is just pretty. And I got to see the real-life inspiration in Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria up close. It’s just as stunning, and totally unbelievable. There’s no real way to clearly explain just what it’s like being up in the mountains and looking down on Neuschwanstein to see just how very pretty it is.

But the rest of the animation is just as glorious and pretty as the castle, when you look at it. I mean, the dance in the forest is just as beautiful as the castle, and it has wonderful music to go with it. At one point I wanted to learn ballroom dancing because of this scene and the song. Which, looking back, is probably not totally what I should have been looking for, but that’s okay. I did learn a tiny little bit of ballroom dancing in college, so goal accomplished, somewhat. I’m not any good at it anymore, but I at least learned it to begin with; and I can still somewhat remember the one waltz I learned in high school.

I’ve also come across the German-language soundtrack in the last 5 years. That’s a great one, too–and I really like the voice-actor for Prince Philip (I think his name is Rainer Brandt if I remember correctly); just as much as I adore Bill Shirley in the original English. In German this is called Dornröschen (Little Briar Rose)–which I like as a name just as much as Sleeping Beauty. So listening to them sing “Once Upon a Dream” in German is just as pretty as English. Very much worth a listen, so here we go:

The song here is just…pretty. It is still one of my favorite ‘main songs’ from a Disney movie. It’s far more my taste than a lot of the newer ones. But then again, that also comes from the fact that it is based off of Tchaikovsky’s ballet score; which just hearkens back to my absolute love of classical and romantic Russian music. I’ve got such a soft-spot for that music that this just speaks to me.

It’s a sweet and perfect Disney adaption, of course.

Philip and Aurora don’t know who each other are. They fall in love on first sight in the forest, and agree to meet at her woodland cottage that evening. He tells his father he’s going to marry a peasant; while she’s telling the three good fairies that she’s in love. Then they break her heart, telling her who she is, and that she can only marry the prince (who of course she has no clue is the stranger she met). So they take her back to the palace to be presented to her parents and the court at dusk.

Brave Prince Philip gets kidnapped by evil Maleficent when he goes to visit Aurora in the evening, because she of course just wants to torture him. So while he’s hauled off by her minions, the court is waiting to meet the princess returned after 16 years in hiding. Not so simple though, of course. Maleficent enchants Aurora, who follows along, and pricks her finger on the spindle. And so she falls asleep. Curse complete.

The fairies put the whole castle to sleep, not wanting anyone to wake up. Once that is done, they go off to rescue Prince Philip from Maleficent, because they now realize that he was the stranger that Aurora met in the forest. So after some ridiculous fluttering and some good luck, they break him out of the dungeon, give him a sword and shield, and help him and Samson (the horse) escape from Maleficent’s awful castle dungeon.

Then he rides off, escaping. Maleficent tries to kill him, but the lightning is totally unsuccessful. Brambles around the castle complex are also useless. So Maleficent becomes a huge dragon and blocks his path herself. There’s a good little fight there, with the three good fairies looking on. Philip loses his shield to Maleficent and her fire. At that point, the fairies save him by enchanting his sword, and when it is thrown, it pierces Maleficent in dragon form straight through the heart, sending her tumbling to her death. Then all that’s left is a small piece of what remains of her cloak, pinned by the sword.

From there, Philip goes up through the sleeping castle, up to the tallest tower, where he finds Aurora lying asleep. And as all good fairy tales must end: he awakens the princess with “true love’s first kiss”, and so she wakes up. They then go together down to the throne room, where the now awake court greets the two. And they dance together before their parents, heralding the “happily ever after” ending.

Louis Sußmann-Hellborn – Dornröschen

So, perfect Disney story-telling, right? But the source material is a bit more…eh, awful.

Going backwards – the Disney version is based off of “The Sleeping Beauty” by Charles Perrault with a little bit of “Dornröschen” by the Brothers Grimm. Perrault was the inspiration for the Brothers Grimm – and it was published in 1697. This version is kind of similar, but not really.

Part One: 7 good fairies are invited to the christening of the long-awaited princess. The old fairy is not honored like the others, because she was thought dead. 6 of the fairies have given their gift, and then the old fairy is angry, and curses the princess to prick her finger on a spindle and die. The 7th fairy corrects this to fall asleep for 100 years, and only be awoken by a prince’s kiss. So the king orders all spindles destroyed, and thus it goes for years.

Some old woman in the castle is spinning one day, and the princess asks to try; she does, pricks her finger and collapses. The king and queen put her in the tallest tower, deeply sleeping, and ban anyone from entering. The 7th fairy has foresight, and knows the princess will despair when she wakes up alone. So the castle is enchanted to sleep. And then the 7th fairy enchants brambles, trees and thorns to create a forest around the castle.

100 years pass – and then a prince out on the hunt sees the castle. everyone has different rumors about it, but an old servant tells him about the sleeping princess. The prince goes through the forest and ends up in the castle. He passes everyone, goes up the tower, and then kisses the princess. She wakes up, they talk for some time, and are later married in the castle.

Part Two: the prince is married, and keeps visiting the princess in secret. Surprise! His mother is an ogre. The wedding was a secret, and she bears 2 children. So when he becomes king, he brings his secret wife and 2 children out of hiding and to his palace.

The queen mother sends the queen and her children into the woods while the king is out away from the palace. Then demands a cook serve her the son. He replaces it with an animal, which the queen mother likes. Then repeats with the daughter. The queen mother asks for the queen cooked up now. The cook repeats the trick. But then somehow the queen mother finds out. She is making a giant pit of vipers and other nasties.

The king arrives just in time though! and now that the queen mother is revealed as an ogress, she jumps into the pit and dies. Thus does the king, the queen, and their 2 children then live happily ever after.

(I’d like to point out the sheer ridiculousness here that the queen mother being an ogress somehow has no effect on the king–who must then be 1/2 ogre. But nope, never brought up and never mentioned.)

Henry Meynell Rheam

Perrault based his version on an earlier one: “Sun, Moon, and Talia” by Giambattista Basile from 1634.

Unlike Perrault, Basile gives her a name: Talia.

After Talia is born to a lord, astrologers tell the lord flax will be a danger to her. So the lord bans flax from his house. Years later, an old woman is spinning flax on a spindle, and Talia is curious about it. So she stretches out the flax, but a splinter catches under her fingernail, and she drops “dead”. The lord can’t stomach the thought of burying his daughter, so he puts her body in one of his estates in the country.

A king later on ends up following his bird into the house. He sees her, is totally aroused, moves her to a bed, and rapes her in her sleep. Then he goes on back to his castle. She is pregnant, and never waking up, gives birth to 2 twins, a boy and a girl. The baby girl ends up sucking on Talia’s finger, which removes the flax. So she wakes up. She names them “Sun” and “Moon”, and stays with them in the country estate.

When the king comes back, he finds Talia now awake with the kids. The king is already married though, and back at home his wife hears him talking about Talia and the kids in his sleep. So she gets the information from his secretary. The queen forges a message and gets the children brought to court. She demands the cook prepare them to be eaten by the king. The cook hides the children and feeds the king 2 lambs instead.

Then the queen gets Talia brought to court. She creates a huge bonfire in the courtyard and demands Talia be thrown into it. Talia agrees, but asks to disrobe, which the queen agrees to. Talia keeps screaming as she undresses. The king comes, and the queen tells him that Talia will be burned, and he ate his own kids. The king orders the queen, his secretary and the cook thrown into the fire. When the cook shows what he did, in saving the children, he is spared. The cook becomes royal chamberlain. The king, Talia, and their children Sun and Moon all live happily ever after.

Here’s the moral of the story by Basile:

Lucky people, so ’tis said, are blessed by Fortune whilst in bed.

Which is rather horrific – considering that Talia had literally zero choice in this whole thing. She was raped in her sleep, and the king took total advantage of her. This is where I begin having major problems with the whole “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale story. This version is rather horrific across the board. It’s not at all appropriate or even anything I would consider a “good” fairy tale to tell.

W.E.F. Britten

The oldest version of the fairy tale that we know of comes from the epic Perceforest, written sometime between 1330-1344. This is more known its history of Great Britain and Arthuriana, but still, there is an extremely early version of Sleeping Beauty.

Inside Perceforest is the section “Histoire de Troïlus et de Zellandine”. In this version, the princess is Zellandine, and the prince is Troilus. I’ve yet to be able to read this version in full, just snippets of it here and there, as buying a copy of Perceforest is extremely expensive in English. So I’ve only got summaries of this version to go off of.

It’s pretty similar to Basile’s version. Princess Zellandine is in a deep coma, lying in the palace upon a bed. Troilus comes across her, rapes her while she’s in the coma. And then nine months later she gives birth to her child while still in a coma, and does not wake up.

The earlier versions of the fairy tale are exceptionally dark.

I mean, “child-eating” or pretend such, and bonfires and pits of vipers…that’s all fairly standard for late medieval fairy tales. Those aren’t anything too awful. Because no real children are eaten, that’s not bad at all, not in the scale of fairy tale. And because through the telling we know no children have been cannibalized, I don’t consider this particularly problematic. Bonfires, well setting people on fire was a horrific thing, but it was a valid punishment at the time many of these fairy tales are first written. Awful indeed, but it was also not a totally out of line thing to have happen. And viper pits, well that’s standard story-telling devices. None of these bother me too much.

The rape though. That one hits hard. I hate that. And it makes for a very difficult read. I know that back in those times there was a different understanding of consent, of just how relations should work; and I understand that it is just a fairy tale. But this is the sticking point for me on old Sleeping Beauty fairy tale versions. It’s a disgusting plot device, one that I really do abhor. It also makes it hard for me to really enjoy the oldest versions of the fairy tale, because it’s just so absolutely disgusting that I really want to throw a book on seeing it.

In order to continue enjoying my love of Sleeping Beauty in the Disney version, I consciously separate it as a tale from the oldest, original versions. Logically, given all my studying of history and historical perceptions, I know that it stems from a different time, with different morals and understanding of morality and ethics. And while I can mentally detach this from the personal responses, I cannot completely separate it in my own mind. I know it is rather irrational, but that’s just the way it is.

Still–modern Sleeping Beauty, like in Disney is great. And even the Perrault version is not too bad (once you suspend disbelief on the ogre-lineage thing). It’s a sweet, heartwarming tale in Disney version about true love, and happily ever after. Which is really what everyone would like about it, from my perspective. I mean, even if I am a cold realist, even I still sometimes like to think about my “one true love” and love at first sight. So it’s endearing and that’s why it remains my favorite fairy tale.

Victor Vasnetsov – Sleeping Princess

All unlabeled images are courtesy of Disney.













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I'm a bibliophile who loves collecting books. Definite cat person. Amateur historian and major geek, who loves all things Tolkien and Star Trek. I'm also fluent in German.

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