Here we are in week three of the read-along already! As predicted, I am woefully behind on posting like I wanted to. Prepping for Realm Makers and getting Midnight’s Curse ready to release on time have been taking priority.
It is Realm Makers this week! For those of you who don’t know, it is the Christian conference for all things fantasy, sci-fi, weird, and speculative. It is amazing. This is my third year going, and I’m so excited. If I’m not able to reply to your comments in a timely manner, please know I will get to them as soon as I get back.
I’m super excited for this week in the read-along. Chapters 20-22 of Dagger’s Sleep are my favorite in the whole book and among some of my favorite chapters I have ever written. If I manage to get them scheduled before I leave for Realm Makers, I’m hoping to write a blog post or two on them. If I don’t, then I will probably use week 4 to talk about them instead. 🙂
Today, we’re going to chat a little bit about the original Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. Warning, it’s not exactly pretty or for kids. Prepare to have your childhood ruined.
The Original Fairy Tale
The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is one of the tales I point to when people say that older writing is more moral or clean. Yeah, no. Sorry to break it to you, but just because a book or story is “old,” doesn’t automatically make it morally superior than books written today.
One of the earliest written versions of Sleeping Beauty was a tale composed in the 1300s called the Perceforest, which was a collection of courtly tales with loose connections to Arthurian legends. The Sleeping Beauty story in the book is about a girl named Zellandine who is in love with a man named Troylus. But her father doesn’t like Troylus, so he sends him off to complete tasks to prove his worth.
While Troylus is kept busy, Zellandine falls into an enchanted sleep caused by a splinter of flax stabbing into her finger. When Troylus returns, he finds her asleep and, well, nine months later she has a child…while she is still asleep. Yeah. Not romantic at all. She only wakes up when the baby slobbers on her finger and draws out the flaw that caused her sleep in the first place.
Understandably confused, Zellandine figures out that the baby is hers and by the ring Troylus left her, figures out he must be the father. And they live happily ever after.
Yeah. Kind of icky.
The next major Sleeping Beauty tale recorded is from the 1600s by Giambattista Basile called Sun, Moon, and Talia. This story starts to take the shape of the traditional Sleeping Beauty tale where the girl’s parents are told by a wicked fairy she will prick her finger on an item (in this version, it is still flax).
In this version, the girl and the main guy don’t know each other. Instead, he is just a king who happens to wander by, climbs the tower, and finds the sleeping girl. Which makes it even more creepy when she gives birth nine months later, in this version to twins. While she is still asleep.
Once again, she wakes when one of the babies draws the flax from her finger. At that moment, the wandering king comes back (because being a creepy dude once wasn’t enough for him apparently). When he finds her awake, he takes her home to his castle.
Where his wife is understandably upset that he has shown up with this girl and her twins. Um, yeah, not only was the king creepy, but he was also already married. Double ick.
Not so understandably, the wife decides it is a good idea to have the girl and her twins killed, cooked, and served as supper (the old fairy tales have a LOT of cannibalism. Seriously). The castle cook hides the girl and the twins because, you know, killing, cooking, and eating people is more than a little wrong.
When the king finds out, he has his wife burned, then marries the girl instead. Not exactly a happily ever after. *throws up a little in my mouth*
Thankfully, by the end of the 1600s, Charles Perrault came along and rewrote the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale into the story we call Sleeping Beauty today.
His version introduces the seven fairy godmothers, the gifts, the wicked fairy who curses the princess with death, and the seventh fairy who modifies it with sleep. This is the first version where she pricks herself on a spindle instead of flax. Flax is a plant fiber that is spun, so it isn’t that far of a jump to go from flax to spindle. It still has to do with spinning.
This version is also the first with a hundred years sleep as well as a barrier of briars protecting the sleeping princess and all the castle folk while they slept (poor castle folk. Hopefully they had their families in the castle when the sleep hit).
At the end of the hundred years, a prince wanders by. He remembers the old legend of the sleeping princess and braves the briars because it sounds like a marvelous adventure. He finds her and wakes her with a kiss.
The prince and princess talk for a while, decide they like each other after conversing for a couple of hours, and get married in the castle chapel.
BUT the story doesn’t end there. The prince keeps his marriage a secret and for a while he and his princess are happy with frequent visits, and she gives birth to twins.
Then the prince’s father dies, and he becomes king. He takes the princess and his children out of hiding and brings them to his castle, where it turns out he had good reason for not bringing them home earlier since his mother is part Ogre.
Like in the earlier version with the wife, the mom-in-law Ogre decides that cooking and eating her son’s wife and children sounds like a grand idea. Once again, the cook saves the day, but the Ogre Queen Mother finds out and prepares a huge cauldron of snakes and other nasty critters and prepares to throw everyone into it. The King returns just in time, and the Ogre Mom-in-Law throws herself into the cauldron of snakes and dies.
By the 1800s, the Brothers Grimm include a Sleeping Beauty story that follows nearly the same story line as Perrault, except that they end the story when the prince and princess marry after she has been awakened by a delicate peck on the lips. They include the second half of the story as a separate fairy tale called the Evil Mother-in-Law, arguing that the two halves of the story were most likely two stories originally that got combined somewhere along the way.
From there, we have the scads and scads of retellings from the cartoon Disney version to the more recent Malificent, which brings in some of the darker themes and ideas from earlier Sleeping Beauty versions.
There is even a middle grade Sleeping Beauty retelling Sleeping Beauty, the One Who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass, that takes on retelling the second half of the story where the prince’s mother has ogre blood. Since it is middle grade, it takes out the creepiness and turns it into a fun story.
There are many, many directions to go with a Sleeping Beauty retelling. Retelling Sleeping Beauty can be hard, since it can appear like the Sleeping Beauty character has very little agency. Many writers from Gail Carson Levine to K.M. Shea and Melanie Cellier have done great jobs giving the Sleeping Beauty character wit and purpose. J.M. Stengl has a version where the Sleeping Beauty character is evil.
For Dagger’s Sleep, I decided to make the Sleeping Beauty character the prince. It was something I’ve heard of being done, though I haven’t personally read any books along those lines yet. It was interesting to explore how a prince would tackle being cursed this way, and he doesn’t take to it very well, lol.
So there you have it. A look at the original Sleeping Beauty tales and why it is a very good thing Charles Perrault decided to retell it as the fairy tale we know and love today.