“In times past there lived a King and Queen, who said to each other every day of their lives, ‘Would that we had a child!'”
And so The Sleeping Beauty begins in a similar way that Rapunzel began; our not-yet-sleeping-beauty, Rosamond, is born beautiful and is basically cursed from that day of her birth. Fortunately in this fairy tale the parents don’t promise away their daughter to a witch.
Before going any further, I want to point out that one day in the bath (the very next paragraph), after the Queen repeats those six words of dialogue, a frog appears to say “‘Thy wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by, thou shalt bring a daughter into the world.'” The frog isn’t necessarily significant to this particular story, but its appearance in another has me curious to find out what sort of folk symbol frogs are or might be. Okay, back to The Sleeping Beauty.
The King is so overjoyed with his baby’s beauty, that “he ordained a great feast. Not only did he bid to it his relations, friends, and acquaintances, but also the wise women, that they might be kind and favorable to the child.” These wise women are this tale’s witch-like figures, and fortunately in this case they are revered. There are thirteen wise women in the kingdom, “but as [the King] had only provided twelve golden plates for them to eat from, one of them had to be left out.” Ridiculous, right? He’s the King. As if one more plate would inconvenience his treasury, castle, or table. But, whimsical plot holes are just part of fairy tales – you either accept them and carry on or you don’t. Obviously, I accept them.
Naturally, the thirteenth wise woman is angry at being excluded, when it’s sort of her right to be there with the other twelve. The purpose for the wise women’s presence, come to find out, is so each of them can bestow a blessing and/or gift on the little baby, Rosamond. Before the twelfth woman can speak, the thirteenth woman barges in and exclaims: “‘In the fifteenth year of her age the Princess shall prick herself with a spindle and shall fall down dead.’ And without speaking one more word she turned away and left the hall.” Of course, this frightens everyone at the feast, but the twelfth wise woman comes forward, “for she had not yet bestowed her gift, and though she could not do away with the evil prophecy, yet she could soften it, so she said, ‘The Princess shall not die, but fall into a deep sleep for a hundred years.'” The King then orders all spindles in the kingdom to be burned. For just over fifteen years, the royal family lived in harmony. But indeed it could not last, because…
It happened one day, she being already fifteen years old, that the King and Queen rode abroad; and the maiden was left behind alone in the castle. She wandered about into all the nooks and corners, and into all the chambers and parlors, as the fancy took her, till at last she came to an old tower. She climbed the narrow winding stair which led to a little door, with a rusty key sticking out of the lock; she turned the key, and the door opened, and there in the little room sat an old woman with a spindle, diligently spinning her flax.
Of course, it’s hard not to wonder how Rosamond had managed to spend so many years in ignorance of this tower, and how the King and Queen seemingly had no idea an old woman was up there with a spindle. And while I’m still puzzled over Rosamond’s sudden spark of curiosity, I am convinced that the woman in the tower was the thirteenth wise woman, there to ensure her prophecy was actualized. Which it was, because upon noticing the spindle, Rosamond took it in her hands and accidentally pricked her finger. At that moment, the King and Queen had arrived in the Great Hall (so we’re told by the narrator), and like their daughter, they fell into a deep sleep. As did every living human, animal, and plant on the castle grounds.
In the years that followed, a large hedge of thorns grew around the castle, bigger and bigger until the only part of the castle that could be seen was the top of the roof. Rumors about a sleeping Princess in the castle reached other kingdoms, and many sons of Kings made the journey to force their way into the thorns, “but it was impossible for them to do so, for the thorns held fast together like strong hands, and the young men were caught by them, and not being able to get free, there died a lamentable death.” A hedge of thorns filled with the bodies of Princes. Just wanted to make sure that image was clear.
At the end of the hundred years, another King’s son rode into the village and listened to an old man tell the tale of a castle surrounded by thorns and with a Princess inside. The old man also told the King’s son about the other young men who tried to force their way into the grounds. But this particular King’s son decided to try his luck or courage or whatever he felt it was. So he rode up to the castle, and because the hundred years was over, the thorns turned into large flowers, which allowed him to pass through. The animals outdoors and the people indoors were still asleep, and somehow he makes it up to the tower where Rosamond pricked her finger. He admires her sleeping figure and stoops down to kiss her. She awakens, and they leave the tower to find everyone and everything else has awakened too.
“Then the wedding of the Prince and Rosamond was held with all splendor, and they lived happily together until their lives’ end.”
With every reading of this fairy tale, the end just feels more and more dull. It definitely has something to do with the absence of dialogue, and the quickness with which we reach “happily ever after.” It also gets stranger and stranger to think about how that hedge of thorns transformed after one hundred years, but it took a kiss to wake up Rosamond and the castle. I would have liked to have seen a copy of the thirteenth wise woman’s terms and conditions for that curse, thank you very much.
- ATU Classification – 410: Wife – (TALES OF MAGIC, Supernatural or Enchanted Wife/Husband or Other Relative)
- The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault
- Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fairy tale princess movies (adapted from Charles Perrault’s).
- I got sidetracked from writing this post a couple of times by watching this ballet interpretation and this one.
- I found this article on JSTOR – “What Makes a Repulsive Frog so Appealing: Memetics and Fairy Tales” – but because I am not a subscriber, I would have to purchase a downloadable copy. Since that is not feasible at the moment, I am bookmarking it here so I can visit it when I’m at the library (which has a subscription). The abstract is available to read, however.