Friday, February 11, 2011

Fairy Tale Fridays - Sleeping Beauty

Giambattista Basile.  There's a name I had never heard of until last week when I was researching Cinderella.  This week he turned up again when I began researching Sleeping Beauty.  Just who was this guy?  Basile was a Venetian who is chiefly known for writing a collection of fairy tales, first published after his death in about 1634.  The collection was basically forgotten until the Brothers Grimm commended it for being the first national collection of fairy tales.  Battista's version of the Sleeping Beauty tale was called "Sun, Moon and Talia."

Sixty years after Basile's collection was first published, Charles Perrault published his version of the Sleeping Beauty tale.  While Perrault made some changes to the story (notably in Basile's version the sleep was not caused by a curse but by a prophesy and some sites mentioned that Basile's tale actually had the prince raping the sleeping princess), much of the story remained the same.

I found Perrault's version in A Child's Book of Stories but I clearly hadn't read this particular tale to my children.  I'm sure I would have remembered that the story did not end with the prince waking the princess up with a kiss and then the two of them marrying.  Instead, after they are married the prince must split his time between the princess and his own kingdom in order to hide his marriage (and eventually his two children) from his mother.  She is an Ogress. who, as it happens, likes to eat children.  After a couple of years and the death of the King, the prince brings his family to his own kingdom.  Some after that, when the prince must be away from the kingdom for some time, his mother decides she'll eat the children and the princess.  The cook cannot make himself kill them and hides them.  When the Ogress finds out that she's been duped, she makes preparations to kill the three of them as well as the cook and his family.  Fortunately, in true fairy tale fashion, the prince arrives just in time and saves the day. 

Having read the Perrault version, I was eager to get to the Brothers Grimm version. If Perrault's version is that gruesome, what might the Grimms have done with it?  Not much, as it turns out.  At least not as related in Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales where the story ended exactly has I grew up believing it ended.  Something of a disappointment, I must admit.

More than three hundred years later, Rabih Alameddine wrote "A Kiss To Wake The Sleeper" for My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.  While Alameddine's tale is informed by the Sleeping Beauty tale, he does away with the "how it all happened" as well as everything that surrounds the sleeping princess.  Instead, while she sleeps in a tower, everything with three leagues of her has died, the surrounding country a desert.  Our narrator, a young girl with a severe disorder that's required her to spend her life in a bubble.  The young girl's mother hears of a group of nuns who may be able to help her daughter.  When she brings the girl to the nuns, they send her off to find the princess.  Eventually the girl tires of the princess' perfection and longs for some change in the surrounding.  No sooner does she wish for it, than things begin to change radically. Dangerous animals begin to appear, dangerous plants to grow all around the tower.  An old crone appears and hundreds of princes' begin to try to make their way to the tower.  When one finally succeeds, things get more than a little R-rated as the prince wakes the princess.  Yeah, this book is not for your grandma.  But then I'm not so sure, the further I look into fairy tales, that fairy tales are for children.


  1. What a great post! I really loved this one, and the fact that Rabih Alameddine wrote the alternate version for Mt Mother She Killed Me really excites me, as I just finished The Hakawati and loved it! I am glad to report that I finally bought a copy of My Mother She Killed Me after reading all these glorious snippets in your reviews, and now it's just a matter of making time for it. Yay!

  2. Speaking of R-rated, Anne Rice did an erotic version of Sleeping Beauty. Did not get past the first few pages.

  3. No wonder the kids love the Grimm stories...gruesome is right up their alley!

  4. I really do not believe that the original tales were ever meant for children! They are so gruesome and violent! I had never heard of the rape version before. Great research on this one!