Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Sleeping Beauty

First of Charles Perrault's Fairytales, and one of the best-known in the world. Perrault's "La Belle au bois dormant" ["The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood"] (1696 Le Mercure Galant) has become the standard text, although the images and storyline amended for Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959) are probably better recalled. Perrault's story was first translated into English in Histories, or Tales of Past Times (coll 1729 UK) trans Robert Samber, and appeared in a separate booklet as The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (1764 UK chap).

In Perrault's version a daughter is born to a king and queen who have long been childless. At the christening all the Fairies in the land are invited as godmothers (see Fairy Godmother) save one, who is believed to be either dead or enchanted. But she arrives and, in her annoyance at not being invited, curses the babe, saying she will prick her hand on a spindle and die. However, a young fairy modifies the curse: the child will sleep for 100 years and then be woken by a king's son. The present king forbids any spindles in the castle, but 16 years later the princess, exploring a remote part of the castle, encounters an old lady who, knowing nothing of the decree, is working at her spindle. The princess pricks her hand and instantly falls into a deep sleep. The good fairy learns of the incident and arrives in a fiery chariot. So that the Princess will not be alone on waking she puts all the rest of the court to sleep except the king and queen, who leave. Within minutes the castle is encircled by a thick and impenetrable Forest.

After 100 years the son of the current king sees the castle towers through the wood and learns about the ensorcelled princess. As he approaches the castle the trees part to let him through. He discovers the princess, kisses her, and she (and the court) awakens. They are married.

Perrault's story continues. They have two children, Aurore ("Morning") and Jour ("Day"). The prince inherits the throne, but his mother, portrayed as an ogress, hates her new daughter-in-law and the children and is determined to eat them. Although she orders each to be prepared for the pot, the cooks substitute a lamb, a goat and a hind. The ogress learns she has been deceived but, before she can kill the children herself, her son arrives home and she throws herself into the pot instead.

The basic concept of a princess ensorcelled within a protected castle, to be awakened after a stated time, is almost certainly based on a nature myth of the Sun-maiden forced to sleep through the Winter until re-awoken by the Spring. There is evidence of an SB-type story in the "Tale of Brynhild" in the Volsunga Saga (11th century) (see Saga). The valkyrie Brynhild is imprisoned by Odin in a castle to protect her from enforced marriage to a coward. She is touched with the thorn of sleep to save her beauty, and the castle is surrounded by a barrier of flame. Only Sigurd succeeds in penetrating the flames to waken her. The story has similarities to the Grail legend, particularly in the concept of an enchanted castle (see Edifice) which has been lain waste (see Waste Land) and is restored only by the efforts and triumphs of a pure and righteous prince (see Perceval). In The Uses of Enchantment (1976), Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990) more mundanely interprets the tale as a moral lesson to prepare young girls for the physical and sexual maturation of the body during adolescence.

A much more closely related tale is "Troylus and Zellandine" in the French Romance Perceforest (14th century; printed 1528). The baby princess Zellandine is cursed by the goddess Themis; the curse takes the form of a deep sleep after the princess begins to spin. She is later found by Prince Troylus, although he wakes her with not a kiss but a rape. It was almost certainly this story that was adapted by Giambattista Basile (1575-1632) in The Pentamerone (Lo Cunto de li Cunti) (1634) as "Sun, Moon, and Talia". Here Talia's fate is pre-ordained by three wise men, and it happens as predicted. The princess sleeps alone in the castle and, when discovered by the king, is raped by him. She, still sleeping, bears twins, who are cared for by the fairies though suckled at their mother's breast. One baby sucks on the mother's finger and draws out the sleep-inducing splinter. Talia wakens. The king returns to the castle and weds her. However, the king is already married; it is his wife (rather than mother) who takes on the ogress role in wishing to be rid of Talia and the two children.

The tale à la Perrault was picked up by the Grimm Brothers and included in their "Dornröschen" ["Little Briar-Rose"] in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (coll 1812; vol 2 1814; rev 1819, 1822). This is the story at its most basic and saccharine, and ends with the prince and princess happily married.

The story remains perennially popular. In addition to adaptations as Pantomime (first recorded performance 1806), ballet (Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty was first performed 1890) and Disney's animated feature, it has formed the basis of a number of modern Revisionist Fantasies. One of the earliest was the nonfantastic "The Sleeping Beauty" by G B Stern (1890-1973) in The Fairies Return (anth 1934), which translates the story into the English middle-class 1930s: a young girl is struck by a medical affliction; when the doctor restores her to health with a kiss he is struck off the medical register. Rather more fantastic is "Thorns" by Tanith Lee in Young Winter's Tales 5 (anth 1974) ed Marni Hodgkin, perhaps the best short-story version of the fairytale, in which the prince's kiss is literally the kiss of life.

Anne Rice went back to the earlier story of Sleeping Beauty's rape for her pornographic Sleeping Beauty series as by A N Roquelaure. Beauty (1991) by Sheri S Tepper conflates the SB tale with others, notably Beauty and the Beast, while Briar Rose (1992) by Jane Yolen brings the legend into war-torn Europe. Other treatments include About the Sleeping Beauty (coll/anth 1975 US) by P L Travers, the Wells of Ythan sequence by Marc Alexander, and Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty (1988) by Grania Davis and Avram Davidson. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.