Updated date:

Sleeping Beauty: summary, symbols and more

The Wolf and Seven Kids can be used an example of a relationship between legends and first fairy tales.

the-sleeping-beauty

The Story of Briar Rose: The Sleeping Beauty

Most of us know the story of Sleeping Beauty from Disney's adaptation of Grimms' fairy tale about a girl who is cursed to sleep for a hundred years before prince charming wakes her with a kiss.

But as most of other fairy tales the Sleeping Beauty (also known as Briar Rose) has very interesting background. We'll present it with short summary, presentation of different versions and basic analysis.

It is a story with many symbolic messages and if parents knew its origins they would certainly not tell it to their children until they grow up.

Let's explore the fascinating history of the Sleeping Beauty!

(Image credit: Alexander Zick, all images in this lens are Public Domain, for additional info press here)

Fairies by Harry Clarke

Fairies by Harry Clarke

Sleeping Beauty: Original Story

The summary

Although the term original Sleeping Beauty can be debatable, we have to start somewhere, so I'll try to present it in short summary.

It all starts with a king and a queen desperately wishing to have a child. After long wait a frog (in some versions it is a fish) tells a queen she'll soon become a mother to a girl.

The prophecy fulfills and king and queen decide to have a big party.

They invite everybody including the fairies. But because they have only twelve golden plates, they invite only twelve of thirteen fairies. When the uninvited one finds out, she curse the child.

The baby will sting herself with a spindle on her fifteen's birthday and die.

She falls asleep (by Walter Crane)

She falls asleep (by Walter Crane)

Only one of the fairies still didn't give a gift to a child, so she softens a death curse into a hundred years of sleep. Not only a kid, everybody on the castle will fall asleep too.

King tries to avoid the fate and orders to destroy all the spindles in the kingdom. Of course his plan fails. Girl on her birthday finds a secret room in a castle's tower, where an old lady spins a threat. Girl wonders what is she doing, touches the spindle and falls asleep.

Everybody in the castle sleeps for one hundred years and a forest full of thorns surrounds it. Many heroes try to get through but nobody succeeds.

After one hundred years king's son comes to the forest where enchanted castle with a sleeping beauty supposed to be. The forest makes a free path for him, he enters the castle and wakes up the sleeping princess with a kiss.

The waking of sleeping beauty is start of big celebration and this is where the story of Briar Rose ends.

Free version for your Kindle

This evergreen fairy tale is also available for the most popular e-reader!

He found the princess (by Edward Frederick Brewtnall)

He found the princess (by Edward Frederick Brewtnall)

Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty in the Woods

Basically the fairy tale starts as Grimms' with some minor differences. Perrault added some of his signature humor too.

In this version there is no frog at the beginning and there are only seven instead of twelve good fairies. We have no thorns in the wood and there is no kiss. The Sleeping Beauty wakes up simply because hundred years passed by and the curse is over.

But now the situation starts to complicate. The king's son has a problem. His mother is descendant of ogres and she is a cannibal. He is afraid to introduce the princess to his parents because he is afraid of his mother's insatiable apetite!

So he secretly marries the princess and starts a double life. He lives for some time in his parents' castle and goes 'hunting' for weeks to be with his wife (and soon their two kids). Years later his father dies and prince becomes a king. This apperantly gives him enough self esteem to finally bring his new family to his castle.

Cook them in sauce Robert! (by Harry Clarke)

Cook them in sauce Robert! (by Harry Clarke)

Soon after one of his neighbors starts a war and he has to leave the castle. Mother tries to seize the opportunity. She orders her grand kids and daughter in law one by one in sauce Robert (sauce with white wine, mustard and onion), but the cook served her lamb, goat and hind instead and hides the humans in his home.

Unfortunately the ogress finds out the truth. Just when she demands a revange, the young king returns and she dies of her own evil plans.

Princess and a spinner (by Arthur Rackahm)

Princess and a spinner (by Arthur Rackahm)

Giambattista Basile's version

Experts agree Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty is not based on folk tales. Instead it comes from Batista's The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones, more known as Pentamerone. The title of the story is Sun, Moon and Talia.

This is a story for adults (like Perrault's was, but Perrault's at least has a moral in the end). Here are the astrologers who foretell the king's daughter named Talia will be in great danger because of the flax splinter.

King tries to protects her from any contact with flax, but eventually she meets an old lady with a spindle and some flax...

When she drops down, everybody believes Talia is dead. Her father orders to put her body in best clothes in her sleeping room and leaves the castle for good. Talia stays in alone, but she is not dead, only in deep sleep.

Waking of Sleeping Beauty

The kiss (by Henry Meynell Rheam)

The kiss (by Henry Meynell Rheam)

Later another king who was hunting pass by, finds a castle with sleeping beauty and took advantage of her. Than leaves the castle and forgets about the incident. He was married anyway!

So this makes him adulterer and rapist, right?

Well, his act in the castle of sleeping beauty have consequences: Talia with a help of some fairies gives a birth to twins and one of them sucks the flax splinter out, so she is awake when the young king finally remembers her and returns to the castle. They start a romance, but his wife becomes suspicious.

With a help of treacherous servant she gets both kids (daughter named Moon and son Sun) in her hands. She orders to cook them and serve to her unfaithful husband. The cook hides children and prepares lambs, king enjoyed the dish and later the queen wants to take a revenge on his mistress too.

She prepares a bonfire to punish her and Talia facing cruel death delays her end by slowly dressing off. This takes just enough time for king coming back, finding out the truth and queen dies by her own plan. Not too many good role models here, agree?

They fell in love (by Walter Crane)

They fell in love (by Walter Crane)

First of many princesses cursed to sleep

Talking about Sleeping Beauty we have to mention at least Frayre de Joy and Sor de Plaser, catalan novel and Perceforest, a romance written in France, both from the first half of fourteenth century and both with the same motiff.

Perceforest is a king who is surounded by noble knights just like king Arthur with the knights of the round table. Any similarity with fairies on the feast is coincidental...

Well, we have fairies in the episode about Zellandine too. She was a daughter of noble man, he invited three fairies and one apperantly didn't get a knife, so she cursed a child.

Nothing is known about the curse, so protection is out of the question. When Zellandine grows into a beautiful girl, she has the well known incident with flinter of flax, falls asleep and after few years prince Troylus gets in the tower, sleeps with her and she gives a birth to a child before she wakes up. In the end she marries the prince and everybody is happy.

This is the first known episode of sleeping beauty and it looks all known literary and folk tales origin from here.

Illustration by Viktor Vasnetsov

the-sleeping-beauty

Viktor Vasnetsov was famous by his mythological and religious motifs. Sleeping Beauty is among his most popular ones

Brynhildr was a warrior! (by Arthur Rackham)

Brynhildr was a warrior! (by Arthur Rackham)

The problem with collection of brothers Grimm

Brothers Grimm included this fairy tale as Little Briar Rose in their first collection. There was also a fairy tale titled The Evil Mother-in-Law, which is really the second part of Perrault's version with cannibalism, but this tale was not included in later editions.

We can actually find several fairy tales in first Children's and Household Tales which were not part of German cultural heritage. Grimms later threw them out.

Among them were Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault and Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen. Sleeping Beauty was on the same list because it seemed of Italian or France origin.

But Grimms found enough similarities with a Norse legend about Brunhild (also Brynhildr), valkyrie who made a mistake and was punished by Odin to sleep surrounded by fire in a difficulty accessible castle until a brave man finds and marry her.

Sounds familiar?

Spindle (by Walter Crane)

Spindle (by Walter Crane)

Grimms loved the idea about fairy tales being only echoes of the myths and Sleeping Beauty served as great example to support this theory, just like Wolf and seven kids and its resemblances to the myth of Cronos.

We should really not neglict the important symbol of spindle in relationship with fairies. Everybody with basic knowledge of Greek mythhology certainly knows about three spinners of fate: Clotho, who spins, Lachesis, who catches up the thread; and Atropos, who cuts it.

The tale about Sleeping Beauty in older versions always tells the same: you can not escape your fate. It is not surprising we find a similar tale (titled The Ninth Captain's Tale) with same elements (pair without children, flax, spinning, death girl is not buried, she is put on piedestal in the garden, waiting period and prince in impossible mission) in the collection of fairy tales where fate plays probably most important role of all widely known collections: Arabian Nights.

The Sleeping Beauty as animated movie

In winter everything sleeps (by Walter Crane)

In winter everything sleeps (by Walter Crane)

Can we now provide a simplified mythological explanation?

Sure. It is actually very easy.

We can start with the parents, who represent late summer or autumn providing a fruit (their daughter) who represents nature.

In versions before Grimms' parents retire from the scene when the curse is fulfilled (evil fairy represents winter and autumn should really go away).

After some waiting the prince (he is obviously spring) comes and nature wakes up. And with babies we have a full circle!

From Brynhildr to The Sleeping Beauty - Both illustrations are made by Arthur Rackham (press picture to know more about him)

Brunnhilde is just like Sleeping Beauty (by Rackham)

Brunnhilde is just like Sleeping Beauty (by Rackham)

We will probably never find the clear pattern how legends mix with fairy tales, which comes first, and how both mix into each other. But one thing is for sure.

The message of the sleeping Beauty is clear: you can not escape your fate.

Your child will grow up.

Yes, fairy tales were written for parents too. To console and comfort.

Sleeping (by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Sleeping (by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

My resources - Beware: some are written in Slovene!

I translated and dramatized Sleeping Beauty by brothers Grimm years ago and adapted it for the audio book. I made some research than and later I published in prose together with some speculations about the origin and possible hidden meaning.

Which version of the Sleeping Beauty do you prefer?

At least they all have happy ending! (by Walter Crane)

At least they all have happy ending! (by Walter Crane)

Did you learn something new from this little trip to the castle of the Sleeping Beauty?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on July 24, 2014:

@tazzytamar: Yes, and it looks they all have the same root - literary, not folk. But that's another story ...

Anna from chichester on July 23, 2014:

Yes, lots. I had no idea there were so many different stories similar to sleeping beauty!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 24, 2014:

@Sorcerers Stone: Great to hear that!

Sorcerers Stone on May 22, 2014:

Some great ideas here! Your love of your subject shines through. I did learn something!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 14, 2014:

@DANCING COWGIRL: There are hundreds known versions and it looks we are creating new ones every single day:) Thanks for stopping by!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 14, 2014:

@flinnie lm: Glad to hear that:)

Dancing Cowgirl Design from Texas on May 14, 2014:

Wow did I learn something. I did not know about the other versions of the story.

Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on May 13, 2014:

I learned so much more by reading your reviews.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 21, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 21, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks!

WriterJanis2 on November 21, 2013:

Back for another visit.

WriterJanis2 on November 20, 2013:

Just had to pop back in.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 17, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Sounds like a plan:)

WriterJanis2 on November 16, 2013:

Your work is wonderful and I need to see more of it.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on September 17, 2013:

@AnnabreeWrites: Great to hear that!

AnnabreeWrites on September 15, 2013:

Yes! I learned many things in this lens! It was all very interesting to read about! :)

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on August 25, 2013:

@Gypzeerose: Life is loaded with symbols we are not aware of...

Rose Jones on August 24, 2013:

I loved learning about symbolism, it makes reading rich.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 27, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: You are sort of multitasking, right?

WriterJanis2 on May 26, 2013:

Pinning to another board.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 09, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Thanks!

WriterJanis2 on May 07, 2013:

Pinning this.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 02, 2013:

@Aja103654: This could be one of explanations, yes. But only one...

Aja103654 on March 01, 2013:

I never would have thought that the characters represented the seasons. So unexpected!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 27, 2013:

@kabbalah lm: Me too:)

kabbalah lm on February 27, 2013:

I hope so

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 26, 2013:

@Felicitas: That's why i am here. To share the knowledge!

Felicitas on February 25, 2013:

I learned a lot. I think that very few people know this.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 23, 2013:

@VspaBotanicals: Thanks!

VspaBotanicals on February 23, 2013:

This is one of my favorites! Wonderful lens!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 18, 2013:

@tonybonura: I wouldn't bet too much money in this economy...

;)

Tony Bonura from Tickfaw, Louisiana on February 17, 2013:

You have done some wonderful work with these lenses about the fairy tales. I bet your publishing business is thriving.

TonyB

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 14, 2013:

@anonymous: :)

anonymous on February 13, 2013:

Brilliant analysis of the classic tale!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 16, 2012:

@anonymous: Yes, we all create out own realities.

anonymous on December 15, 2012:

Interesting how each writer put their own spin on the story.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 06, 2012:

@darciefrench lm: Fate is fatal:)

darciefrench lm on December 05, 2012:

So true - we can't escape fate, only transcend karma

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on December 05, 2012:

@anonymous: :)))

anonymous on December 04, 2012:

@TolovajWordsmith: Stopped by to post this excellent lens on Facebook and G+

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 26, 2012:

@Melissa Miotke: Well, Disney was only one of many people behind her tale:) Thanks!

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on November 26, 2012:

I've always thought of Sleeping Beauty as a Disney invention. Fascinating!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 14, 2012:

@anonymous: Thanks, this was my intention...

anonymous on November 14, 2012:

Another amazing in depth study of the story of Sleeping Beauty, funny how we grew up thinking the story was aimed at an audience of children but had an older group in mind....so, that has become a lesson for everyone and all young ladies grew up waiting for their prince to come! Very nicely done once again! This is another story I thought I knew but you bring out so much more to be learned.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on November 07, 2012:

@anonymous: Great to hear that!

anonymous on November 04, 2012:

yes

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 23, 2012:

@victoriahaneveer: Great to hear that:)

victoriahaneveer on October 23, 2012:

Definitely. I adore this story!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 21, 2012:

@Im2keys: Thanks!

Im2keys on October 21, 2012:

totally interesting and eye opening!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 21, 2012:

@Thamisgith: Thanks. I appreciate it!

Thamisgith on October 19, 2012:

Very interesting lens. Blessed.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 18, 2012:

@siobhanryan: Thank you!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 18, 2012:

@siobhanryan: Thanks again!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on October 18, 2012:

@siobhanryan: I appreciate it!

siobhanryan on October 17, 2012:

Blessed-another nice one

siobhanryan on October 17, 2012:

Blessed-another nice one

siobhanryan on October 17, 2012:

Blessed-another nice one

Related Articles