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Sleeping Beauty

Page history last edited by Amber Autry 12 years, 6 months ago

"The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods"

The basic theme of a beautiful woman, placed under an enchanted sleep, and awaiting her true love, can be traced back to the story of Brynhild in the Volsunga Saga. In this tale, Brynhild is banished to Earth and is required to marry. To prevent Brynhild ending up with a cowardly man, Odin housed her in a deserted castle encircled with unquenchable flames. He touched her with “the thorn of sleep” to preserve her youth. When a hero came who was brave enough to overcome the flames and find her, she would awaken. In this case the hero was Sigurd, and, because of an enchantment, when they first laid eyes on one another, they fell in love.


A similar story is that of Troylus and Zellandine. This account can be found in the Perceforest, a 14th century, French prose romance published in the 1500s. In this story, several deities were invited to a banquet in honor of the King’s newborn daughter, Zellandine. One of the visiting goddesses, Themis, feels that she has been treated unfairly. In retaliation, she places a curse on the baby. The unknown curse comes to fruition when the princess is overcome with sleep after picking up a “distaff full of flax”. The princess, kept in a tower, is discovered by Prince Troylus. When he is unable to wake the beautiful princess, he takes advantage of her. When Zellandine finally wakes she finds herself with child.

The Pentamerone, an Italian collection of stories, was put together by Giambattista Basile in the 17th century. Included amid the stories is the account of “Sole, Luna e Talia,” or “Sun, Moon and Talia.” The sleeping beauty of this story, Talia, finds herself in much the same predicament as Zellandine. A great king commands the wise men of the land to assemble at tell him the future of his daughter Talia. They all agree that “peril will come to her from a splinter in some flax.” The king takes every precaution and banishes flax and similar materials from the land. However, after Talia is grown up, she manages to get a splinter from a distaff under her fingernail. She falls dead, and her father places her body on a bed in a tower. Sometime later a king happens across her body and assumes she’s asleep. He treats her the same way Troylus did Zellandine, and then leaves. Nine months later the sleeping Talia gives birth to a boy and girl, Sun and Moon. The king knows nothing of the children, and Talia is still asleep; so the children are cared for by fairies. Not long after their birth, one of the children sucks on his or her mother’s finger and removes the splinter. Talia awakens and discovers her children. After Talia has awakened the king remembers her and returns. It turns out this king is already married, and his wife can tell that he has been unfaithful. Through some detective work she discovers his other family and orders the children to be brought to her. The queen tells her cook to kill and prepare the children as a dinner dish for the king. But the cook hides the children with his wife, and serves the king goats instead. The queen then orders that Talia be brought to her. Right before the queen throws Talia into a fire the king shows up and saves her, and it is revealed that the children are safe and alive.


In Perrault’s version the wise men are replaced by seven fairies. An old fairy, whom everyone believed dead, shows up to the party and, go figure, curses the new born princess. One of the fairies changes the curse so that when the princess touches a spindle, rather than die, she will simply fall asleep. After the princess meets her fate, the good fairy enchants the rest of the kingdom to sleep with her. For one hundred years the palace is hidden behind a vast thick forest. At the end of this time, a prince who has heard tales of the “sleeping beauty” searches for, and finds, the castle. He enters her chamber just as she wakes up. They fall in love and get married and soon have two children, Le Jour and L’Aurore. In translations the son is named Day, and the daughter is named Morning. The prince’s mother is descended from ogres who are known to eat children. He therefore keeps his wife and children away from her for their protection. However, after the king dies, the prince becomes the king and his family moves in with him. The rest of the story is similar to that of Talia’s; with the prince’s mother taking the place of the disgruntled wife.


The fourteenth century tale of “Briar Rose”, present in the Catalan Frayre de Joy e Sor de Placer, is a predecessor to the German story told by the Brothers Grimm, “Little Briar-Rose”. The Grimm Brothers have several stories involving princesses under enchanted sleep, including “Snow White” and “The Glass Coffin”. However, the tale of Briar Rose ties in more closely to the known editions of “Sleeping Beauty.” Their story, published in the early 1800s, involves 13 fairies, and leaves off any mention of a jealous wife, an ogre queen, or children belonging to the sleeping princess. In this version the princess sleeps for a hundred years along with her kingdom; all of whom are hidden behind thick layers of forests and briars. The prince hears stories of a princess, hidden behind a wall of briars, waiting for her true love to awaken her. Captivated by the story, he resolves to seek her out. He then forward refers to her as his Briar Rose. When he finally finds her, he kisses her and she is awakened.


Check out the stories for yourself


  • Ashliman, D. (2010). Grimm brothers’ home page. Retrieved from http://www.pitt.edu.
  • Heiner H. (1999). SurLaLune fairy tales. Retrieved from www.surlalunefairytales.com.
  • Opie P., Opie I. (1974). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York, Oxford; Oxford University Press. 
  • Warner, M.(1994). From the beast to the blonde: On fairy tales and their tellers. New York; Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 
  • Zipes, J. (2000). The Oxford companion to fairy tales: The western fairy tale tradition from medieval to modern. New York; Oxford University Press.


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