Obscure Fairy Tale: Sleeping Beauty and Her Children
I love Disney movies. I love Cinderella's talking mice, Sleeping Beauty's song in the forest, and Robin Williams as the Genie. I think Disney's Little Mermaid is far better than the Hans Christian Andersen's original tale. And I think the Lion King is the most brilliant retelling of Hamlet ever done. (My pet theory: the primary difference between the two versions is that the Ophelia in the Lion King is a strong character and therefore tragedy is averted.)
But I do NOT love how passive so many of the Disney heroines are (particularly in the older movies). For example, Sleeping Beauty is lied to by her loved ones, entrapped by Malificent's spell to touch the spindle, and then konks out for most of the movie. She doesn't really DO much of anything.
I used to grumble that Disney chose the most passive versions of the fairy tales to retell. But while I was researching fairy tales for INTO THE WILD, I discovered that this isn't true. While Disney's Sleeping Beauty is no Buffy-esque heroine, Disney actually didn't choose the worst version of Sleeping Beauty.
THIS is the worst version of Sleeping Beauty.
Sleeping Beauty and Her Children (from Italo Calvino's Italian Folktales)
Once upon a time... a queen wants a baby. She prays, "Please, let me have a daughter. Even if she has to die at fifteen from pricking her finger on the spindle, I want a daughter."
I am all in favor of the importance of having a good imagination. Hyperbole is a lovely literary tool. But for heaven's sake, leave it out of your fairy-tale wishes! Or at least promise something less, y'know, death-related.
Nine months later, the queen has a baby girl. They name her Carol.
When Carol is nearly fifteen, the queen remembers her prayer. The king orders all the spindles to be destroyed and offers to financially recompense anyone who made their living by spinning.
It just slipped her mind for fifteen years? Denial much? As for the king, I really like that he thinks of all the careers he's ruining. Dork that I am, I always worried about the impact on the economy that destroying all those spindles would have. Now I'll just worry about what everyone will wear. Pleather? Latex? Spandex? Gold lame?
As further protection, the king locks his daughter in a tower.
Alone and bored, Carol watches an old woman secretly spinning thread in her house across the street. Curious, she asks the old woman what's she's doing. The woman says, "I'm spinning," and Carol asks to try it.
Why does no one ever tell Sleeping Beauty not to touch the spindle? Seriously, how hard would it be? You don't need to have an actual spindle. Just show her an illustration. Use words. Wave your hands about to demonstrate. Mime.
She lowers a bucket down to the street, and the old woman loads in a spindle and wool.
I'm thinking that there's no spinning wheel in this version...
Carol tries it, pricks herself, and falls to the door dead. Later, her parents find her. Unable to believe she's really dead, they refuse to bury her. Instead, they dress her in a bridal dress with seven skirts with silver bells, and they build a castle with a single window and no door. They place her in the castle and leave.
Well, that's... weird. At least all those spinners got work again with those seven skirts. But why bells?
Many years later, a young king discovers the castle. Using a rope ladder, he climbs up to the window. He finds a woman so beautiful that he cannot resist kissing her and kissing her. He returns day after day and stays for so long that his mother begins to worry about him.
I'm with the mom. This isn't healthy.
Eventually, the sleeping maiden gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl.
After their birth, the twins are hungry, but their mother lies there like a dead woman. So they suck on their mother's thumb instead, and they suck out the spindle tip.
The princess wakes and is surprised to see two babies with her. She's even more surprised when the young king climbs in through the window.
They talk, discover each other's royal origins, and rejoice. They name their children Sun and Moon.
Rejoice?!? REJOICE?!? He... She was... "Well, at least he's not a peasant?!?" That's her reaction?!? AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
The young king returns to his castle and falls so ill that he cannot eat. He only repeats, "O Sun, O Moon, O Carol, if only I had you at my table!" His mother, hearing this, suspects he's been bewitched. She searches the woods and finds the castle. She orders soldiers to seize the baby Sun.
Why am I suddenly thinking of that grammar joke "Eats, shoots and leaves"?
The queen-mother gives the baby to the cook and tells him to roast the child for the king.
Oh, yes, that's why I was thinking of that joke. Word of advice: If you ever fall into a delirious illness, please make sure you don't accidentally beg to eat your family.
The cook can't bring himself to kill a baby so gives the child to his wife and instead serves roast lamb. The king's mother brings the meat to her son and says, "Eat. You're feasting on your own!"
Yuck. Read The Juniper Tree if you like this story element.
The next day, the queen sends soliders for the baby Moon. Again, she instructs the cook to roast him, and again the cook gives the child to his wife and secretly roasts another lamb.
Okay, Carol. We have to talk. Even though you are in a fairy tale, you still have options. You could hide your second child. You could run away. You could attempt to rescue your firstborn. You could seek out the cook's wife. You could seek out your parents and persuade them to declare war on this kingdom. You could DO SOMETHING. ANYTHING!
The third day, the queen's soliders fetch Carol. At the palace, the queen beats her, and Carol asks why. The queen says, "You're a witch who has bewitched my son!" And she threatens to boil her in burning pitch.
I kind of sympathize a little tiny bit with the queen. Okay, the baby-eating thing is over-the-top, I'll grant you that. But she's worried about her son and rightfully so. He's a sick, sick boy.
The queen orders Carol to remove her skirts. She removes the first skirt, and the silver bells ring. But the young king is listening to a band of musicians and doesn't hear it. She removes skirt after skirt, and by the seventh skirt, the young king hears it.
I like that the skirts with bells serve a purpose. One might argue that the purpose could be served by Carol shouting loudly, "Help! It's me, Carol! I'm about to be thrown in a kettle of boiling pitch! Turn off the music and save me, you self-centered evil man!" But of course, that would mean Carol was actually DOING SOMETHING. Not her style.
The young king springs out of bed and stops the queen from putting Carol into a kettle of burning pitch. He then learns that his children were saved by the cook. He rewards the cook, throws his mother into the kettle of burning pitch, and lives happily ever after.
And that, my friends, is the version of Sleeping Beauty with a heroine too passive even for Disney.
For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior obscure fairy tale posts.
Labels: Obscure Fairy Tales