The poem “Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty),” written by Anne Sexton, retells the story of Sleeping Beauty…but with a dark twist. After the heroine awakens from her “prison” of sleep, she develops insomnia. This excerpt discusses her fears of falling back into her coma.
“In due time
a hundred years passed
and a prince got through.
The briars parted as if for Moses
and the prince found the tableau intact.
He kissed Briar Rose
and she woke up crying:
Presto! She’s out of prison!
She married the prince
and all went well
except for the fear -
the fear of sleep.
was an insomniac…
She could not nap
or lie in sleep
without the court chemist
mixing her some knock-out drops
and never in the prince’s presence.
If if is to come, she said,
sleep must take me unawares
while I am laughing or dancing
so that I do not know that brutal place<
where I lie down with cattle prods,
the hole in my cheek open.
Further, I must not dream
for when I do I see the table set
and a faltering crone at my place,
her eyes burnt by cigarettes
as she eats betrayal like a slice of meat.
“I must not sleep
for while I’m asleep I’m ninety
and think I’m dying.
Death rattles in my throat
like a marble.
I wear tubes like earrings.
I lie as still as a bar of iron.
You can stick a needle
through my kneecap and I won’t flinch.
I’m all shot up with Novocain.
This trance girl
is yours to do with.
You could lay her in a grave,
an awful package,
and shovel dirt on her face
and she’d never call back: Hello there!
But if you kissed her on the mouth
her eyes would spring open
and she’d call out: Daddy! Daddy!
She’s out of prison.”
In the full poem, the insomniac Briar Rose is actually a story within a story. Her tale is being told by a female narrator with problems of her own. Go read the whole poem here.
“Barbabù [Bluebeard]” by Luca Morandini
I’ve done a lot of complaining about Sleeping Beauty’s paramour in certain versions of the story. You know, the versions where he has sex with her while she’s still unconscious.
Still, that prince has nothing on the ultimate horrible husband: Blackbeard. I couldn’t resist reblogging this fantastic illustration—even though it’s from a different story.
God I love dagged sleeves. Almost as much as I love slashed ones. I just want to dag and slash everything I can get my hands on.
I’ve wanted Maleficent to be the first villain in the series for a while now, ever since I made the mental leap between Maleficent’s horns and 15th century horned hennins. The time period works out pretty well, actually, since I wanted her to look a little more dated than Aurora’s 1480’s getup- both houppelandes and horned hennins were all the rage during the early- to mid-1400’s, and they make for pretty good analogues to her official costuming. Sexy stuff.
This proves more than any of the previous pieces that these are adaptations, not improvements. I mean, look at the original Maleficent design- how does one improve on PERFECTION
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Historically accurate Aurora, meet your historically accurate enemy!
First things first. For those of you who swear by the pink dress, yes, there’s a version for you as well:
…Aaaaand moving on. So Prince Philip does specifically and emphatically say “this is the 14th century!” at some point during the film, but Philip’s an idiot (a handsome, handsome idiot) and I, never afraid to ignore source material, ignored him.
Oddly enough Philip’s clothing is a better point of reference than Aurora’s (since the hourglass, off-the-shoulder cut of her dress is straight out of the 1950’s), and there are far more examples of his get-up from the 1460’s onward than in the 14th century. I went with my gut and ended up with something around 1485- a little later than one might expect, but it’s such a (beautifully) stylized film that all bets are off.
EDIT: OH ALSO HER EYES ARE OPEN. WHOA.
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A historically accurate version of Aurora from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Lovely!
The themes that run through various versions of Sleeping Beauty also appear in earlier tales, stories that far predate Basile’s “Sun, Moon and Talia.”
Take the Norse myth of Brynhildr or Brunnhilde, pictured above. This shield-maiden is a warrior—so when the god Odin pricks her with a sleeping thorn and sentences her to be given away in marriage, she’s understandably upset. She falls asleep in her armor, in a circle of fire that only a fearless man can cross. Bravery is required for a fighter to endure the flames and rescue this early sleeping beauty.
This story was enough to convince the Brothers Grimm that Sleeping Beauty had German roots (their version of the story drew heavily on Perrault’s French version, so they needed a good excuse to include the tale in their German anthology). But other than the isolated sleeper, Brynhildr’s story shares few traits with the later version of the story.
There are more similarities in the French romance Perceforest (1528). set during Arthurian times. One episode in the story covers the romance of Troilus and Zellandine. Like in “Sun, Moon and Talia,” the male lover Troilus has his way with the comatose Zellandine and impregnates her. She gives birth while still asleep, finally awakening when her child sucks a piece of flax out of her finger. But in this story, the male lover leaves a ring behind, alerting Zellandine that Troilus fathered her child. He later returns to marry her. And a similar incident occurs in the 14th century Catalan tale “Frayre de Joy e Sor de Plaser.”
It’s hard to truly pinpoint the earliest version of any story. But it’s clear that Sleeping Beauty has very deep roots. If you want to read more about the tale’s history, check out this blog post by author Karen Healey.
After reading about “Sun, Moon and Talia”, you may start to think that Sleeping Beauty is a pretty twisted tale. So why not check out Jeffrey Thomas’s “Twisted Princesses, a series of seriously messed-up Disney heroines? He looks at Disney movies and suggests alternate (horrible) endings instead of “happily ever after.” Then, he illustrates the monsters that various princesses must become to survive and/or take their revenge.
Unlike some of the other twisted princesses, Thomas’s take on Sleeping Beauty has no accompanying narrative to explain what happened to her. All we know is that she has a mummy hand, a lamp full of captured fairies, and a seriously goth makeover.
Image via Jeffrey Thomas / Deviantart
Just wanted to give you a heads up: the next podcast, on Sleeping Beauty, won’t be going live this month. We’re both juggling a lot of work, so we’re delaying the podcast until May.
But let’s face it, Sleeping Beauty is used to waiting! And while you’re waiting with her, the blog will continue to update with more fairy tale art and trivia.
Sun, Moon and Talia (Sole, Luna e Talia)
So you’ve seen the 1959 Disney movie adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. The plot and thorny imagery—but not the dragon—draws on the Grimms’ version of the tale, “Briar Rose,” first published in 1812. And this story in turn relies heavily on Perrault’s 1697 “Sleeping Beauty in the Woods,” which, as we’ve discussed, has more adventures after the beauty awakens. Instead of marrying her prince and living happily ever after, she marries him and then must survive her evil ogress of a mother-in-law.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Perrault’s version has another predecessor: Giambattista Basile’s “Sole, Luna e Talia,” a 1636 Italian tale that translates as “Sun, Moon and Talia.” Although previous tales contain hints of this story, this is generally considered the first full version of Sleeping Beauty.
If you thought Perrault’s heroine had it bad, your heart will bleed for Talia. She awakens, not because of a chaste kiss, but because a baby is suckling on her finger, which removed the flax that caused her long sleep. And why is there a baby, you ask? Well, because Talia gave birth to twins (later named Sun and Moon, hence the story’s name) while she was asleep. Because a king was out hunting, found Talia asleep in her deserted palace, and decided to have his way with her…before forgetting all about her and returning to his wife. That’s right, Talia’s love interest is a married rapist.
It gets a bit better after Talia wakes up—the king eventually remembers her and comes back for more, only to be delighted with a conscious lover and two children. After all, his wife is barren. This jealous queen is the one who first tries to kill Sun and Moon (she wants to serve them to their father for dinner, but a kindly cook substitutes two baby goats), then tries to have Talia burnt at the stake.
To stall for time, Talia asks to remove her fine garments and save them from the flames, and the queen agrees because free clothes! But Talia screams each time she takes off another layer, until she gets the attention of the king. He has the queen killed in Talia’s place, marries his lover, and they live happily ever after with their restored children. Yay?
The primary incident of a comatose woman conceiving and giving birth while still asleep occurs in other tales…but that will have to wait for another post.
Fantastic illustration by Chris Beatrice