If I didn’t cover Sleeping Beauty in my Grisly Disney series, I’d be missing a prime candidate. Despite the tale Disney spins, her story is not all naps and charming princes. Far from it! Of all of the origin stories I’ve covered so far, I think this one might have disturbed me the most.
With roots going as far back as the 1300s, the eponymous princess has been known as everything from Briar Rose to Talia to Aurora to Rosebud to Zellandine depending on the person behind the pen. Disney’s pink-frocked princess is of course known as Aurora, though Disney did add a nod to her origins by having the good fairies call her Briar Rose as she grows up.
Aurora – Disney’s Sleeping Beauty – 1959
To put Disney’s story in a nutshell, a king and queen give birth to a beautiful daughter, who is cursed by Maleficent, an evil fairy. The curse means that on her sixteenth birthday, the princess will touch the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. The good fairies are unable to reverse the curse, but manage to soften it, allowing Aurora to fall into a deep sleep instead of death, with true love’s kiss awakening her. Needless to say, she is awoken by a loving smooch and lives happily ever after with a charming gent who happens to be a prince she is betrothed to anyway!
Sleeping Beauty – Brothers Grimm/Charles Perrault – 1697
If you’re wondering why Perrault sounds familiar, it might be because I mentioned him in my Grisly Disney Cinderella post – he penned quite a few fairy tales, from Cinders to Little Red Riding Hood. Anyway, his version as included in the Brothers Grimm’s compilation tells the story similarly to Disney, but when the princess pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep, the king decides fate has chosen this path for his daughter and carries her to a fine room, placing her on a bed of silver and gold embroidered fabric. The king and queen kiss her goodbye, and declare the entrance to be forbidden.
One of the good fairies has powers of foresight, and knows the princess will be distressed waking alone, so she puts the entire castle to sleep. She also summons a forest of trees, thorns and brambles around the castle.
A hundred years pass, and a prince from another family sees the hidden castle and remembers a tale his father told him of a beautiful princess doomed to sleep for a hundred years until awoken by a king’s son. He fights through the forest, when he finds the princess, he falls to his knees due to her beauty. He gives her a kiss, and she wakes up. They chat for hours, and get married in the castle chapel.
Sleeping Beauty 2: The Ogre Mother-in-Law
The grislier bit comes in the form of a follow-up tale by Perrault, which was actually not included in Grimm’s compilation. In this tale, the prince visits the princess in secret, as they got married on the sly. She gives birth to two children, Aurore and Jour (or Dawn and Day in English).
When the time comes for the prince to ascend the throne, he brings his wife and children, only for his mother – who turns out to be of ogre lineage – to demand for the cook to prepare her grandson in Sauce Robert (a kind of brown mustard sauce with onions, wine and pepper). The cook substitutes the boy for a lamb because he’s not a sicko, but the Queen Mother then demands her granddaughter for snacksies. This time she gets a whole goat, but she’s still not satisfied, and asks for the princess herself. The princess thinks her children are dead, so willingly offers to slit her throat, but then has a tearful secret reunion with her children whilst the cook-in-cahoots serves up a hind in her place.
When the Queen Mother discovers the cook’s betrayal, she prepares a tub filled with vipers and other not-very-friendly creatures to lob him into. However, the king returns in the nick of time, and having been exposed to the world as an ogre, the Queen Mother throws herself into the tub and is eaten. The king and queen live happily ever after with their children.
As you can see, the Grimm tale definitely has its darker elements, but all in all, it’s a twisted but harmless story that would give you the cheap thrills of a fairly tame horror movie as a kid.
Ironically, we’ll move away from Grimm onto the more grim tellings of the tale…
Princess Zellandine – Perceforest – 1330
It seems her original writers didn’t quite have the rose-tinted glasses Disney had. Back in the 1300s, one of the six Perceforest books, which tell a fictional account of Great Britain, brought to life the first appearance of our Sleeping Beauty. In this version, Princess Zellandine falls in love with a man named Troylus, who is sent off by her father to perform various tasks to prove he’s worthy of her hand.
During this time, Zellandine falls into an enchanted sleep, and when Troylus returns, he impregnates her in her sleep. Erm, worthy of her hand? NEVER. Anyway, when she’s given birth to his child, Troylus oh so thoughtfully removes the flax in her finger that’s been keeping her unconscious, and then marries her. What the hell, right? Well, it gets worse…
Talia – Giambattista Basile’s Sun, Moon and Talia – 1634
A great lord learns that his daughter, Talia, will be in grave danger from a splinter of flax. When the splinter causes what appears to be Talia’s death, her heartbroken father seats her on a velvet throne and leaves the house forever, attempting to escape his misery.
One day, a king walks by the house, and one of his falcons flies in. When no one answers the door, he decides to climb in with a ladder, and finds an unconscious Talia. Clearly not satisfied with just breaking and entering, the king “gathers the first fruits of love”. Excuse me while I vomit. What kind of king is this?! In fact, scratch that, what kind of animal is this?!
Anyway, after he’s done, he leaves her and goes back to his kingdom. Talia gives birth to twins while unconscious, and one of her newborn children develops a habit of sucking her finger, which eventually awakens her because the flax is sucked out of her finger. Poor Talia wakes up alone, with two kids (and likely swollen fingers!), and has no idea what has happened to her.
In the meantime, the king decides he’ll go and visit her again, and finds her awake and looking after his children. He tells her who he is and what has happened (how would you even explain that?!), then promises to take her back to his kingdom in a few days.
When he arrives back home, his wife (yep, add “adulterer” to the list alongside “burglar” and “rapist”) hears him saying “Talia, Sun and Moon” in his sleep. She bribes the king’s secretary and, after finding out what has happened, writes to Talia as the king, saying he wants to see the twins.
Talia sends her twins to the king, and the queen tells the cook to kill them and make food out of them. Luckily, the cook isn’t a psychopath, and he hides the children with his wife and cooks two lambs instead. Whenever the king comments on how delicious the food is, his creepy wife says “eat, eat, you are eating of your own”.
Not content with supposedly feeding innocent children to their father, the queen invites Talia to the kingdom with the intent to burn her alive. However, the king finds out, and orders for the queen to be burned along with anyone else who betrayed him (I know, it’s rich, him talking about betrayal, isn’t it?!). Since the cook went out of his way to save the children, the king rewards him, and the story ends with the king and Talia getting married and living happily ever after.
I mean, sure, it’s got a happy ending, but the casual glossing over of rape got me shuddering. I know children’s stories often involve gruesome elements such as eating children to make the villain of the piece into somewhat of a caricature of a bad person, possibly to make evil seem far away from the child reading the tale. But the way the story brushed over breaking in, raping, and leaving an unconscious, now pregnant woman, makes me wonder how this was ever a children’s tale. If you want evidence society has grown, I guess this is it!
Thanks for tweaking this one so I didn’t grow up traumatised, Disney.
What’s the weirdest retelling of a story you’ve ever read? Let me know in the comments!