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Sleeping Beauty: summary, symbols and more

Updated on March 2, 2016
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Tolovaj is a small publishing house specializing in literature for children. The theory of fairytales is one of our passions.

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

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The Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty is a story about growing up. A fairy tale about good and bad, about parents and children, about old and new and most of all - story with a happy ending.

The Sleeping Beauty teaches us there is time for everything and even waiting (doing nothing) can have important role in some life stages.

With astonishing illustrations of one of the greatest masters of illustration - Arthur Rackham - free for your Kindle!

 

Grimms' version

Brothers Grimm titled Sleeping Beauty as Little Briar Rose after the thorny obstacles surrounding the castle. Thorns were their addition to older versions with which they were surely familiar.

But this was not the only thing they changed. They actually cut off about half the story!

If we want to understand the messages of Sleeping Beauty, we should travel more than hundred years back in time and check Perrault's version in Tales of Mother Goose.

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

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

Are there any fairy tales similar to the Sleeping Beauty?

A girl in isolated place with secret love affair and two kids born out of marriage - Rapunzel.

Royalty couple seeking for a kid and a jealous queen who orders death to her 'competitor', a dead girl who is not buried - Snow White.

An animal as a symbol of fertility - Frog Prince.

Cannibalism - Juniper Tree or Hansel and Gretel.

And so on and on!

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)

In your opinion the best is:

See results

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

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    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed-another nice one

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed-another nice one

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed-another nice one

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @siobhanryan: I appreciate it!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @siobhanryan: Thanks again!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @siobhanryan: Thank you!

    • profile image

      Thamisgith 4 years ago

      Very interesting lens. Blessed.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Thamisgith: Thanks. I appreciate it!

    • profile image

      Im2keys 4 years ago

      totally interesting and eye opening!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Im2keys: Thanks!

    • victoriahaneveer profile image

      victoriahaneveer 4 years ago

      Definitely. I adore this story!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @victoriahaneveer: Great to hear that:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      yes

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Great to hear that!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      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.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 4 years ago from Arizona

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: :)))

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 4 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @darciefrench lm: Fate is fatal:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Brilliant analysis of the classic tale!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: :)

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 4 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

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

      TonyB

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

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

      ;)

    • VspaBotanicals profile image

      VspaBotanicals 4 years ago

      This is one of my favorites! Wonderful lens!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @VspaBotanicals: Thanks!

    • Felicitas profile image

      Felicitas 4 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      I hope so

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kabbalah lm: Me too:)

    • Aja103654 profile image

      Aja103654 4 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Pinning this.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thanks!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Pinning to another board.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: You are sort of multitasking, right?

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      I loved learning about symbolism, it makes reading rich.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • AnnabreeWrites profile image

      AnnabreeWrites 3 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @AnnabreeWrites: Great to hear that!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Sounds like a plan:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      Just had to pop back in.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      Back for another visit.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thanks!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: :)

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 3 years ago from Alabama USA

      I learned so much more by reading your reviews.

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 3 years ago from Texas

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @flinnie lm: Glad to hear that:)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

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

    • Sorcerers Stone profile image

      Sorcerers Stone 3 years ago

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Sorcerers Stone: Great to hear that!

    • tazzytamar profile image

      Anna 2 years ago from chichester

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

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 2 years ago from Ljubljana

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

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