Surprising messages and interpretations of Sleeping Beauty
Will good always defeat evil?
The Sleeping Beauty is among most popular but also most criticised fairy tales. While it is hard to oppose the attractiveness of the idea of evil fairy, curse, Prince Charming and happily ever after, we can't ignore the passiveness of the main (title!) character. We can even make a step further - her only action in the whole story is limited to exploration of the tower.
Of course it is instantly punished with death (well, hundred years of sleep doesn't seem much better alternative...). The message of brothers Grimm is quite simple - she should stay passive, wait for Mr. Right and everything will be fine.
But this is not the only message of the story.
Story about the puberty
Quick look at the symbols of the fairy tale about the Sleeping Beauty (in the collection of Grimms it is titled Briar Rose) reveals a lot. Of course this is just simplified Freudian interpretation, but we have to start somewhere.
The girl without a name
Almost every kid can identify with this character. Girls and boys! Yes, just about everybody can understand the seemingly endless waiting for some kind of fulfilment. This can be anything, from visit of Santa Claus to finding a boy friend. Childhood and adolescence sometimes look like really long waiting without guaranteed results.
Representative of the father and the authority. Protector, who made a mistake and his child has to pay for it. He tries to protect the daughter with everything. He even commands to destroy all the spindles in the kingdom, but nothing he does can't prevent the inevitably. On the fifteenth birthday of his daughter (sixteenth or thirteenth in some versions), when the girl symbolically changes into woman, he is absent and she faces the danger in the tower all alone.
Every parent in the world can understand him.
This is a well-known symbol of home and safety. It works only to a certain degree. It looks the evil fairy can enter in the castle whenever she wants and being big as castles often are, it can also hide unpredictable dangers.
Don't forget castles have some of the most dark jails too!
It represents life. Sleeping Beauty hurts her hand with a spindle and falls asleep. She will eventually be all right, but her rescuers who tried to enter the castle were not so lucky. They all died in great pains. This part was invented by brothers Grimm and they probably added it to make the story more interesting.
In older versions the prince brought some luggage with him. In some cases this means a jealous and revengeful wife (!), in others a wicked mother in law (who is a man eating ogress!). Brothers Grimm didn't like these parts, so they simply cut them out and added some action on thorns.
But still the blood on the spindle is probably the most important of all. This can be associated with fer first menstrual blood or with losing the virginity. It is very important to note the spindle is given to her by old woman who symbolically passes her new life with all the curses it has.
We can safely conclude Sleeping Beauty can be read as the story about growing up pains. It has very simple message: it doesn't matter if you get an impression everybody around are living full life and you are just waiting.
Some things just need time and one day you can still find a partner, true love, just like we already said, some kind of fulfilment. In some cases waiting can be the best thing you can do. After all, even the Prince Charming didn't do anything special. He was just in the right time in the right place.
Just one more thing to think about: Perrault's and Grimms' versions of The Sleeping Beauty don't mention blood on the spindle at all...
The story about jealousy
I have already mentioned older stories where prince has some kind of background. In most cases he is already married. This doesn't stop him to start a relationship with a Sleeping Beauty. Relationship? Ooops! While she is still asleep, he gets in her bed and nine month after she gives a birth to a boy and a girl.
Only after that she wakes up.
Of course his wife finds out the truth and of course she wants a revenge. At this point the story starts to resemble another classic fairy tale - a Snow White. In both cases we have jealous powerful woman (queen) and a servant who is forced to help her. If he says no, his life will be in danger. But in both cases he decides to help the Sleeping Beauty (a mistress), not the queen (legal wife).
The prince (in older versions he is a king) in none of the known versions pays for his immoral behavior. Pretty questionable moral of the story, right? No wonder brothers Grimm decided to cat this part and stop at the fatal kiss and waking up. In their version the evil fairy is never punished for her curse, but this is probably not the mistake of the German masters.
They probably believed she has every right to punish the king. He forgot to invite her to the party after all. In this case jealousy is perfectly justifiable.
Story about socialization
We have several important moments in the fairy tale where one specific person just doesn't fit in the group. Let's start with wicked fairy who cursed the baby. In older versions the reason is really primitive - she didn't get the right knife at her plate. Not very social, right? From 17th century on reasons behind her actions are slightly more understandable.
She was not invited. But why she was not invited? Because nobody have seen her for very long time and people believed she is probably death or insane. The way she enters and her spell also indicate she is asocial. This means the decision of parents - to not invite her - was probably right. She should stay isolated.
Sleeping Beauty experienced another form of isolation. Hundred years of sleep can be hardly characterized as socially acceptable behavior. It is not only sleep itself. Thread to wake up in the world where everybody she knew is already dead is even more horrifying. At this point we can make a step back and remember the theory about adolescence.
Being an adolescent can have all the main characteristics of social isolation. It can be so frustrating it can actually lead to a suicide.
It is about exploring new world in transformed body, with different friends and sometimes crucial network of friends and acquaintances.
This is probably time where most people realize how important are (or can be) social skills. Adolescence can be pretty horrifying...
Just like lying in the inaccessible castle, surrounded by flames.
Time for the the ultimate form of isolation? Yep, this is death. Most of versions before Grimms' Briar Rose have jealous wife or mother in law who wants to kill the Sleeping Beauty. Despite possessing huge power and helpers, all plans fail and the avenger (or cannibalistic ogress) dies instead of her victim.
Murder is socially unacceptable and punishment should be as drastic as possible. Instant death penalty looks like the only possibility. While we can understand that, we should never forget socially unacceptable behaviour of the Prince Charming. In several versions he took advantage of girl in her sleep, he is cheating his wife or hiding the Sleeping Beauty in front of his parents.
None of this befits to socialised person, but it seems this fairy tale is not about socialization in general, but about socialisation of women...
Which interpretation do you prefer?
Sleeping Beaty is mainly a story about:
Sleeping Beauty as audiobook
This is variation of the story, based on the fairy tale by brothers Grimm with few additions. It makes a perfect companion in the car or in the waiting room.
All illustrations come from:
On this address you can find more interesting facts and speculations about the fairy tale, myth and real Sleeping Beauty. Yes, there is a possibility all variations are based on real people and events from the 6th century.
What brings us to conclusion about the origins of fairy tales as a literary genre. There is no known version of the Sleeping Beauty in folklore before the written versions of essentially the same story were published as cheap romantic novels. This simply means one author (or a few authors), not collective mind of thousands creative story tellers, wrote the template, after all Sleeping Beauties in the world were ultimately published.
But this is simply too much for one article.
Now it's your turn!