Sleeping Beauty ("La Belle au Bois dormant" (The Beauty asleep in the wood) is a fairy tale classic, the first in the set published in 1697 by Charles Perrault, Contes de ma Mère l'Oye ("Tales of Mother Goose").
While Perrault's version is better known, an older variant, the tale Sun, Moon, and Talia, was contained in Giambattista Basile's Pentamerone (published 1634). Professor J. R. R. Tolkien noted that Perrault's cultural presence is so pervasive that, when asked to name a fairy tale, most people will cite one of the eight stories in Perrault's collection. Since Tolkien's generation, however, the most familiar Sleeping Beauty in the English speaking world has become the Walt Disney animated film (1959), which draws as much from the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet (Saint Petersburg, 1890) as from Perrault.
The basic elements of Perrault's narrative are in two parts. Some folklorists believe that they were originally separate tales, as they became afterward in the Grimms' version, and were joined together by Basile, and Perrault following him.
At the christening of a long-wished-for princess, fairies invited as godmothers offered gifts, such as beauty, wit, and musical talent. However, a wicked fairy who had been overlooked placed the princess under an enchantment as her gift, saying that, on reaching adulthood, she would prick her finger on a spindle and die. A good fairy, though unable to completely reverse the spell, said that the princess would instead sleep for a hundred years, until awakened by the kiss of a prince.
The king forbade spinning on distaff or spindle, or the possession of one, upon pain of death, throughout the kingdom, but all in vain. When the princess was fifteen or sixteen she chanced to come upon an old woman in a tower of the castle, who was spinning. The Princess asked to try the unfamiliar task and the inevitable happened. The wicked fairy's curse was fulfilled. The good fairy returned and put everyone in the castle to sleep. A forest of briars sprang up around the castle, shielding it from the outside world: no one could try penetrate it without facing certain death in the thorns.
After a hundred years had passed, a prince who had heard the story of the enchantment braved the wood, which parted at his approach, and entered the castle. He trembled upon seeing the princess' beauty and fell on his knees before her. He kissed her, then she woke up, then everyone in the castle woke to continue where they had left off... and, in modern versions, starting with the Brothers Grimm version, they all lived happily ever after.
The Ogress Queen Mother sent the young Queen and the children to a house secluded in the woods, and directed her cook there to prepare the boy for her dinner, with a sauce Robert. The humane cook substituted a lamb, which satisfied the Queen Mother, who demanded the girl, but was satisfied with a young goat prepared in the same excellent sauce. When the Ogress demanded that he serve up the young Queen, the latter offered her throat to be slit, so that she might join the children she imagined were dead. There was a tearful secret reunion in the cook's little house, while the Queen Mother was satisfied with a hind prepared with sauce Robert. Soon she discovered the trick and prepared a tub in the courtyard filled with vipers and other noxious creatures. The King returned in the nick of time and the Ogress, being discovered, threw herself into the pit she had prepared and was consumed, and everyone else lived happily ever after.
Perrault transformed the tone of Basile's "Sole, Luna, e Talia". Basile's was an adult tale told by an aristocrat for aristocrats, emphasizing concerns such as marital fidelity and inheritance. Perrault's is an aristocratic tale told for a high-bourgeois audience, inculcating female patience and passivity.
Beside differences in tone, the most notable differences in the plot is that the sleep did not stem from a curse, but was prophesied; that the king did not wake Talia from the sleep with a kiss, but raped her, and when she gave birth to two children, one sucked on her finger, drawing out the piece of flax that had put her to sleep, which woke her; and that the woman who resented her and tried to eat her and her children was not the king's mother but his jealous wife. The mother-in-law's jealousy is less motivated, although common in fairy tales.
There are earlier elements that contributed to the tale, in the medieval courtly romance Perceforest (published in 1528), in which a princess named Zellandine falls in love with a man named Troylus. Her father sends him to perform tasks to prove himself worthy of her, and while he is gone, Zellandine falls into an enchanted sleep. Troylus finds her and gets her pregnant in her sleep; when their child is born, he draws from her finger the flax that caused her sleep. She realizes from the ring he left her that the father was Troylus; he returns after his adventures to marry her.
Earlier influences come from the story of the sleeping Brynhild in the Volsunga saga and the tribulations of saintly female martyrs in early Christian hagiography conventions. It was, in fact, the existence of Brynhild that persuaded the Brothers Grimm to include Briar Rose in latter editions of their work rather than eliminate it, as they did to other works they deemed to be purely French, stemming from Perrault's work.
This fairy tale is classified as Aarne-Thompson type 410.
The Brothers Grimm included a variant, Briar Rose, in their collection (1812). It truncates the story as Perrault and Basile told it to the ending now generally known: the arrival of the prince concludes the tale. Some translations of the Grimm tale give the princess the name Rosamond. The brothers considered rejecting the story on the grounds that it was derived from Perrault's version, but the presence of the Brynhild tale convinced them to include it as an authentically German tale. Still, it is the only known German variant of the tale, and the influence of Perrault is almost certain.
The Brothers Grimm also included, in the first edition of their tales, a fragmentary fairy tale, The Evil Mother-in-Law. This began with the heroine married and the mother of two children, as in the second part of Perrault's tale, and her mother-in-law attempted to eat first the children and then the heroine. Unlike Perrault's version, the heroine herself suggested an animal be substituted in the dish, and the fragment ends with the heroine's worry that she can not keep her children from crying, and so from coming to the attention of the mother-in-law. Like many German tales showing French influence, it appeared in no subsequent edition.
Italo Calvino included a variant in Italian Folktales. The cause of her sleep is an ill-advised wish by her mother: she wouldn't care if her daughter died of pricking her finger at fifteen, if only she had a daughter. As in Pentamerone, she wakes after the prince raped her in her sleep, and her children are born and one sucks on her finger, pulling out the prick that had put her to sleep. He preserves that the woman who tries to kill the children is the king's mother, not his wife, but adds that she does not want to eat them herself but serves them to the king. His version came from Calabria, but he noted that all Italian versions closely followed Basile's.
Joseph Jacobs noted the figure of the Sleeping Beauty was in common between this tale and the Gypsy tale The King of England and his Three Sons, in his More English Fairy Tales.
The hostility of the king's mother to his new bride is repeated in the fairy tale The Six Swans, and also features The Twelve Wild Ducks, where she is modified to be the king's stepmother, but these tales omit the cannibalism.
Some folklorists have analyzed Sleeping Beauty as indicating the replacement of the lunar year (with its thirteen months, symbolically depicted by the full thirteen fairies) by the solar year (which has twelve, symbolically the invited fairies). This, however, founders on the issue that only in the Grimms' tale is the wicked fairy the thirteenth fairy; in Perrault's, she is the eighth.
Among familiar themes and elements in Perrault's tale:
The curse of the fairy godmother, by itself, has been taken from the tale and used in many contexts. George MacDonald used it in his Sleeping Beauty parody, The Light Princess, where the evil fairy godmother curses the princess not to death but to lack gravity -- leaving her both lacking in physical weight and unable to take other people's suffering seriously. In Andrew Lang's Prince Prigio, the queen, who does not believe in fairies, does not invite them; the fairies come anyway and give good gifts, except for the last one, who says that he shall be "too clever" -- and the problems with such a gift are only revealed later. In Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, a princess laments that she wasn't cursed at her christening. When another character points out that many princesses aren't (even in the Chronicles' fairy-tale setting), she complains that in her case the wicked fairy did come to the christening, "had a wonderful time," and left the princess with no way to assume her proper, fairy-tale role.
Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" provides a postmodern retelling of Sleeping Beauty entitled "The Lady of the House of Love". Although she deviates significantly from the original subject matter she keeps intact what she terms the 'latent content', for example though not actually asleep there are repeated references to the protagonist existing as a somnambulist . The story follows the life of a Transylvanian vampire condemned by her fate until a young soldier arrives who, through his innocence, frees her from her curse.
Waking Rose is a modern-day take on the story. The heroine, Rose (named after Briar Rose), is put into a coma; she has to be saved by her boyfriend from two doctors who want to euthanize her after she had previously discovered that they illegally killed people to sell their organs off the black market. It is not posted on the Surlalune website, although other books of the series are.
Before Tchaikovsky's version, several ballet productions were based on the "sleeping beauty" theme, amongst which one from Eugène Scribe: in the winter of 1828–1829, the French playwright furnished a four-act mimed scenario as a basis for Aumer's choreography of a four-act ballet-pantomime La Belle au bois dormant. Scribe wisely omitted the violence of the second part of Perrault's tale for the ballet, which was set by Hérold and first staged at the Académie Royale, Paris, April 27, 1829. Though Hérold popularized his piece with a piano Rondo brilliant based on themes from the music, he was not successful in getting the ballet staged again.
When Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the Director of the Imperial Theatres in Saint Petersburg, wrote to Tchaikovsky on May 25, 1888, suggesting a ballet based on Perrault's tale, he also cut the violent second half, climaxed the action with the Awakening Kiss, and followed with a conventional festive last act, a series of bravura variations.
Although Tchaikovsky was maybe not all that eager to compose a new ballet (remembering that the reception of his Swan Lake ballet music, staged eleven seasons earlier, had only been lukewarm), he set to work with Vsevolovsky's scenario. The ballet, with Tchaikovsky's music (his Opus 66) and choreography by Marius Petipa, was premiered in the Saint Petersburg Mariinsky Theatre on January 24, 1890.
Besides being Tchaikovsky's first major success in ballet composition, it set a new standard for what is now called "Classical Ballet", and remained one of the all time favourites in the whole of the ballet repertoire. Sleeping Beauty was the first ballet that impresario Sergei Diaghilev ever saw, he later recorded in his memoirs, and also the first that ballerinas Anna Pavlova and Galina Ulanova ever saw, and the ballet that introduced the Russian dancer Rudolph Nureyev to European audiences. Diaghilev staged the ballet himself in 1921 in London with the Ballets Russes. Choreographer George Balanchine made his stage debut as a gilded Cupid sitting on a gilded cage, in the last act divertissements.
The Walt Disney Productions animated feature Sleeping Beauty was released on January 29, 1959 by Buena Vista Distribution. Disney spent nearly a decade working on the film, which was produced in the Super Technirama 70 widescreen 70 mm film process with a stereophonic soundtrack. Its musical score and songs are adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet. This tale includes three good fairies - Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather - and one evil fairy, Maleficent. As in most Disney films, there are considerable changes made to the plot. For example; it is Maleficent herself that appears in the upper tower of the castle and creates the spinning wheel and spindle on which the princess, Aurora (called Briar Rose by Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather in the years prior to the event), pricks her finger.
The film cost six million US dollars (mainly due to the dragon sequence) to produce, and only returned a revenue of three million dollars, nearly bankrupting the Disney studio. The film later gained a following, and is today considered one of the best animated features ever made, due to its unique style and authentic look along with a beautiful story and lush music. A Platinum Edition of the film is due for release October 2008, though Disney has already launched the official website for the Sleeping Beauty Special Edition DVD
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