The fairytales we know today are often drastically different from their original. They’re often stories told to generations warning them of dangers – this is certainly reflected in the origins of Little Red Riding Hood where the original tale was a warning about predatory behaviours. You can read more on this topic here.
Another fairytale that has been changed over time is Sleeping Beauty. In the original fairytale, it was not a handsome prince who awoke the princess from a deep sleep, rather it was a sleeping girl abused by a wealthy king. One would hardly call the original a fairytale, more like a story for a perverted mind. I know there’s judgement in those words, but how else does one describe a story that would be unacceptable in today’s society and particularly when a conversation about sexual assault, harassment and abuse is going on around us.
The story of Sleeping Beauty we have known all these years is one of innocence. A King and Queen inviting the magical kingdom to bless their child. In some versions of the story one magical being is not on the door list, in others the King and Queen aren’t wealthy enough to gift them much so don’t gift anything. An enchantment is cast over the baby princess by the being (who we know through Disney as Maleficent) and at some point in her lifetime the princess will prick her finger on a spindle and die. However, another magical being is able to lessen the blow and reduce the death sentence to merely a life long sleep until awoken by a kiss…….and we all know the rest. As with most fairytales, it ended in “…and they lived happily ever after”.
Now let’s delve into the dark depths of the original and see where this all began. It seems that a young, beautiful girl is left lying in deep slumber in an abandoned palace. One day a king stumbles upon the abandoned palace and decides to explore, sneaking through a window and searching every room until he finds the young sleeping girl. It seems her beauty was too great to ignore, as the king decides to take advantage of the young girl and then wander home afterwards as if he has done nothing wrong.
The young girl gives birth to twins nine months later – whilst still asleep (how, we’ll never know!). I will skip through the next part of the story that explains how the twins survive and the girl awakens. Some time after the twins arrive, the king reflects on his encounter with the girl and decides to visit her again; however when he returns to the palace he finds the girl awake and raising two children. Before we know it the king falls in love with the girl and takes her back to his palace as his mistress, along with their two children.
Enter stage left – the original Maleficent…..the Queen. The queen finds out about the mistress and children and sets out on a path to revenge. First she plots to have the children slaughtered and fed to her husband (don’t worry, the cook couldn’t do it and hid the children instead). The queen then tries to toss the mistress into a bonfire, however she screams, gaining the attention of the king who comes running to save her. In the end, the queen is executed by tossing her into the fire.
Now, this is definitely the scaled down version of the original tale (written by Giambattista Basile and published in 1634), but there are a few lessons we can learn from this story. I’m sure many of you will read through the first parts of the story and wonder why it sounds familiar. Unfortunately we’ve seen or read stories in newspapers of unconscious women, unable to give consent, being taken advantage of.
It’s not accepted behaviour now, yet in 1634 it was permissible to publish a story that fantasised it. It’s also not the first time this author has written a tale of deception or selfish desire – Puss in Boots is another such example. You can read more about it here.
Perhaps the lesson here is about virtue, about behaving in a way that reflects our moral standard, expected society values and of course ethics. Further the lesson is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s our private or personal life, we must all constantly remind ourselves that these behaviours carry across all facets of our life. Taking advantage of another is not virtuous behaviour.