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The tale of Sleeping Beauty has evolved over time.  It began as a story of a princess dying and restored to life by a king, then surviving the threat of the king’s jealous wife, it has become the tale of a princess cursed by an embittered fairy, falling into a protective sleep, and brought back to life by her princely true love.  In all its incarnations, it is the story of a princess.  In its western incarnations, she is struck down while spinning.  She is then revived by the arrival of a true love.  In earlier versions, she must then overcome the jealously of her lover’s female relative.The earliest incarnation of the tale, Sun, Moon, and Talia by Giambattista Basile, contains certain unique elements.  First, the princess Talia is not cursed by a specific force.  At her birth, her father summons the wise men of his realm.  Notably, this is the only version in which wise men gather – did Basile believe wisdom was an exclusively male trait?  Second, they do not create, or even modify, Talia’s curse.  They merely report it, and vaguely:  Talia is “under great danger,” with no reason given for this curse falling on Talia.  Next, it is the spinning material, a flax splinter, rather than a spinning device that threatens her.  In other tales, except for the Russian version which does not mention spinning at all, a spinning device threatens the princess.When she is stricken, “Talia ran a splinter of flax under her nail, and she fell dead upon the ground.”  On this point, the Russian version is somewhat vague as to her state.  Perrault, Disney, and Grimm are all distinct:  the princess is asleep.  Second, after he installs her, here placing her on a throne in one of his palaces, Talia’s father disappears.  In Perrault, Disney, and Grimm, the princess’ household joins her in sleep, awaiting her revival.When her rescuer arrives, he is a king, not a prince.  This king is already married.  While Basile is not specific, there is no mention of the king having children, or of either the king or his wife wanting children.  Further, when the king finally arrives, he does not revive Talia.  He is smitten with her love.  The language at this point in the tale is euphemistic, but the kingapparently commits a necrophilic act:  he finds Talia “unconscious,” the first suggestion that the dead may not be dead.  “Crying aloud, he beheld her charms and felt his blood course hotly through his veins. He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to a bed, where he gathered” — would Basile have been more accurate in saying ‘deposited’? — “ the first fruits of love. Leaving her on the bed,” he returns to his own kingdom for something over nine months.Nine months later, still “dead,” or now perhaps merely unconscious, Talia delivers two children.  Fairies appear, not to revive Talia; but merely put the babies to her breast.  One baby inadvertently sucks the fatal flax splinter from Talia’s finger, apparently without ill effects to the child.  Talia recovers from whatever state she was in, to find that the fairies have left her food.Eventually, the king returns to Talia, and when he explains his role, “their friendship was knitted with tighter bonds.”  A more graphic translation would be that she forgave him for raping her while she was unconscious.  Despite his friendship, the king returns alone to his own land, where, although love struck, he does nothing to bring Talia to him.  By having her name and the name of her children on his lips, he betrays her existence to his queen.  In contrast to his passivity, she acts.  She coerces the truth from his secretary.  She sends the secretary to lure Talia into giving up the children.  She orders her cook to kill them and make them into dainty dishes.  The cook is as enterprising as the queen, hiding the children with his own wife.  The queen presents her feast to her husband, who eventually becomes so enraged at her cryptic language that he goes off to a different palace and sulks.  The queen remains active, now summoning Talia, whom she proposes to burn alive.  Talia pleads for the right to remove her clothing, screaming as she takes off each garment.  Basile does not show whether this rouses the king, but there is at least the suggestion that Talia’s cries bring him.  He finally takes a modestly active role, condemning his jealous queen and his secretary, and nearly condemning his cook.  Only when the cook’s wife presents his two still-living children does he relent, making the cook his chamberlain, and settling down to marital bliss with Talia and her children.The Russian account of the tale has several features distinct from the more western versions.  First, the threat against the princess is quite human.  The tsar’s new wife. “tall, slender, witty, fair to look upon, but also stubborn, willful, proud, and jealous,” haughtily calls on her talking mirror to hear it proclaim her the fairest in the land, until the princess grows to have surpassing beauty.  Upon finding her beauty outdone, the tsaritsa orders the princess killed, but her unwilling chambermaid merely has her flee into the woods.  Here, the tale becomes more akin to the western Snow White than Sleeping Beauty, as the princess finds a house inhabited by seven knights, to whom she becomes as a sister, although declining to marry any one of them because she is betrothed to a king’s son, Elisei.When the tsaritsa learns from her magic mirror that the princess is still alive, she sends a servant, who eventually throws a poisoned apple to the princess.  The princess eats it and dies.  The seven knights encase her in a crystal coffin which they suspend in a cave.  Here, the faithful Elisei finds her.  Grief-stricken, he throws himself on the coffin, shattering it.  The princess, once dead, stretches her arms and murmurs,  “Oh, how long I have slept!”Several features of the western versions are absent from this tale.  First, there is no explicit mention of a curse falling on the princess at the time of her birth.  The tsaritsa might well not have plotted her death had the princess not grown up to be more beautiful than the tsaritsa.  Second, a spinning device, universal in the other tales, is not here.  Finally, in the other tales, the princess apparently remains safe from the time of her birth until the moment she is stricken, whereas the Russian princess is threatened and must flee to the security of the house where the seven benign knights live.  Finally, alone among these tales, the princess here has no magical helpers to aid her.  Even Talia had the fairies who attended her after the birth of her children.  Her prince Elisei does find her, with the aid of the wind who finally points hi to the cave in which she is entombed, but this is the closest to the supportive fairies of other tales.Charles Perrault combines the elements of Basile’s tale with what has become the “modern” version of the Sleeping Beauty story.  At the princess’ birth, her father held a great celebration, to which he failed to invited one fairy.  One of the good fairies, fearing evil, holds back until the evil old fairy has imposed her curse.  The good fairy cannot eliminate the curse, but softens it from death to a sleep of a hundred years.  This tale also introduces the idea of the princess pricking her hand on the spindle of a spinning wheel.  The king immediately decrees that no one in the kingdom is allowed to have a spinning wheel or a distaff, with no mention of the potential economic consequences of such an act.  When, nevertheless, the princess finds an old woman using a spinning wheel, she pricks her hand on it, and falls into the required sleep.  At this point, the good fairy returns to the kingdom, summoned by a dwarf clad in seven-league boots, arriving “about an hour after, in a fiery chariot drawn by dragons.”  Notably, the king shows his deference to her:  he hands her down from the chariot, indicating that he has come from his palace to meet her rather than expecting her to present herself to him.  To ensure that the princess will be suitably comforted when she awakens, the fairy casts a spell over the entire palace so that everyone falls asleep.  Further, Perrault introduces a new idea: the spell of sleep will last for 100 years.When the prince finally arrives in his due course, he in some ways resembles the king in Basile’s telling of the tale.  However, he is put to much less trouble to awaken his princess.  Merely kneeling at her bedside revives her and the entire palace. They are duly married, but he cannot safely bring her away, because his own mother is an ogress.  He does eventually bring her home, with their two children, but he then abandons her to lead his army in a war.  The ogress, a cannibal, orders her cook to kill the children, only to be deceived by the kind-hearted cook, who hides them in his own home.  The ogress then sends the cook to kill the princess, who is willing to die in order to rejoin her children.  The cook spares her, and again tricks the ogress queen.  When the queen discovers that she has been outdone, she prepares to execute all of them. They are saved only by the propitious arrival of the prince.  Realizing that she is undone, the queen throws herself into the monstrous vat that she had prepared for her victims.Clearly, Perrault relies on Basile’s tale, but with certain changes:  an evil fairy curses the princess, but a good fairy lessens the punishment.  She is explicitly sleeping until her prince arrives.  He is a prince, and her betrothed.  The threatening evil woman is his mother, not a wife.In these three versions of the tale, the beautiful young princess is a threat to an older woman.  In Basile’s tale, the king is apparently dissatisfied with his wife, and finds pleasure in the beauty of a passive young woman.  In the Russian version and in Perrault telling, the mother figure is threatened by the beauty of the child and struggles to retain her power.  In the Russian version, this is power over a (step)daughter.  Perrault places the controlling mother over her son.The Brothers Grimm and the Disney version dispense with the part of the tale occurring after the princess is awakened and thus eliminate the evil older woman.  Instead, they tell a story of the cursing of a new-born princess, the mitigation of the curse, and her revival by her prince.  The Grimms follows Perrault in having a slighted fairy, here the thirteenth, curse the child.  As with Perrault, one fairy hides herself, recognizing that need to mitigate the slighted fairy’s curse.  When the princess pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, she immediately falls asleep, and without any further intervention, the entire castle is overcome, along with everything in it down to flies on the wall.  A great wall of thorns grows up, and these thorns actively kill anyone trying to break through until the 100 years has elapsed.  When a prince then makes a timely entrance, the thorns automatically turn to flowers to let him pass.  He finds the princess and with a kiss rouses her and the entire court, and they live out their days happily.In the Disney version, the slighted fairy curses the princess with death, but a good fairy mitigates this to merely sleep.  When she pricks her hand on the spindle of a spinning wheel, she falls asleep.  The good fairy, at hand as in Perrault’s table, does not prescribe a specific period for sleep, saying only that she will be awakened when she is found by a man of pure heart.  Notably, the queen is so depressed in this tale that she dies of grief.  The fairy then decides to cast a sleep spell over the entire court, and a forest grows up around the palace, and while there is no suggestion, as in the Grimms’ version, that this forest actively prevents entrance, one hundred years pass before a suitable prince appears.  When he finally penetrates to the palace, he finds the princess and awakens her with a kiss on her hand.Comparing these versions of the story, there is an evolution.  The post revival elements found in the earlier tales disappear.  An evil fairy curses the princess because she has been slighted by her parents.  The sleep that takes the princess extends to her whole household.  When the prince arrives, the princess awakens, and the story ends, as the Disney version puts it, “They lived happily ever after, as they always do in fairy tales, not quite so often, however, in real life.”

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