For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have decided to focus on various interpretations of Sleeping Beauty as a character and archetype. Whether we call her Briar Rose, Aurora, or simply The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, she is an integral figure in fairytale and folkloric history. As Sleeping Beauty is my absolute favorite fairytale of all time, I could not resist doing this kind of archetypal study of the protagonist!
The story is one that everyone knows, a young Princess is cursed not long after her birth to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a deep deathlike sleep on her sixteenth birthday. Even with all of the precautions that could be thought of in place, including having the Princess live out in the woods under the protection of Faery guardians in some versions, the fateful event comes to pass. At this point, Briar Rose has been put into a deep sleep that will last for one hundred years. In some versions, the timeframe of one hundred years is the set point of the tale, meaning that she will automatically wake after the time has passed. It is only in later versions that we begin to see the concept of a True Love’s Kiss, this is also true of Snow White.
The fact that Sleeping Beauty, no matter what her name is in her story, is asleep for a large part of her story makes many people consider her entirely a passive protagonist. I do not personally view this to be the case at all. Briar Rose is a young Princess who is sheltered, that is true, but she is intelligent and very willing to speak her mind. We see this quite plainly in the Disney version when she outright weeps at the idea of being a Princess and having to marry a Prince out of obligation. She does not realize that it was Phillip, her betrothed, whom she had met and fallen in love with whilst walking barefoot in the woods. This provided a sense of irony for the Disney interpretation of the story, while also fixing an element of the tale that many find an issue with, that the Princess would just randomly fall in love with the man who just happened to be there when she awoke (as again in early versions she was not awoken by True Love’s Kiss, but instead by the curse running its course and timing out). Instead, we get to see Briar Rose, who does not yet know she is actually the Princess Aurora, fall in love with Phillip organically and fight for that love against the three good faeries who are trying to bring her back to her father.
This act of defiance shows that she is not merely a girl who is sleeping and not participating in any of the actions of her tale. She has her own thoughts and opinions and she is passionate and caring. Her time asleep can be seen as a pivotal time of transition into adulthood, where the sleeper can dream and gain a deeper understanding of the outside world. The process of Briar Rose being in this sleep can be a time of deep introspection and going to confront her shadows in order to fully integrate into her most truly evolved version of her soon-to-be adult self! I really like that Lucy Cavendish chose to have her Sleeping Beauty character have more autonomy in her retelling. She also chose to have the Prince be an immortal Faery being, meaning that he was able to fall in love with her prior to her curse. Yet she still chose to omit the True Love’s Kiss, making for a very well-rounded take on the tale! Another version that found a way to have a deeper love story was the Matthew Bourne production of the ballet, where the faeries were also vampires and the Prince character became a faery vampire enabling him to become immortal while he waited the one hundred years for the curse to break!
At the end of the day, no matter what we call Sleeping Beauty, she is a more complicated figure than she is often given credit for being. I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on my all-time favorite faerytale heroine. What do you think of Briar Rose as a character? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Aurora in the Disney film. I found the image on https://www.sweetyhigh.com/read/sleeping-beauty-most-relatable-disney-princess-012517.
- The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault
- Sleeping Beauty by The Brothers Grimm
- Magickal Faerytales: An Enchanted Collection of Retold Tales by Lucy Cavendish
- Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman’s Life by Joan Gould
- Sleeping Beauty (1959)
- Maleficent (2014)
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)
- Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance (The Matthew Bourne Ballet Production)