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The Dark and Dirty History of Sleeping Beauty

May 30 2014 - 8:00am

It's time to wake up. The story of Sleeping Beauty isn't the sweet fairy tale you might have thought it was. With its initial narrative as a disturbing Italian folktale and a history that includes an erotic novel series and Disney's most frightening villainess — who Angelina Jolie plays in Maleficent [1], out today — happily ever after it isn't. Find out more about the intriguing and sometimes dark evolution of the Sleeping Beauty story over time.

Source: Disney [2]

Sun, Moon, and Talia, 1634

One of the first incarnations of the Sleeping Beauty story was the Italian literary fairy tale "Sun, Moon, and Talia" ("Sole, Luna, e Talia") by Giambattista Basile [3] in his 1634 collection called The Pentamerone.

But this is no kid-friendly fairy tale. In this version a king has sex with (rapes) the sleeping lord's daughter Talia, and she gives birth to twins, Sun and Moon, while still asleep. After she is awakened by her child sucking the splinter from her finger, which had kept her asleep this whole time, the king's wife, the queen, tries to have Talia's children killed and eaten and Talia burned to death. But the king has the queen burned instead, and then marries Talia.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [4]

The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood, 1697

French author Charles Perrault was inspired by Basile [5]'s story when he wrote "The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood" ("La Belle au Bois Dormant") in 1697. It was published in Tales and Stories of the Past With Morals, also known as Tales of Mother Goose. Many of these stories were then rewritten by the Brothers Grimm.

This is the story that is closer to what we are all familiar with. The prince awakens the sleeping princess, and then weds her and they have two children. His evil stepmother then tries to cook the children but is stopped and throws herself into a fire.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [6]

Château d'Ussé, 1697

Charles Perrault used the Château d'Ussé as his inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle, and this historical French castle now contains wax figures that tell the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [7]

Little Briar-Rose, 1812

German authors the Brothers Grimm used the previous Sleeping Beauty folklore to write "Little Briar-Rose" ("Dornröschen"), which was included in their 1812 collection of fairy tales.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [8]

Sleeping Beauty, 1845-1907

This painting titled "Sleeping Beauty" by Alexander Zick (1845-1907) shows the princess with the old woman and the spindle that pricks her.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [9]

Sleeping Beauty, 1846-1902

The prince approaches the sleeping princess in the painting "Sleeping Beauty" by Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1846-1902).

Source: Wikimedia Commons [10]

Sleeping Princess, 1848-1926

This is Viktor Vasnetsov's painting "Sleeping Princess."

Source: Wikimedia Commons [11]

The Sleeping Beauty Ballet, 1890

Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty ballet was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1890 and is based on Charles Perrault's version of the tale. It's one of the most famous ballets in the world.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [12]

Sleeping Beauty, 1899

The prince is about to awaken the princess in this pencil and watercolor piece titled "Sleeping Beauty" by Henry Meynell Rheam.

Source: Wikimedia Commons [13]

Disney's Sleeping Beauty, 1959

Disney's animated film Sleeping Beauty was the last fairy tale produced by Walt Disney before his death. Due to the movie's poor box office numbers, the studio's next Disney princess film wasn't until The Little Mermaid in 1989.

The princess's name is Aurora, the same as in Tchaikovsky's ballet. And this film introduces Disney's most evil villain, Maleficent (derived from a Latin word meaning "harmfully malicious"), who famously transforms into a dragon during the climax of the story.

House of the Sleeping Beauties, 1961

House of the Sleeping Beauties [14] is a 1961 novella by the Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. The story follows an elderly gentleman who is a part of an elite club full of nude, sleeping young women the men are allowed to sleep next to but not be intimate with.

The Uses of Enchantment, 1976

In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales [15] by Freudian psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, the story of Sleeping Beauty is described as a case study of latent female sexuality.

The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, 1983-1985

Anne Rice's erotic Sleeping Beauty trilogy [16] was the Fifty Shades of the '80s, and it recently had a comeback with a rerelease in 2012. The series — which includes The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty's Punishment, and Beauty's Release — is a steamy twist on the classic fairy tale in which the princess is awakened with a lot more than a peck on the cheek!

Disney's Sleeping Beauty Rerelease, 2008

Disney's Sleeping Beauty characters Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip entertain at all the Disneyland theme parks and posed here at the 50th anniversary release of the remastered version of the film in 2008.

Disneyland Ads, 2007-2014

An ongoing ad campaign for Disneyland [17] features photos by Annie Leibovitz of celebrities as notable Disney characters. Here, real-life former couple Vanessa Hudgens [18] and Zac Efron [19] posed as Sleeping Beauty and her prince.

The Sleeping Beauty, 2010

In the 2010 French film The Sleeping Beauty ("La Belle Endormie"), the story follows the adventurous dreams of the young sleeping princess.

Sleeping Beauty, 2011

Emily Browning plays a bored college student who gets taken into an underground club in the 2011 film Sleeping Beauty. The plot was inspired by House of the Sleeping Beauties, just with a flip-flopped perspective.

Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, 2011

Maureen McGowan's YA novel Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer [20] portrays the princess as a kick-ass heroine who must fight evil — and kill vampires — to break the spell that has separated her from her family.

Once Upon a Time, 2011-2012

In ABC's show Once Upon a Time, Sarah Bolger plays Princess Aurora, who's based on the daughter of Sleeping Beauty from the fairy tale but has a sleeping curse cast on her as well. Twenty-eight years later Prince Phillip wakes her with true love's kiss. Things are complicated when Aurora is at first jealous of his friend Mulan, thinking she's into Prince Phillip — but Mulan only has eyes for Aurora [21].

Maleficent, 2014

Disney's Maleficent [22], out today, is the prequel to Sleeping Beauty. It tells the untold story of how the evil queen, played by Angelina Jolie [23], went from the heroine to the villain of the fairy tale.


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