Fairy Tale Round-up: Sleeping Beauty

A look at another classic fairy tale this week: Sleeping Beauty.  Like Cinderella, it shows up in the Brothers Grimm and in Charles Perrault.  Grimm gives us a very brief story, “Little Briar Rose,” about a princess who is cursed at her christening, pricks her finger when she turns fifteen, and falls into an enchanted sleep for a hundred years, guarded by a hedge of thorns, until awoken by a prince.  Perrault gives essentially the same story in “The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods” with more detail, and an entire second act involving the prince’s evil ogre mother.  That part doesn’t seem to have filtered out quite so much!  But I have seen quite a few retellings of the first part of the story…

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley is my favorite retelling.  McKinley’s princess, Rosie, has a life and a personality entirely separate from her curse.  She is defiantly herself in the face of all her christening gifts, and she deeply loves her adoptive family of fairies, who are hiding her from the curse.  I love the way McKinley plays with the elements of the fairy tale to make characters and a story that, in some ways, feel completely original.  I’m not wild about the romance, but it’s a wonderful book despite that.

The Princess Series by Jim C. Hines features Sleeping Beauty as a major character.  His Sleeping Beauty, Talia, comes from a darker version of the story, from before the Brothers Grimm.  She does have fairy-given gifts, like grace and balance, which she uses to become a skilled warrior.  She joins up with Snow White and Cinderella, and together they’re a force to be reckoned with!  The third book in the series, Red Hood’s Revenge, while partially about Little Red Riding Hood, also delves much more into Talia’s past, and a new interpretation on the Sleeping Beauty story.

Sleeping Helena by Erzebot Yellowboy is an odd story about a family of sisters who enchant and then raise their niece, Helena.  The oddness comes in part from the fact that the aunts are all around 105 (and feel it) and partially from Helena’s own wild nature.  She’s fascinating, almost a slave to her christening gifts.  Some interesting concepts in this one, but also…well, odd.

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker tells the story from Sleeping Beauty’s sister’s point of view.  Annie nullifies magic around her, so she’s unaffected when the rest of the castle falls asleep.  She goes questing through other fairy tales, looking for a prince to wake up her sister.  I LOVE the concept…but found the characters rather shallow and simple.  Probably a good one for younger readers, but don’t expect anything too deep.

The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson is a very loose retelling.  Rose is the healer’s apprentice of the title, trying to decide if she really wants to be a healer, while torn between the two handsome sons of the local baron.  The Sleeping Beauty part comes in because there’s an evil magician stalking the older son’s betrothed with a curse.  The princess has been hidden away…and it’s pretty obvious right from the beginning who she’ll turn out to be.  It’s a good story in its own right, even if the Sleeping Beauty elements are more of a hint than a major focus.

The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey, on the other hand, tosses around Sleeping Beauty elements with abandon.  This is a mash-up of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, in a novel that’s very willing to poke at the original fairy tales and have fun with the conventions.  It’s book five of Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series, but I somehow contrived to read it first and it didn’t seem to matter.

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite classic Disney cartoons.  I like the song, “Once Upon a Dream,” and I like Prince Phillip.  I think it’s because he argues with his horse; it gives him a smidge more personality than most early Disney princes.  Although–in a very bizarre turn, Phillip doesn’t have a single line of dialogue after Rose falls asleep.  He’s in scenes, and people talk to him, but he doesn’t have a single line.  I really have to wonder about the decision process there…  But anyway, rather like Disney’s Cinderella (which is all about the mice) this one is also really about the “supporting” characters–the fairies.  They’re quite funny, and also a big inspiration for my own fairy tale world in my writing.  Watch one of their scenes some time: they are shooting sparkles out of their wands all the time.  Not just when they cast spells, but constantly.  Those women really ought to be awash in glitter…

I’m betting there are other versions of Sleeping Beauty I haven’t covered.  What are your favorites?

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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9 Responses to Fairy Tale Round-up: Sleeping Beauty

  1. drsnyc says:

    I love the cover of Sleeping Helena and it sounds most intriguing – definitely next on my list, thank you.
    All the time that I’ve been reading your fairy-tale re-telling reviews something has been niggling me, and I’ve finally remembered it: have you read the Adele Geras Egerton Hall series (http://www.sfsite.com/12b/eh214.htm)? There are three titles that relate to Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Snow White, set in an English boarding school, where the three main characters are school friends. The concept is that the re-tellings are vehicles for exploring coming of age issues (some quite dark) but the characters are very well-written – reacting and developing in believable ways, (ie not just hooks for a particular behaviour or the author’s agenda) and the stories are beautifully told.

  2. dianem57 says:

    I never noticed the shooting sparkles from the Disney fairies’ wands coming out all the time until you mentioned it. Could it be a representation of their continuous magic powers?

  3. Now I think about it other than the Disney film I haven’t actually read anything about sleeping beauty…not even the basic fairytale. Clearly something I need to rectify. Of the books you mention I like the sound of the Spindle’s End the most so have a made a note of it. Thank you for sharing, still loving these posts.

  4. Lark says:

    Just to add to your thoughts on the Mercedes Lackey version — she also throws in the Siegfried saga, thus pulling on all the “sleeping princess” tropes I can think of. It’s a fun mash-up, which works in part because (as in McKinley’s “Spindle’s End,” which is one of my all-time favorites) the princess works to rescue herself.
    “The Gates of Sleep” is another version of Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey; I enjoyed it more than the 500 Kingdoms version. It’s the second (or third, depending on how you count them) book in her Elemental Masters series. (You can read my review at http://bookwyrms-hoard.blogspot.com/2012/04/gates-of-sleep-by-mercedes-lackey.html , if you’re interested.)

    • Thanks for the reminder that the Lackey book also brings in a third fairy tale. I’m not really familiar with the Siegfried saga, but it definitely brought some fun elements into the story. And thanks for the recommendation too! 🙂

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