Sleepy Cartoons: Sleeping Beauty 1
Sleeping Beauty has captured imaginations for centuries and provided inspiration for many artists, writers, filmmakers and composers from the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” (Tchaikovsky, 1890), to the current film “Sleeping Beauty” (2011) with Sally Potter introducing Julia Leigh.
Originally, the stories were passed down from generation to generation through the art of story telling. The first recorded version of Sleeping Beauty has been traced back to Giambattista Basile, Italy (1632). He collected and wrote down the collection of Neapolitan Fairy Tales, titled Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille, also known as Il Pentamerone. You can read extracts of early versions here: Sleeping Beauty and her Rapist and here: Gruesome fairytale endings. Basile and later Perrault (Charles Perrault included in 1697, La Belle au Bois Dormant in Contes de ma Mere l’Oye – ‘Tales of Mother Goose’.), according to folklorists, joined together two versions of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The first version is the more familiar, traditionally romantic and censored version whereas the second version is (briefly)…
…closer linked to the gruesome stories already mentioned above. The prince basically kept Sleeping Beauty as a (secretly married) “mistress” had two children, until he had ascended his throne. He then brought his family to his capital where he left the regency to his Ogre Queen Mother while he went to war with the neighbouring countries. The ogre sent the young queen to the woods and demanded that the children be served up to her for dinner. After much gruesome tumultuous activity the King appears in the nick of time and then they live happily ever after.
Doesn’t it sound strange that the two versions existed side by side? Another reader suggests that they were originally part of the same story where part 2 follows on from part 1. How could that be? Especially when they are so different in styles, characters etc. I think that Perrault and The Grimm Brothers started a process of cleaning up the crude folk tales and by the time the story reached the Victorians most of them had become ‘suitable’ for children. There must have been many many variations on the story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, probably as many as there were storytellers. I also believe that as soon as a folk tale goes into print – it starts to become a commodity – an object, the story becomes more fixed and controlled. When a storyteller tells a folk tale he keeps the elements and exaggeration fluid to suit its audience. In addition, he/she personalises it by making their story unique, so that more people will want to hear ‘Sleeping Beauty’ even if they have heard it before. These examples are the oldest variants on the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ theme.
The Grimm Brothers edited their collection of folktales seven times during the beginning of 1800’s. At one point they almost edited out “Sleeping Beauty” because they thought it was too French-centric (Perrault). They, then, came across the story of Brynhildr in the Volsunga saga (Norse mythology) and because the similarities were so striking they decided to keep “Sleeping Beauty”. I think Brynhildr is a much more interesting version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’:
Brynhildr is a Valkyrie and the daughter of Budli. She was ordered to decide a fight between two kings, Hjalmgunnar and Agnar, and knew that Odin preferred the older king, Hjalmgunnar, yet she decided the battle for Agnar. For this Odin condemned her to live the life of a mortal woman, and imprisoned her in a remote castle behind a wall of shields on top of mount Hindarfjall in the Alps, where she must sleep within a ring of fire until any man rescues and marries her. The hero Sigurðr Sigmundson (Siegfried in the Nibelungenlied), heir to the clan of Völsung and slayer of the dragon Fafnir, entered the castle and awoke Brynhildr by removing her helmet and cutting off her chainmail armour. He immediately fell in love with the shield maiden and proposed to her with the magic ring Andvaranaut.
The story about Brynhildr doesn’t end with…’and they lived happily ever after’, it continues with several twists and turns that I will let you read about on your own. The Valkyrie Brynhildr is an image of a strong-minded, attractive woman with red fiery hair holding a sword and shield.
In the next post I will continue with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ 2: Why is the story so popular? What did Disney do to ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and what message does the image of ‘Sleeping Beauty” convey to young girls about being a woman?