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The Dark Origins of Sleeping Beauty

Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty has been a point of interest and creative exhaustion for everyone from Walt Disney and the apex of his control over his company’s feature-length animated films to Anne Rice and the apex of her lurid example of the purplest of prose. I was never able to get past twenty pages of Interview with the Vampire, but Ms. Rice’s sadomasochistic fantasia that appropriated the story of our heroine awakened from the deepest of slumber, well, now that’s writing! If you’ve avoided watching the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty because you think it is old-fashioned and syrupy like Snow White or Cinderella, then take that misplaced modernist cap off your head and revel in the Disney movie that is still, arguably perhaps, the most beautifully animated film to ever come from the House of Mouse. Not to mention that Sleeping Beauty also contains Disney’s greatest villain: the beautifully vengeful Maleficent.

Sleeping Beauty’s story does not, as commonly assumed, trace back to the Brothers Grimm. There was actually another European fellow who gave those Grimm boys a run for their money. His name was Charles Perrault and he compiled many stories that had been passed down in oral tradition. Among the famous fairy tales that Perrault put down to paper in addition to Sleeping Beauty are Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots and Cinderella. “Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” was published by Perrault in 1697 and it is essentially the story we know today. Perrault’s inspiration, however, was actually the very first published recounting of Sleeping Beauty which came out sixty years previous. As with those original fairy tale versions collected by the Brothers Grimm, this original version of Sleeping Beauty’s woes is much darker, bearing a greater similarity to Anne Rice’s trilogy of sex books than Walt Disney’s version. The writer was Giambattista Basile and his Sleeping Beauty follows the traditional storyline of the young girl touching a cursed spinning wheel and falling dead, though with a few changes the detail. Her father, the king, takes the body of his young daughter and sets it to rest upon a velvet cloth in the woods and leaves here, locking the gates to his kingdom behind her Okay, now we get to the darkness. A nobleman comes upon the body of the girl and, as the story goes, kisses her. This is the point at which things get really, really ugly. The nobleman does more than just kiss Sleeping Beauty. A lot more. A whole lot more, if you get my drift. After the rape, he leaves her and, what do you know, nine months later the girl gives birth to twins, named Sun and Moon. Fairies look after the twins until one day the little boy sucks on his dead mother’s finger, sucking that accursed splinter clean free from her finger and restoring her to life.

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After a few months, the nobleman gets the urge to revisit the site of his pleasure, only to find that the dead or sleeping girl he’d ravaged is now awake. An affair ensues after he admits to being the father of Sun and Moon. Then he leaves her, neglecting to inform her that he is married. That wife, however, soon learns of her husband’s indiscretions and sends her minions out to capture Sun and Moon. Her cook is ordered to kill them and grind their flesh into hash. Later that night as her husband the rapist is eating the hash she cries out that he is, indeed, eating that which sprang from his loins. Later after that the nobleman learns that he did not actually eat his own children after all. The cook lied to her mistress; she had actually spared Sun and Moon and had substituted human flesh with goat meat which, I have been led to understand, does taste quite remarkably similar to the sweet tender flesh of children. When his wife finds out, she orders the capture of Sleeping Beauty and that she be burned at the stake. In the end, the rapist intervenes to save Sleeping Beauty.