Earlier versions make for one very strange fairy tale when it comes to Sleeping Beauty. Perrault’s tale was published in 1697, but an even earlier version was published in 1634 by Giambattista Bastile under the title Sun, Moon and Talia. The two versions not only differ from one another but even more so from today’s well-known tale, strongly influenced by Disney. So here is a brief summary of Perrault’s version, La Belle au bois dormant:
La Belle au bois dormant
Once upon a time, there was a king and queen who were blessed with a daughter. The whole kingdom is invited for the princess’s christening, including seven good fairies who each bestows a magical gift upon the princess. However an eighth fairy is left out, uninvited and alienated, because her lack of appearance in everyday life led the king and queen to believe she was dead. To punish the king and queen for their disrespect, she curses the child, declaring she would pierce her hand on a spindle and die. Thankfully, the last of the seven good fairies still had her gift to bestow upon the princess and although not powerful enough to lift the curse, she prophesied that the princess would indeed pierce her hand on a spindle, but instead of dying, would fall into a deep sleep that would last a hundred years, after which a prince would come and wake her up. Fifteen or sixteen years later, the young princess while wandering the castle, meets an old woman spinning in the tower. Spinning being banned in the kingdom, the princess curiously wants to try it and after grasping the spindle, she pierces her hand and falls asleep. With grief, her parents place her in a bed in the nicest apartments of the castle and ask a fairy to put everyone and everything in the castle to sleep, only to be reawaken when the princess herself opens her eyes once again. They leave, and a forest of brambles grows around the castle, protecting it from the outside world for a hundred years. One day, a prince walks by, and having heard of the legend of the beautiful princess sleeping in a castle hidden in the forest, decides to have a look for himself. As he approaches the forest, the trees part, letting him enter unharmed. He eventually reaches the castle where he finds the princess, and kneels next to her, admiring her beauty. The enchantment coming to an end, the princess wakes up and they get married, however the prince keeps it a secret from his parents (his mother is an ogress) and his wife remains in her castle. Two years pass, and two children are born: Aurora and Day. When the king dies, the prince is in turn crowned king and brings his family back to his kingdom. But as war strikes the land, he leaves his family and kingdom in the care of his mother. The latter decides to eat Aurora, Day and the queen and asks her steward to kill them. Instead, the steward kills a lamb, a goat and a hind and hides the queen and her children in his own home where they are cared for by his wife. When the ogress discovers her step daughter still alive, she commands for her, her children, the steward and his wife to be thrown into a pit filled with toads, vipers, adders and serpents. Unexpectedly, the king arrives home and discovers the scene before him. His mother, upset to have been found out, throws herself into the pit and is immediately eaten. The king and queen then live on a prosperous life with their children.
The Grimm’s version, Briar Rose, is very similar, however does not feature Perrault’s second part with the ogress mother and the children. The story ends after the prince kisses the princess, effectively breaking the curse. They get married and live happily ever after. There are also thirteen wise women instead of eight fairies. In Perrault’s version, the eighth fairy gets very insulted not because she wasn’t invited because everyone thought she was dead, but because the king only had seven golden plates and cutlery and the eighth fairy was therefore only given a regular set. In Grimm’s version, the king simply doesn’t invite the thirteenth wise woman because he only owns twelve golden plates. She curses the young princess to prick her finger on a spindle on her fifteenth birthday and die but the twelfth good wise woman alters the curse so that she will only fall in a deep sleep. After the princess pricks her finger, the deep sleep spreads throughout the castle, the king and queen falling asleep themselves. As the years pass, a briar hedge begins to grow higher and higher each year, eventually hiding the entire castle from view. Many princes and kings try to penetrate the forest but fail and die; and it is only after a hundred years have passed that a young prince, having heard stories of the princess ‘Briar Rose’, decides to approach the hedge. As he does, the hedge turns into flowers, letting him through. Disney’s version has clearly been inspired by Grimm’s tale which is actually much more acceptable than Perrault’s and the 1634 versions.
Indeed, here is a brief summary of the 1634 Italian tale Sun, Moon and Talia:
Sun, Moon and Talia
The tale begins with a Lord who names his daughter Talia at her birth. He calls upon fortunetellers and wise men to reveal his daughter’s future and they soon come to the conclusion that something terrible will befall her in the form of a piece of stalk from some flax. So he prohibits flax from being brought into his home hoping to prevent this misfortune. Talia grows up and one day sees a woman spinning. Having never seen a spindle in her life before, Talia curiously tries it out, drawing out the thread. However, when a piece of stalk from the flax gets stuck under her fingernail she falls dead. The Lord, miserable, does not bury her but rather lies her on a velvet seat in a palace which he locks up and leaves, hoping to move on from this disastrous event. One day, a King passes by and his falcon suddenly flows in the palace through the window but doesn’t return. The King knocks at the door but having no response, climbs through the window hoping to retrieve the bird. He encounters Talia’s body which he tries to wake up but to no avail. He then carries her to the bed and rapes her (“Being on fire with love, he carried her to a couch and, having gathered the fruits of love, left her lying there”) before returning to his kingdom, forgetting about the whole affair. Meanwhile Talias gives birth to two beautiful children, a twin brother and sister who are then taken care of by two fairies. One day, they mistakenly take her finger and suck, drawing out the splinter. Talia then awakes, and finding the two children, she takes great care of them and loves them with all her heart. She calls them Sun and Moon. Eventually the King remembers Talia and one day decides to go back and see her. He finds her awake with her two children and, after revealing who he is, they become lovers. He returns to his kingdom, promising to come back for them. Unfortunately, the King is already married, and the wife grows suspicious of her husband’s long journeys and the names he whispers in his sleep. The queen gets the king’s secretary to tell her everything and sends him to fetch the children. He does so, and she then instructs for them to be cooked for dinner for her husband. The cook however, seeing the two beautiful children, cannot go through with it and instead hides the children under his wife’s care and apparently cooks two other random children. The king eats the dinner – which he enjoys – and after an argument with his wife, leaves to calm down in a villa further away. The queen then decides to have Talia killed so she sends the secretary to fetch her. She has a large fire lighted in which she intend to throw Talia whom she blames of having seduced her husband. Talia apologizes but to no avail. In order to stall for time, she asks that she be given the permission to take her clothes off; the queen, jealous of the beautiful garments, agrees. As Talia is about to be thrown in the flames, the king arrives and demands an explanation. When he learns the truth about his wife and his children, he has the queen thrown into the flames, as well as the secretary and the cook. The latter quickly reveals he saved his children and is therefore rewarded. The King takes Talia as his queen and they all live a happy life.
The story is entirely more disturbing than the ‘cleansed’ versions of Perrault and Grimm. While the notion of cannibalism was present in Snow White, the evil queen never did eat the princess’s heart; however in this story, the king does eat two children, even if he isn’t aware of it.