Evolution of Fairy Tales: Sleeping Beauty

Today I’m going to tackle the story of Sleeping Beauty. I’ll be comparing the version written by Charles Perrault in 1697 to the 1959 animate Disney film. Perrault’s version seems to be inspired by an Italian tale called Sun, Moon, and Talia, written by Giambattista Basile in 1634. It’s not quite so family friendly, so I won’t discuss it here. Perrault’s telling is much tamer.

Spinning Wheel


A princess is born and seven fairies are invited to a feast to celebrate her birth. Each fairy is given a gift upon arrival. An eighth fairy, overlooked because she had been absent for so long, arrived and was offended when she didn’t receive a gift. The first six fairies bless the baby princess with gifts like beauty and grace. The angry fairy places a curse on her, that she will prick her hand on a spindle and die. The seventh fairy is able to change the curse. The princess will prick her hand, but she will not die. She will fall into a 100-year sleep and only a kiss from a prince will wake her. The king outlaws spindles and spinning wheels, hoping to avoid the curse.

Many years pass, but one day, while the king and queen are away, the princess discovers an old woman using a spindle. She asks to be shown how to use it, and pricks her finger. Immediately, she falls asleep. The fairy who changed the curse puts the entire palace to sleep, so that the princess will not be alone when she wakes. Then she grows a forest of thorns around the castle to protect it until the one hundred years are over.

A hundred years later, a prince is hunting in the forest. He comes across the castle and discovers the beautiful sleeping princess within. He wakes her up and the two are married. The prince keeps his marriage, and eventually two children, a secret from his mother, who is an ogre. (Or at least partially. It depends on the telling. How that happened is never really explained.) When the prince becomes king, he brings his family to his home.

The prince’s mother (or the Ogress Queen Mother, as Perrault calls her) sends the new queen and her children to a secluded house in the woods. Then she sends a cook to kill and prepare the two children for her to eat. The cook fools her by preparing a goat and a lamb. She demands that he cook the young queen. The young queen, thinking her children are dead, begs to be killed as well, but the cook refuses and again tricks the prince’s mother.

The prince’s mother soon realizes that she has been fooled and prepares a pit full of venomous snakes and other horrible creatures, when the prince suddenly arrives. (Well, now he’s a king. This is why we name characters. It gets too confusing when you have a prince who becomes king, plus his mother the queen and his wife the queen.) His mother is exposed for trying to kill his family. She jumps in the pit, dies horribly, and everyone lives happily ever after.


The king and queen are holding a celebration for their newborn daughter. It is announced that she is betrothed to Prince Phillip, the son of a neighboring king. Three kind fairies come to bless the princess, but before the third can bestow her gift, an evil fairy, Maleficent, appears and curses her. Before the sun sets on the princess’s sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. The third fairy is able to use her gift to weaken the curse. She will not die, but fall into a death-like sleep. True love’s kiss is the only way to wake her up again.

The three fairies take the princess, Aurora, to a cottage in the woods. They vow to raise her without magic so Maleficent won’t be able to find her. Meanwhile, all spinning wheels have been outlawed by the king.

The day before Aurora turns sixteen, she meets a boy in the woods. (Oh look, a strange man! I must love him! *eyeroll*) They fall in love over a song, not realizing that they are, in fact, betrothed. Aurora finds out later that she is a princess and prepares to return home, deeply saddened by the loss of her new boyfriend. Once back at the castle, she is led off by Maleficent’s magic and pricks her finger on a sharp pointy thing.

The fairies put the whole castle to sleep and seek out Aurora’s mystery man from the woods. Because, obviously, he loves her. After speaking to her once. He has been kidnapped by Maleficent, who gloats in proper villain style. The fairies free him and he rides off to Aurora’s rescue.

Maleficent makes things difficult, raising a forest of vines and thorns, but Prince Phillip has a sword, so we know who wins that round. Then she turns into a dragon, but the prince has the fairies to help, so he defeats her again. (For good, this time.) He rushes to Aurora, kisses her, wakes her up, and escorts her to the ball downstairs. (Because the first thing you do after waking up from a magical sleep is party.) They realize that they can get married and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

You’ll have to excuse the snark in this post. Despite my admiration for fairy tales, I have to admit that they can often be quite ridiculous. I didn’t feel like filtering my comments today.

So what do you think? Did the Perrault version surprise you?

Until next time, fellow wonderers!

3 thoughts on “Evolution of Fairy Tales: Sleeping Beauty

  1. Excellent post, and if anything I appreciate the snark. Fairy tales really do have their ridiculous moments. Admittedly though, I’m surprised that you didn’t bring up the events of the recent movie Maleficent as that does give a slightly more reasonable look at the story. I forgot about the Ogress ending with Perrault though. Where did the Ogress come from? And is she the prince/king’s stepmother or is he half-ogre now?

    1. I thought about talking about Maleficent, but it seemed like too many versions, because I would have wanted to the Italian version as well. And I have no idea about the mother. Fairy tales like to be complicated, I guess.

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