Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose: A Fairy Tale of Transformation

At the heart of each fairy tale lies a kernel of wisdom about man and this  wisdom nourishes the children. They are truly hungry for it.  -- Dorothy Harrer Educating as an Art: Essays on Waldorf Education

The tale of the sleeping princess is a tale of transformation. The earliest version of the story is French and dates back to the 1300s with Le Roman de Perceforest.  
Giambattista Basile wrote the first full collection of fairy tales, Il Pentamerone, in 1634, and included Sun, Moon and Talia, a sleeping beauty tale. The versions we are more familiar with are Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (1697) and the Brothers Grimm Briar Rose, 1812.

Briar Rose Waldorf Illustration
Briar Rose Illustration by Claudia Marie

In all varieties of this tale, there are magical women who attend the celebration of the child's birth, either goddesses or fairies, and bestow gifts upon the newborn child. One of the fairies is snubbed and puts a curse on the child.

“How wonderful it is to hold an infant and wonder about the new gifts that the child has brought to earth," wrote Waldorf Kindergrten teacher Joan Almon. "To be in the presence of the newborn is like stepping into the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and watching the twelve wise women come forward to bestow their special gifts . . . When we think of the child as animal-like or machine-like, we play the role of this thirteenth wise woman who wished death upon the child without the possibility of transformation or metamorphosis. Fortunately in the fairy tale, the twelfth wise woman had not yet made her wish and she now came forward. The story says she could not take away the evil sentence, but she could soften it, and she said, ‘There will be no death but a deep sleep of one hundred years.’ We are being asked to be the twelfth wise woman for today’s children, taking away the sting of materialism, the denial of the spirit, which so threatens the spirit of childhood. 

Warwick Goble Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty by Warwick Goble
Margaret Tarrant Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty by Margaret Tarrant

In the earliest tales of Sleeping Beauty, the princess is raped in her sleep and bears a child. The Perrault and Grimm versions clean up the tale to one that is more suitable for young children.

The essential transformation in the tale is puberty, according to Bruno Bettelheim, "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales." Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on the spindle is a symbol for menstruation. Teenagers must go through a long sleep as they mature into adulthood.

However, young children will not understand the puberty symbolism. They will see it as a tale of transformation, a tale of triumph over death, a story that portrays the value of patience. There is a time for every season, no need to hurry. A nice long sleep is good for the flowers in the garden and good for the human spirit as well. 

Sleeping Beauty by fantasy artist Kinuko Y. Craft
Sleeping Beauty by C.M. Burd

Sleeping Beauty Martina Muller

Read more about Sleeping Beauty: