Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sleeping Beauty (According to Cassie)

Sleeping Beauty (According to Cassie)

So, basically, as happens so often in these things, we have a king and a queen who really want a baby, but aren’t having one for some reason until they do. It’s a girl, and what happens next depends on whose version you read.

A christening is planned, and the girl is given three or seven or twenty-one fairy godparents, who are each to bestow a gift upon the child, but the thing is, there’s another fairy in the kingdom who doesn’t get invited. The reason varies from story to story. You’ve got the pretty bad reason – the royals just forgot she existed – and then the really dumb reason – they left someone off the guest list because they didn’t have enough golden plates. I mean, seriously? You couldn’t just go buy another golden plate? Like, for reals?

Anyway, the Left Out Fairy is understandably pissed, so she shows up anyway, in the middle of the christening, after every fairy godparent but one has given their silly gifts of beauty and grace and musicianship and what have you, to show her displeasure. And rather than focus it on the parents who did the actual insulting, this fairy decides to curse the helpless infant princess who has pretty much done nothing except be born at this point.

The Petty and Petulant Fairy (I’m not calling her Evil because in the originals, anyway, she’s usually not) announces that the princess will live for fifteen years, but on her sixteenth (or eighteenth or twenty-first) birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die.

Everyone is horrified, because geez, over-reacting much? But then the last fairy steps forward to give her gift, and her gift is to change the nature of the Ego-Bruised Fairy’s curse – the princess won’t die. She’ll just sleep for a hundred years! Because, yeah, that’s totally better. . .

I mean, seriously, if you have the power to change the gift, couldn’t you shorten the time frame a bit? Like, she sleeps for a year? But anyway, the fairy changes the death to a hundred year sleep, saying that the curse will be broken when the princess’s True Love comes to kiss her awake.

And then the king goes, “I have a better idea. Let’s just destroy all the spinning wheels ever and forget this ever happened because that will totally take care of the problem!” I hope whatever clothes exist in the kingdom currently will serve everyone for the next couple decades, because your king just told you that you won’t be making any more thread anytime soon.

And apparently, this is a king who is really confident in his decreeing power, because not only do he and the queen not tell their daughter about this curse, they’re out of town on the day when the curse is supposed to be enacted.

. . . Okay, so, let me get this straight. Your daughter is cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and either die or fall into a century-long sleep, depending on whose magic was stronger, and you happen to have the exact day this will all happen, your course of action is to 1) destroy all the spinning wheels (supposedly) so that your daughter will never know what one looks like, 2) leave her completely ignorant of the fact that the curse exists and there are things she should avoid touching, and 3) leave her completely alone on the day you know the curse is supposed to come to pass?

. . . Keep up the parenting, dude, you’re doing a stellar job.

Anyway, not surprising to me in the slightest, the princess stumbles across an old woman in the palace with a spinning wheel, who apparently has moved in since the king’s decree. To be clear, this is not the Grudge-Holding Fairy in disguise, it’s just an innocent old lady going about her business. The princess, never having seen a spinning wheel before because her father is somehow simultaneously the most over-protective and negligent father of all time ever, is intrigued, and asks if she can try. And she pricks her finger and falls down as if dead because she was never given the necessary knowledge to avoid this fate.

So the unconscious princess is taken up to the highest room of the tallest tower and laid out on the bed, and then the fairy shows up and puts everyone in the castle to sleep alongside her – usually. Not always, though. Sometimes the princess alone sleeps and everyone else just goes about her business, which has to kinda suck.

The fairy also encloses the castle in thick briars, presumably for protection, though we’re never told.

And then we sit and wait and nothing happens for a hundred years.

Now, see, if this was me, I would have handled what goes down next a little differently. The characters in this fairy tale are in the unique position of knowing exactly dates and time frames. The curse will happen on the princess’s sixteenth birthday. The princess will sleep for 100 years. It’s hard to miscalculate, is what I’m saying.

So, me, I’d have posted a sign or something: Hey. There’s a cursed princess sleeping in this castle. On this date, somebody should go wake her up or something.

Or, you know, at least passed the story down so people knew. I can sort of understand the parents not doing this; there may not have been time. But this good fairy? Yeah, she puts everybody to sleep and then disappears. Far be it from me to tell a godparent how to look after their godchild, but, uh . . . seems to me you could maybe be a little more involved? Nope? Okay.

Anyway, with the briars growing up around the castle and everyone being put to sleep and the fairies disappearing, the result 100 years later is that no one really knows anything about the castle and the princess and the curse. There’s tons of stories flying around, but they’re all rumors and hearsay, and honestly, the prince who finally makes it through to the palace is just trying to solve that mystery as much as anything else.

And again, how grim this part of the story gets depends on who’s telling it. In some versions, lots of princes have tried to get to the castle, but have been killed by the briars, until this One True Love prince comes by at the right time. In other stories, he’s the only one who ever really gets curious about a castle buried by roses bushes.

Either way, he sets out to get to the castle, and the briars . . . part for him. Evidence of his suitability, some might say. Me, I’m more cynically inclined to read this as yet another moment of inactive passivity, but we’ll get to that.

And then it’s the iconic scene, where he finds the princess on the bed, is overcome by her beauty, and kisses her – not because he knows it will wake her or break the curse mind you, just kisses the for-all-he-knows-dead girl – or, if you’re Perrault, just walks into the room and his presence is enough to break the curse and wake her up.

And so, with no one really having done anything at all, we reach happily ever after in possibly the most anti-climactic fairy tale climax ever.

Unless you’re Charles Perrault, in which case, you tack a whole other fairy tale onto the end of this one involving a stepmother who’s part ogress trying to eat the prince and Sleeping Beauty’s babies. Because why not?

Thoughts on this story?

I took a seminar on this fairy tale in college, so I’m pretty intimately familiar with it, and I actually have written a full length novel adaptation of it, addressing my issues with the story. And the biggest one is this:

Nothing happens in this story. Seriously. Nothing happens. Girl is cursed, she falls asleep, a prince walks in, she wakes up. That’s it. This story is boring. And stupid as Perrault’s tacked-on ending is, at least someone does something in it. There’s a villain and conflict and action. But the bulk of what happens in the tale of Sleeping Beauty we all know? There’s none of that.

Checklist? Checklist.

Make the characters more active in their own story. Seriously, this is the fairy tale of People Who Had Things Happen to Them. The most active anyone gets is the evil fairy responding to something that didn’t happen, and the good fairy, who reacts with a solution that is possibly more passive than dying. I would like someone, anyone, to do something. Anything. Please.

Introduce more conflict. I’d like something to be at stake, beyond the evil fairy going, “YOU DIDN’T HAVE A GOLDEN PLATE FOR ME?? CURSED!” and then just kind of losing interest. This is a plot that desperately needs a driving force behind it. Give me one.

Explain the actions of the parents. Seriously. Parents of the Year, these guys. I desperately need an explanation – why didn’t they tell Sleeping Beauty about her curse? Why would they leave her alone on the day the curse is supposed to be enacted? And why would a man who lives in a place inundated with magic and fairies really think he could dispel the curse by going, “Burn ALL the spinning wheels!”

Flesh the story out. We get very few details here, on what is not a very long story, unless you’re Perrault and really need to add a wicked stepmother somewhere. Give me background and detail, and you’re golden. Find a way to work Perrault’s ending in and get me to commit to it? You’re super-human.        
Like Cinderella, there are a lot of novels to choose from, but the line-up for the month after careful deliberation is:

Week 1: Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey
Week 2: Sleeping Beauty: The One Who Took a Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass
Week 3: A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
Week 4: A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Week 5: Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

Feel free to read along!

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