Sleeping Beauty: the One who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass
Target Audience: Middle Grade
It's not easy being Princess Rose. Especially when a fairy curses you and you find yourself avoiding all sharp objects . . . and then end up pricking your finger anyway, causing you to slumber for a hundred years or so.
And it's not easy being The Prince. Especially when your mother has some ogre blood and tends to chow down at the most unfortunate moments. A walk in the woods would help, you think. Until you find a certain hidden castle . . . and a certain sleeping princess. Happily ever after? Not until the prince helps the princess awaken . . . and brings her home to Mother.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling with a perspective addition
Holy Unexpected Developments, Batman! Somebody included Perrault’s entirely unnecessary ending – and did it well, too! Color me utterly astonished!
But we’ll get to that.
So, as you may be able to ascertain from the title, this novel is from the same series as Rapunzel: The One With All the Hair. It’s called the Twice Upon a Time series, and it takes fairy tales and rewrites them for a younger audience, but in a way I can completely get behind because Wendy Mass knows how to write for this age group, and she does so very well.
Like Rapunzel’s, this is told in chapters that alternate back and forth between prince and princess, but for the sake of coherency, I’m gonna just do them one at a time, starting with Princess Rose.
Princess Rose is a Sleeping Beauty of the seven fairy godmothers variety, and the reason the grumpy fairy wasn’t invited is because there had been a rumor that she’d died, and as unpleasant as she was, no one was terribly heartbroken about it, or felt the need to poke around and see whether or not it was true. As soon as she arrived, however, a place was made for her, and one of the golden plates (specially commissioned for the event) would be made and sent to her as soon as possible.
But it’s no use trying to placate a fairy determined to feel slighted, so she lays her curse anyway – death by spindle. This one doesn’t give a time frame, either. Just, she’ll prick her finger on a spindle and die. Someday. Could be next week, could be when she’s 87. We’ll see.
Everyone’s in the typical uproar when the seventh fairy comes and makes her gift and changes the death to sleep, etc, etc. It’s all playing out pretty normally, including Father King outlawing spinning and weaving and sewing of any kind, but at least in this version, Mother Queen goes, “Dear? That’s a little bit overkill. People gotta make clothes, you know?” and they’re able to come to a compromise about bringing in clothes from other kingdoms to make sure everyone has something to wear.
And it occurs to me that, given that we don’t have a time frame, this could have ended poorly...
Anyway, like we saw last week, Rose grows up very over-protected, always supervised. It’s the way it’s always been for her, so it takes her a while to realize that anything’s amiss or different about the way she’s never alone. She has one friend who sticks by her, though, Sara, a peasant girl who becomes her lady in waiting.
Now, Rose was gifted with all the gifts traditional to Sleeping Beautys, and as a way to give thanks for it, she gives a performance every year, showing off her talents in dancing and singing and playing instruments, etc. But here’s what I love about this – Rose doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like doing this. She has never felt able to take compliments because it’s not really her. It’s just fairy magic, and she wants to know if she would have been good at those things without it.
So Rose sets off to find something she can do well. She takes up painting and horseback riding and cooking, and is miserable at all of them, and thrilled to be so. She may not be painting the most beautiful paintings, but at least they’re hers.
And in this way, she reaches 16, and at the age of 16, she goes on a trip to a summer home, and while exploring, she finds a visiting woman from another country who is weaving. Always eager to learn new skills, Rose asks if she can try, and she proves to be a natural. The woman asks if she’d like to try spinning, too, and of course, as soon as she does, she pricks her finger and falls into her sleep.
Fast forward 100 years.
Here we meet the Prince, who has no name. He is just The Prince because his parents couldn’t agree on a name, and then they just never got around to it, and by then, he’d been The Prince long enough that it was just easier to keep calling him that.
This isn’t the only unusual thing about The Prince – he also has to take care to avoid his mother on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. Why? Because she’s part ogre, and that’s when she feeds.
See? I told you Perrault got his crazy ending worked in!
Yes, the Prince’s mother is part ogre, and she can’t stand beautiful things, so when she became Queen, she had them removed from palace – all color and gilding and pretty servants. She can’t stand the sight of them. But other than that, and a need to eat people twice a month, she’s a perfectly lovely human being, and a very good Queen.
But all of this running around and hiding from his mother twice a month has given our Prince a pretty decent knowledge of the grounds surrounding his castle, and he has discovered something strange. In the middle of the forest, there seems to be another castle, identical to his, from what he can tell, but it’s surrounded by a huge hedge of briars he can’t get through.
The more he investigates, the more certain he becomes – that castle is just the same as his castle, and when he talks to the oldest people in the kingdom, it all becomes stranger. Seems that the king and queen of a hundred years ago had a daughter who just disappeared one day. And shortly after that, the castle moved about a hundred yards and the forest grew up overnight. The ruling of the kingdom then passed to another noble family, the Prince’s ancestors.
The Prince becomes obsessed with solving this mystery, and finds an account written and hidden in the library from the fairy who fixed the curse, and he becomes determined to find and rescue this sleeping princess.
And he does. On the day exactly 100 years since the curse was laid, the hedge of briars parts for him, and he is able to enter the castle, find the sleeping princess, and kiss her awake. And her really truly lovely response is, “Pardon my rudeness, but WHO THE HECK ARE YOU?” Which, if you think about it, is an appropriate response to waking up by a kiss from a complete stranger. Just saying.
Anyway, he explains everything, and Rose has to come to terms with the fact that the curse played out as planned, it’s 100 years later, and everyone she knew is gone. This is a pretty hard reality for her, but it is made easier by the discovery of Sara, waking up in the next room, who asked to sleep alongside Rose through her curse and be there when she woke (Rose’s parents asked the same thing, but the fairies gently told them that their destiny was to rule the kingdom while Rose slept).
So it seems we’ve reached the end, right? Curse is broken, girl’s awake, happily ever after? Well, there’s just one problem with that — Rose and Sara can’t leave the castle. The Prince can, but when the girls try, it’s like they’re being held back by an invisible wall. Rose has no idea what’s going on – this wasn’t part of the spell that she’s aware of. The Prince tells her to try and summon her fairy godmother, while he returns to his castle and investigates from there.
Rose has no luck, but the Prince does. The fairy appears to him, and tells him that there was, in fact, a second part to the spell that she didn’t tell anyone about (which, c’mon fairy, dick move, much?): Until both worlds unite/in welcome harmony/past and present as one/shall not grow to be. I agree with Sara – that’s a pretty sorry excuse for a rhyme, and geez, woman, hasn’t this girl been through enough?
Basically, what it means (pulling Perrault back into the mix) is that the Prince’s parents have to accept Rose before she can leave the castle. Which is a problem because Rose is the most beautiful girl ever, and the Prince’s mother is part-ogre and hates beauty. So Rose hacks her hair off and rubs dirt all over her face, and it works! I think less because of that and more because the Prince’s mother is a decent sort of woman who does want her son to be happy.
Now we’ve got our happily ever after, and the two castles actually merge back into one, and the forest disappears, and yeah. That’s that.
It’s a tale full of cheesiness, if we’re being honest, and there are parts where I rolled my eyes (like the name the Prince finally chooses for himself is “Princess Rose’s Husband” – gag me), but overall, I like what Mass has done with this one, and I like that she pulled elements of Perrault’s story and gave them a working and believable context. But let’s visit the checklist.
Make the characters more active in their story? I love that Rose wants to find what she’s good at beyond her fairy given gifts, and I love that she actively seeks those things out. I wish it had been integrated a little more, but at least it was there. For the Prince, I love how proactive he is. He’s curious and intelligent and seeks out the information about this castle and the princess and how to free her. So yes. Check.
Introduce more conflict? Yes, and by pulling Perrault in, too, which I feel like ought to get double points! The conflict didn’t come from the curse or the fairy, not really, it came from this ogre-mother and how she responds to Rose. Again, it could have been fleshed out a little more, but the conflict was there, and it was stronger than the original.
Explain the actions of the parents? Yes, largely by taking out the time frame. When you have no idea when bad things are going to befall, you kinda just have to let your kid live her life and deal with things as they come. I liked these parents. They seemed like good sorts.
Flesh the story out? Definitely. I was engaged and interested through out, and really pleased with some of the perspectives Mass offered.
Maybe it’s not the greatest work of literature you’ll ever read, but it’s a fun read, and it does some nice things with the story.