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The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Today's installment of The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales we are covering Sleeping Beauty. We all know what the Disney version is, Briar Rose grows up in the woods with the three fairies and then she gets stuck by a magic spinning wheel and falls into a sleep, when this happens the whole castle sleeps. Eventually vines cover the castle and its hidden from view. A wandering prince finds the castle and eventually gives Briar Rose a kiss which wakes her and everyone else in the castle. The same can't be said for the original story. There are two popular versions of the Sleeping Beauty story, one from The Brothers Grimm and the other from Charles Perrault. There is also a third version, widely considered to be the first appearance of Sleeping Beauty.


The Brothers Grimm Version

The Brothers Grimm version of Sleeping Beauty to me is the closest to the Disney version. It starts with the King and Queen wishing for a child. She gets blessing from the fairies and one of the fairies tells her parents that she will prick her finger and die when she is thirteen. However the twelfth fairy was very smart and changed the thirteenth fairies blessing from death to her going into a 100 year sleep. She eventually fulfills these blessings and she falls into a 100 year sleep on her fifteenth birthday. Legend circulated about the Sleeping Briar Rose and many princes tried and failed to get through the rose hedge around the castle. When one prince finally gets through he sees sleeping animals and people as he makes his way to the tower that Briar Rose is sleeping in, he gives her a kiss and the castle wakes. They end up getting married and live happily together until their deaths.


Charles Perrault Version

The Charles Perrault version is very similar to the Brothers Grimm version. However the discovery of the princess is different. The king's son discovers Briar Rose and as soon as he enters her room she awakes. They got married and he leaves every day to go back to his home. Two years later and they have had 2 children. At the end of those two years the King dies and the Prince makes the announcement that he has married and has two children. He brings them to his home. After bringing them home the new King declared war on one of his neighbors and left his mother in charge of the kingdom while he was gone fighting. As soon as the King left the mother sent Briar Rose and her two children to a country mansion in the forest. The mother at this point told her chief steward that she was going to eat Dawn (one of the children), due to her being part Ogress the chief steward didn't fight her on it. However he didn't kill Dawn but rather a lamb and served the Queen Regent. The next day the Queen Regent wanted to eat Day (the other child) and the chief steward did the same thing but with a goat. The Queen Regent then wanted the Queen to be her next meal, and because the Queen (Briar Rose) was not informed that the chief steward was hiding her children she believed that the Queen Regent had eaten them, she begged for death. The Queen Regent was served what she though was the Queen and she was very pleased with herself. She planned to tell the King that a pack of wolves had eaten his wife and children. She was prowling the castle one night and heard the children crying from their hiding spot in the cellar. The next morning she set up a vat full of spiders and snakes and frogs and toads and was planning to push the Queen and her children as well as her chief steward and his wife and a serving girl all into this vat. Just as they were to be pushed in the King rode into the courtyard and demanded to know what was going on. Noone wanted to tell him and the Queen Regent threw herself into the vat.


Giambattista Basile Version

Sleeping Beauty first appeared alongside The Cat Cinderella in Basile's Pentamerone. Then titled Sun, Moon, Talia, the 1634 story begins much the same as the animated Disney adaptation released in 1959. Upon birth, Princess Talia is cursed with the threat of a splinter, and, when grown, is pricked and falls into an eternal slumber. Heartbroken, her father lays her in a velvet chair and leaves the castle forever. Here's where things go awry...

Everyone knows Sleeping Beauty was awoken by true love's kiss, but Basile tells a different tale. A King from a nearby kingdom happened upon the abandoned castle and Talia's lifeless body. Taken by her beauty, the King raped and impregnated the slumbering princess. In her slumber, Talia gives birth to twins, Sun and Moon. Searching for breast milk, a baby sucks the splinter out of his mother's finger and she wakes up. The King returns to see Talia again and is delighted to discover the fruits of his conquest.

It's only a matter of time before the Queen discovers her husband's infidelities and orders his babies to be cooked and fed to him. Unbeknownst to the Queen, the cook hides the children and serves goat, instead. When the Queen attempts to throw Talia into a burning fire, the King intercepts and burns his wife alive. Talia marries the King and they live happily ever after as predator and wife.

It was Charles Perrault who introduced fairies to The Sleeping Beauty, or Little Briar Rose, and he replaced the married King with a dashing bachelor Prince. The Prince's mother took on the role of evil queen, and instead of feeding the twins to someone else, she threatened to eat them herself. When the Queen attempted to throw Sleeping Beauty into a pit of vipers the Prince heroically saved his bride while his mother jumped to her death.


There are two options for movies to see that cover the Sleeping Beauty story. Into the Woods or the Disney Version Sleeping Beauty.


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