I’ve been fascinated with the story of Sleeping Beauty for some time. As a child, the moment when Malificent changes into a dragon in the Disney version was one of the most terrifying and exciting for my young mind. The big, black dragon scared the hell out of me, but I couldn’t look away.
Years later, I discovered Anne Rice’s erotic novel, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which tells a very naughty version of the story after Prince Charming awakens the ensorcelled heroine. Rice’s novel contains a fair degree of S&M and isn’t anything like the Disney movie.
And yet, both images of the classic fairytale stay with me. In the first, a jealous witch casts a spell on the princess, taking her away from her family. In the second, a brutish prince also takes her from her family and subjects her to sexual slavery.
It kind of sucks to be Sleeping Beauty.
Both versions of the tale, which have little in common for the most part, share one very important trait. Sleeping Beauty is some sort of object that is manipulated by others. This woman isn’t allowed her own destiny or her own decisions. Someone else decides it for her and for their own ends. Malificent doesn’t ask Aurora if she wants to run away or hurt her family in some way of her own choosing. She causes her to prick her finger on a spindle.
Rice’s Prince doesn’t ask the woman he’s rescued if she wants to marry him or what she might like to do now that she is free. He takes her away and forces her to submit to kink.
All this was working on my mind when I first sat down to write a new version of the story for a contest several years ago. I wanted to bring the fairytale into the 21st Century. It didn’t seem too likely a modern teenager would prick her finger on a spindle. It also seemed odd to have an adult cast a spell on her out of jealousy.
But if that adult instead had a misguided sense of trying to protect her, well, that might be something.
That adult is her father in my version of the tale. Rex is obsessed with the idea of his 14-year-old daughter Beth having sex. Or rather, he’s convinced he has to do something or she will. Thus, he goes in search of the spell that can “preserve” her and meets a witch with a potion that will drop Beth into a coma.
Once again, Sleeping Beauty’s destiny is not her own. Someone else, this time her father, decides she belongs to him . . . until such time as someone marries her, when Rex will presumably believe she belongs to her husband. He tells his wife Marie, when explaining what he’s done, that Beth will “be chaste and pristine until the perfect man comes along to marry her.” When Marie wants to know how she’ll meet the perfect man, Rex replies, “When she is old enough, I’ll choose someone.”
The implication is pretty clear. Rex believes he owns Beth.
In my version of the story, Rex is obviously the villain. I leave no doubt this isn’t how we should treat our daughters, or women at all. He’s not much nicer to his wife.
It’s important to note, though, that Rex believes he is the hero of the story. He thinks he is saving Beth, protecting her from dangers she doesn’t understand or perceive. In his mind, he’s just being a good father.
No matter which version of Sleeping Beauty we’re looking at, there’s a lot of context for discussion of our treatment of women as a society. Somewhere along the way, Sleeping Beauty’s essential personhood gets lost. She becomes just an object for heroes and villains to manipulate. That’s not right. Someone needs to ask her her opinion.
Next week, I’ll discuss another character in the story — Marie. She too objectifies Beth, although in a very different way. I’ll look at that and how it’s wrong too.
“Sleeping Beauty” is available from Amazon.com for your Kindle here.