Sleeping Beauty

Grimm’s Fairy Tales are cemented into our memory more by Disney than by storybooks. Like most stories in oral traditions, the tales morph from one version to another as they are inherited from one generation to another. Sleeping Beauty, like others, was collected by the brothers Grimm and almost did not make the book compilation for its lack of German roots.

Photo by Skylar Kang on

The earliest printed version of a similar story in found in the medieval courtly romance, Perceforest. These six books of tales lay foundation for the King Arthur stories as well. Published in 1528, the princess Zellandine falls in love with Troylus. Her father sends him on quest to prove his worthiness and while he is gone, she falls into an enchanted sleep. He impregnates her in her sleep and when their child is born, it sucks the flax from her finger that caused her to sleep. He later returns to marry her.  

Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 648, ISBN 0-393-97636-X.

Another version was written in 1634 by Giambattista Basile as an Italian literary fairy tale in his work Pentamerone. He called the tale Sun, Moon, and Talia. The same tale was retold by Frenchman Charles Perrault in 1697 as Sleeping Beauty. Notice there are no German connections yet. The tale has traveled from Great Britain to Italy to France.

The Italian and French synopsis are similar to the 1528 tale except the heroine, Talia, is warned about the splinter of flax by a horoscope. Her father demanded no flax ever be brought into his house. Years later, Talia sees an old woman spinning flax on a spindle and asks to help. A splinter of flax goes under her fingernail and she drops, apparently dead. Talia’s father hides her away in a country estate since he cannot bear to bury her. 

Later a king follows his falcon into the estate while hunting and discovers Talia. Overcome by her beauty, he tries to wake her. “He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to a bed, where he gathered the first fruits of love.” Sleeping Beauty ( He returns to his own city whereas Talia gives birth to twins (a boy and a girl) nine months later. The girl sucks the flax splinter from her mother’s finger which awakens her. Talia names the children Sun and Moon.

The king returns to discover them but he is already married. His wife, the queen, hears him calling out their names in his sleep and orders them cooked and served to the king. The cook hides the children instead and prepares two lambs for the feast.

The queen tries to burn Talia in the courtyard but the king stops her. The cook reveals that he has saved the children so the king throws the queen into the fire instead. Talia and the king marry, and the cook is rewarded with a royal title.

Making it German

The Grimm Brothers added Little Briar Rose to their collection in 1812. In their version, they recollect the Brynhild tale. In that story, Sigurd wakes Brynhild in a flame wall where Othin had stabbed her with a sleeping thorn. That previous tale convinced them to include it as an authentically German tale. However, no other Teutonic myths have sleepers awakened with a kiss.  The Grimm version  does not add the second half of the story with the birth of the twins. They do have another tale, The Evil Mother-in-law, where the mother-in-law- attempts to eat the children but an animal dish is substituted.

Sigurd and Brynhild

Little Briar Rose aka Sleeping Beauty

A royal couple yearns for a child when a frog announces the birth of the queen. Twelve fairies bless the child. The thirteenth is upset because there is no gold left for her and she curses the child to die by a spindle in her fifteenth year. One last fairy mitigates the death to 100 years of sleep. The king burns all the spindles. At fifteen, the girl finds an old woman spinning, grabs the spindle, stabs herself and falls asleep. The whole castle falls into an enchanted sleep and thorns grow all around. The word is told far and wide of the Sleeping Beauty in the castle but the princes who seek her die miserably in the thorns. When a hundred years pass, the thorns turn to flowers and a prince gets through to her, awakens her with a kiss, everyone else awakens, and celebrates the wedding.

Modern Times

Sleeping Beauty has been the subject of at least 19 films, paradies, and books. Of course, the evil fairy gets her own Disney tale in Maleficent, 2014. So whether calling the Sleeping Beauty tale a German one is a stretch or not, it has certainly endured more than 100 years of slumber.

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