This is my second attempt to map the fairytale heroine’s journey in a specific tale. I’m calling this project Mapping the Fairytale Heroine’s Journey. As you may know if you’re following along, I started with a blog post called “The Heroine’s Journey,” in which I listed ten steps or stages the fairytale heroine goes through. Then, I took a look at “Snow White” to see if I could find those steps. In that blog post, “Heroine’s Journey: Snow White,” I refined the list of steps. So right now it looks like this:
1. The heroine receives gifts.
2. The heroine leaves or loses her home.
3. The heroine goes into the dark forest.
4. The heroine finds a temporary home.
5. The heroine finds friends and helpers.
6. The heroine learns to work.
7. The heroine endures temptations and trials.
8. The heroine dies or visits the dead.
9. The heroine finds her true partner.
10. The heroine is revived or revives another.
11. The heroine enters her true home.
12. The heroine’s tormentor is punished.
My hypothesis is that certain fairy tales, specifically tales about a heroine’s maturation process, follow a series of steps that can occur in different order but have an overall trajectory. Where does this journey come from? Parts of it remind me of myth, parts remind me of ritual (such as rites of passage), but what it reminds me of most is women’s lives: the lives of friends of mine, who go through dark forests and find friends and helpers, who endure temptations and trials. What interests me is narrative structure: the way we tell stories about women’s lives.
So, on to my second fairy tale: “Sleeping Beauty.” Let’s see if the structure works . . . This is the version by Charles Perrault, translated by Andrew Lang (or his wife, who did a lot of the translating, uncredited). It was published in The Blue Fairy Book (1889).
1. The heroine receives gifts.
We know this one, right? This is the gift-giving scene par excellence. If any fairy tale emphasizes the gifts, it is “Sleeping Beauty.”
There were formerly a king and a queen, who were so sorry that they had no children; so sorry that it cannot be expressed. They went to all the waters in the world; vows, pilgrimages, all ways were tried, and all to no purpose.
At last, however, the Queen had a daughter. There was a very fine christening; and the Princess had for her godmothers all the fairies they could find in the whole kingdom (they found seven), that every one of them might give her a gift, as was the custom of fairies in those days. By this means the Princess had all the perfections imaginable.
After the ceremonies of the christening were over, all the company returned to the King’s palace, where was prepared a great feast for the fairies. There was placed before every one of them a magnificent cover with a case of massive gold, wherein were a spoon, knife, and fork, all of pure gold set with diamonds and rubies. But as they were all sitting down at table they saw come into the hall a very old fairy, whom they had not invited, because it was above fifty years since she had been out of a certain tower, and she was believed to be either dead or enchanted.
The King ordered her a cover, but could not furnish her with a case of gold as the others, because they had only seven made for the seven fairies. The old Fairy fancied she was slighted, and muttered some threats between her teeth. One of the young fairies who sat by her overheard how she grumbled; and, judging that she might give the little Princess some unlucky gift, went, as soon as they rose from table, and hid herself behind the hangings, that she might speak last, and repair, as much as she could, the evil which the old Fairy might intend.
In the meanwhile all the fairies began to give their gifts to the Princess. The youngest gave her for gift that she should be the most beautiful person in the world; the next, that she should have the wit of an angel; the third, that she should have a wonderful grace in everything she did; the fourth, that she should dance perfectly well; the fifth, that she should sing like a nightingale; and the sixth, that she should play all kinds of music to the utmost perfection.
Of course, the princess is then cursed, and that curse is mitigated by the seventh fairy.
The old Fairy’s turn coming next, with a head shaking more with spite than age, she said that the Princess should have her hand pierced with a spindle and die of the wound. This terrible gift made the whole company tremble, and everybody fell a-crying.
At this very instant the young Fairy came out from behind the hangings, and spake these words aloud:
“Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, that your daughter shall not die of this disaster. It is true, I have no power to undo entirely what my elder has done. The Princess shall indeed pierce her hand with a spindle; but, instead of dying, she shall only fall into a profound sleep, which shall last a hundred years, at the expiration of which a king’s son shall come and awake her.”
You can already see two later steps implied by this scene: the heroine will metaphorically die (by falling into a death-like sleep) and will find her true partner, identified as the one who can wake her.
2. The heroine dies or visits the dead.
Wait, that’s supposed to come later, right? But I mentioned that the steps don’t always happen in the same order. Here the heroine dies first, and then all sorts of other things happen.
About fifteen or sixteen years after, the King and Queen being gone to one of their houses of pleasure, the young Princess happened one day to divert herself in running up and down the palace; when going up from one apartment to another, she came into a little room on the top of the tower, where a good old woman, alone, was spinning with her spindle. This good woman had never heard of the King’s proclamation against spindles.
“What are you doing there, goody?” said the Princess.
“I am spinning, my pretty child,” said the old woman, who did not know who she was.
“Ha!” said the Princess, “this is very pretty; how do you do it? Give it to me, that I may see if I can do so.”
3. The heroine endures temptations and trials.
I think of this as the princess’s first temptation: she is drawn to the spindle and touches it, even though it is not hers, she has no permission to do so. And, of course, she has no idea what it is.
She had no sooner taken it into her hand than, whether being very hasty at it, somewhat unhandy, or that the decree of the Fairy had so ordained it, it ran into her hand, and she fell down in a swoon.
They try to revive the princess, but nothing works: she is fast asleep. As though she were dead.
4. The heroine finds friends and helpers.
This actually happens twice. The first helper is the seventh fairy, who has already mitigated the curse. Now she causes everyone else in the palace to fall asleep.
The good Fairy who had saved her life by condemning her to sleep a hundred years was in the kingdom of Matakin, twelve thousand leagues off, when this accident befell the Princess; but she was instantly informed of it by a little dwarf, who had boots of seven leagues, that is, boots with which he could tread over seven leagues of ground in one stride. The Fairy came away immediately, and she arrived, about an hour after, in a fiery chariot drawn by dragons.
The King handed her out of the chariot, and she approved everything he had done, but as she had very great foresight, she thought when the Princess should awake she might not know what to do with herself, being all alone in this old palace; and this was what she did: she touched with her wand everything in the palace (except the King and Queen) — governesses, maids of honor, ladies of the bedchamber, gentlemen, officers, stewards, cooks, undercooks, scullions, guards, with their beefeaters, pages, footmen; she likewise touched all the horses which were in the stables, pads as well as others, the great dogs in the outward court and pretty little Mopsey too, the Princess’s little spaniel, which lay by her on the bed.
Notice that she turns the princess’s castle into a land of the dead. If sleep is a metaphorical death, then all in the castle are also dead: the princess is surrounded by them. This is the land that the prince will eventually enter.
5. The heroine leaves or loses her home.
And now the King and the Queen, having kissed their dear child without waking her, went out of the palace and put forth a proclamation that nobody should dare to come near it.
The princess does not lose her physical home, but she loses her parents. Without leaving the castle, she ventures into the dark forest, alone — except for sleeping servants who cannot help her.
6. The heroine goes into the dark forest.
And that’s the next step, except that in this case, the dark forest grows up around her.
This, however, was not necessary, for in a quarter of an hour’s time there grew up all round about the park such a vast number of trees, great and small, bushes and brambles, twining one within another, that neither man nor beast could pass through; so that nothing could be seen but the very top of the towers of the palace; and that, too, not unless it was a good way off.
The prince, intrigued by what he has heard about the beautiful princess sleeping in the dark forest, goes in quest of her. We know he is her true partner because the forest gives way in from of him. Then he comes to the castle itself. Notice the language:
He came into a spacious outward court, where everything he saw might have frozen the most fearless person with horror. There reigned all over a most frightful silence; the image of death everywhere showed itself, and there was nothing to be seen but stretched-out bodies of men and animals, all seeming to be dead.
You see, it’s a metaphorical land of the dead.
7. The heroine is revived or revives another.
8. The heroine finds her true partner.
These two steps happen at the same time.
And now, as the enchantment was at an end, the Princess awaked, and looking on him with eyes more tender than the first view might seem to admit of:
“Is it you, my Prince?” said she to him. “You have waited a long while.”
The Prince, charmed with these words, and much more with the manner in which they were spoken, knew not how to show his joy and gratitude; he assured her that he loved her better than he did himself; their discourse was not well connected, they did weep more than talk — little eloquence, a great deal of love.
This is where modern versions of the story end, with the prince carrying the princess back to his castle, where they live happily ever after. But it’s not where the Perrault version ends: it’s not where older versions ended either. Notice that some steps of the journey have been left out, so it’s not over yet.
(I should add here that Perrault’s is already a cleaned-up version. In at least one earlier version, the prince has two children with the princess while she is still asleep, and it’s only when one of those children sucks a splinter out of her finger that she wakes up.)
So what happens in the Perrault version? Well, the prince doesn’t want to tell his father that he is married. I’m not sure why? Probably because children of kings were political chess-pieces, and he thinks his father would not approve. So he leaves the princess in her castle for two years, while she bears him two children, Morning and Day. His father believes him when he claims that he’s just out hunting — for days at a time. But his mother becomes increasingly suspicious. The prince is also worried about her, because she’s an Ogress and has a taste for little children. Then, the king dies.
9. The heroine enters her true home.
But when the King was dead, which happened about two years afterward, and he saw himself lord and master, he openly declared his marriage; and he went in great ceremony to conduct his Queen to the palace. They made a magnificent entry into the capital city, she riding between her two children.
The princess’s true home is the prince’s castle, where she will take her rightful place as queen. But there are complications still to come. Remember: Ogress. (In the older versions, the prince has not yet married the princess, because he is already married, and it is his wife, rather than an Ogress mother, who causes trouble for her.)
10. The heroine finds a temporary home.
Here, she is sent to her temporary home, and it is not a refuge for her . . . (So the temporary home functions very differently than in “Snow White”). The prince departs to fight a war in a neighboring kingdom and leaves his mother in power. You know, the Ogress.
He left the government of the kingdom to the Queen his mother, and earnestly recommended to her care his wife and children. He was obliged to continue his expedition all the summer, and as soon as he departed the Queen-mother sent her daughter-in-law to a country house among the woods, that she might with the more ease gratify her horrible longing.
Although the princess has entered her true home, she almost immediately has to leave it again: she enters a temporary home in the dark forest. Notice that she is repeating an earlier step. First the dark forest grew around her initial home, and how she must ride into it to her temporary home. She’s back in the dark forest. What the Ogress wants is, of course, the children.
Some few days afterward she went thither herself, and said to her clerk of the kitchen:
“I have a mind to eat little Morning for my dinner to- morrow.”
“Ah! madam,” cried the clerk of the kitchen.
“I will have it so,” replied the Queen (and this she spoke in the tone of an Ogress who had a strong desire to eat fresh meat), “and will eat her with a sauce Robert.”
I think the sauce Robert is important.
This is when the princess finds another set of friends and helpers: human, this time, rather than fairy.
The poor man, knowing very well that he must not play tricks with Ogresses, took his great knife and went up into little Morning’s chamber. She was then four years old, and came up to him jumping and laughing, to take him about the neck, and ask him for some sugar-candy. Upon which he began to weep, the great knife fell out of his hand, and he went into the back yard, and killed a little lamb, and dressed it with such good sauce that his mistress assured him that she had never eaten anything so good in her life. He had at the same time taken up little Morning, and carried her to his wife, to conceal her in the lodging he had at the bottom of the courtyard.
The clerk of the kitchen saves Morning, and then, and then the princess herself (now queen) through a series of similar subterfuges.
I said that the spindle was her temptation: this is her trial. She must endure the fear and sorrow of losing her children, and then fear of the Ogress queen. The queen, of course, finds out.
One evening, as she was, according to her custom, rambling round about the courts and yards of the palace to see if she could smell any fresh meat, she heard, in a ground room, little Day crying, for his mamma was going to whip him, because he had been naughty; and she heard, at the same time, little Morning begging pardon for her brother.
The Ogress presently knew the voice of the Queen and her children, and being quite mad that she had been thus deceived, she commanded next morning, by break of day (with a most horrible voice, which made everybody tremble), that they should bring into the middle of the great court a large tub, which she caused to be filled with toads, vipers, snakes, and all sorts of serpents, in order to have thrown into it the Queen and her children, the clerk of the kitchen, his wife and maid; all whom she had given orders should be brought thither with their hands tied behind them.
This is the worst that the princess has endured: the hundred year’s sleep was much easier, wasn’t it? I think that’s partly why this section of the story is left out, nowadays. But the prince comes home just in time and asks, as well he might, what in the world is going on.
11. The heroine’s tormentor is punished.
No one dared to tell him, when the Ogress, all enraged to see what had happened, threw herself head foremost into the tub, and was instantly devoured by the ugly creatures she had ordered to be thrown into it for others. The King could not but be very sorry, for she was his mother; but he soon comforted himself with his beautiful wife and his pretty children.
And they lived happily ever after. With no Ogresses.
Notice that there’s something missing, a step I added last time and that I thought was important. And yet it’s not here!
12. The heroine learns to work.
No, she doesn’t. In fact, something quite different happens: the princess is menaced by the very things she might have learned to do in another fairy tale, the things that fairy tale heroines do. Spinning and cooking. The spindle puts her to sleep, and then the Ogress threatens to cook her. In a sauce Robert! I’m not sure what’s going on here yet, but I suspect it’s a reference to, and commentary on, typical seventeenth- and eighteenth-century women’s work. Somehow, in this context, it’s deadly. Or perhaps not having mastered them is deadly? Perhaps if the princess had known how to spin and cook, she would not have been menaced in the same way. After all, it was her father who forbade any spinning in the kingdom . . . Perhaps in trying to protect her, he doomed her?
The step is missing, and yet it’s still there by reference and implication.
So that’s “Sleeping Beauty.” Which fairy tale shall I do next? I’m not sure . . .
This is the Sleeping Beauty with her son, little Day, by Karl Larson.