Sleeping Beauty is one of those popular fairy tales that’s just a little bit embarrassing. Early last year I took a feminist look at the Disney Princess lineup, and Sleeping Beauty came up pretty much dead last when it comes to empowering feminist messages. Its leading lady could be replaced by a sexy lamp and you’d still have the same story, even if you have a whole lot more female supporting characters (and a female villain!) than in the typical Disney film. At least back then Disney wasn’t afraid of naming their movies with female leads after those leads (I’m looking at you, Tangled and Frozen). Disney’s Aurora is a pretty good example of the pure virgin power trope, in that Aurora’s worth comes from her goodness, which we assume to be true because of her status as the most maiden-like maiden to ever maiden. You’d think this is another result of prudish Christians enforcing gender stereotypes and shaming women into keeping their legs closed, but the real origins of the folk tale are far more interesting and far more pagan.
Trigger warning for rape and suicide after the jump.
Fairy tales have been retold time and again throughout our history, and the versions of popular stories differ depending on what year and in which culture the stories are being told. For example, in the oldest version of Cinderella, her slipper is made of gold, and in the version popularized by Disney, the slipper is made of glass. And who can forget Tangled’s Rapunzel saying, “I have magic hair that glows when I sing!” (I sure can’t.) These smaller differences only served to make stories that were meant to teach morals a little more fanciful. But there have been bigger differences as well.
Recently a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Maleficent, hit theaters. As you know or might have guessed from the title, it’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the evil fairy’s point of view. It added a whole magical world full of fairy creatures onto the original kingdom ruled by King Stefan. But in the original tale, fairies didn’t exist, and obviously none of the “magic” they performed did either.