Sleeping Beauty Summary

Charles Perrault

Sleeping Beauty

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Sleeping Beauty Summary

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“Sleeping Beauty” is a fairy tale collected by the Brother’s Grimm from an oral tradition written down by Charles Perrault in 1687. This oral tradition dates as far back as the fourteenth century and tells the tale of a sleeping princess who is under the spell of enchantment.

The story opens with the birth of a princess. She is the long wished for child, and at her christening, seven fairies are invited to be her godmothers. They are given gold plates and cups with jewels when they attend the banquet. As this is happening, an old fairy comes to the feast and is given plates of china and a crystal drinking glass. She is furious that they forgot her, believing her to be deceased. Six of the fairies give the child various gifts: beauty, grace, dance, song, wit, and goodness.

The old fairy curses the child in retaliation for being forgotten. She proclaims that the child will one day prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. The seventh fairy, who had not given her gift yet, attempts to reverse the curse, but she is only able to change part. Instead of death, the princess will fall into a deep sleep that will last for one hundred years. She will be awakened by a kiss from the son of a king.

The king and queen round up all the spinning wheels and order them destroyed. Everyone is happy for a while. Then one day, when the princess is fifteen or sixteen years old, the king and queen are away. The princess is wandering through the castle, and she comes upon an old woman spinning in one of the many rooms. She has never seen anything like this before, and she asks if she can try.

When she does, she pricks her finger, and falls into a deep sleep. The old woman calls for help, but it is too late. They cannot revive her. The king sadly attributes these events to fate, and the princess is carried to the finest room in the house. They lay her on a quilt of embroidered silver and gold, and they kiss her goodbye. Entrance is forbidden.

They summon the seventh fairy. She sees into the future that when the princess awakens, she will be distraught to find herself alone, so she enchants everyone in the castle to fall asleep with her. She summons trees and brambles to cover the castle so they will not be disturbed.

One hundred years pass. The prince from another family is riding in the woods and comes upon the ruins of the castle. He asks his attendants about it, and they give him differing versions of what the castle is until an old man retells the story he heard from his father. In the castle lies a beautiful sleeping princess. She is doomed to remain sleeping for one hundred years until a prince awakens her.

The prince goes inside, braving brambles and dense greenery. He passes all the sleeping folk of the castle until he comes upon the princess’s room and there he finds her sleeping. He is so struck by her beauty that he falls on his knees and kisses her. She wakes up, the enchantment broken. They converse for a long time as the rest of the castle wakes up and goes back to their business. The prince and princess are then married in the castle chapel.

In part two, the prince continues to visit the princess, and she bears him two children. His mother is of ogre origin and does not know that they are married. When the prince comes of age to ascend the throne, he brings the princess (now queen) and his children with him. The queen mother puts them in a little cottage in the woods. She instructs the cook to prepare the boy for her to eat, but he replaces him with a lamb. She then requests the girl, but the cook prepares a goat. She requests the queen next. The queen offers to slit her own throat, believing the children to be dead, but the cook replaces her with a hind. She is then reunited with her children. The queen mother discovers his switch and prepares a bath full of vipers and other awful creatures.

The king returns just in time to save them from the queen mother’s plans, and when her true nature as an ogre is revealed, she throws herself into the tub. She is completely consumed. Everyone lives happily ever after.

One of the major themes of the story is that one cannot escape one’s fate. Although the king knows that the curse has been altered from death to sleep, he still tries to avoid the curse. He attempts to make the people give up their spinning wheels, but this proves to be impossible. His order is stubborn and impossible to adhere to. The princess still pricks her finger and falls into her enchanted sleep.

Another theme is that not all is what it seems. When the prince finds the castle, crumbling and overrun with brambles, it looks abandoned; yet inside is something precious. It took the exploration of a prince to uncover it. Likewise, the queen mother is an ogre. We do not know her true nature, just as the people did not until she is forced to reveal it in the end.

“Sleeping Beauty” is a classic fairy tale with versions still being told today. Its story of true love, bravery, and the will to overcome obstacles still holds lessons for us in the modern era.