My Sleeping Beauty Theme
My forthcoming paranormal novel, The Crows, is a kind of gender-flipped Sleeping Beauty story, where the [female] protagonist wakes a sentient house from its dormant state, only for it to fall in love with her.
The first draft is very different to the final draft, but I posted/wrote the first draft on Wattpad several years ago to express some personal frustrations about my financial situation and as a test to see if I could write a mystery/suspense novel in a contemporary paranormal setting. It got some good feedback, so I decided to re-write it and focus on the dominant themes and make the [accidental] Sleeping Beauty theme more explicit in dream sequences and metaphors.
The resulting story is (I think) much better. I had to gut the draft and start almost from scratch, writing completely new chapters and dialogue, changing the opening, and sorting out the plot holes surrounding the murder mystery plot. I’m looking to self-publish to have more creative control, but am investing in a professional editor and other professional services, including an illustrator for exclusive artwork.
Watch this space! You can sign up to my author newsletter and be the first to know when it comes out, and get exclusive alerts and discount codes. I will never sell your data or spam you.
… Now onto the original tale and its variants, which hopefully will inspire more awesome tales!
CW: sexual assault
Narcolepsy and Narcophilia
Sleeping Beauty and its variants all have the Big Sleep and the Awakening in common, often as thinly veiled references to sexual awakening (the prick is a key feature in all of the stories) and in one seventeenth century version it’s explicit, not subtle.
The Grimm tale – Grimm 050: Little Briar Rose – is probably the most well-known version. This was based on Giambattista Basile’s tale, The Sun the Moon and Talia, in which the sleeping maiden is raped in her sleep by a young king who then leaves and forgets about the incident. Meanwhile, Talia wakes up nine months later and gives birth to twins (whom she names Sun and Moon) without a clue how she got pregnant. The king is already married (of course) and his wife, on hearing about the infidelity, plans to cook the twins and feed them to her husband. Fortunately they are spared and there’s something of a happy ending.
I really liked Maya Starling’s short story based on this tale, Between the Sun and the Moon, in the anthology Library of Dreams. Starling used the fairy tale versions in her F/F romance about a woman with a rare sleeping disorder who lives two lives, one in her real life, and one in her dreams, but she’s married in both: just to two different women. But which life is which, and which romance is real?
The main elements, when broken down, are the maiden in a cursed coma (usually the result of a slight or perceived slight against a fairy), the release of the maiden from the coma by the Love Interest (always of an equal social standing to her, and always entranced by her physical attractiveness). It’s always a spindle that puts her into a coma – or rather, penetration, but via a woman’s equipment. In the Basile version of course, it’s penetration by a man’s equipment that wakes her up.
I’ll try and keep the prompts clean, but seriously if you have not but are so inclined there are various smut versions of these tales because … they’re a pornographic gift, really. The 1970s had a good go and scratched the surface. Anne Rice (yes, that Ann Rice) did an erotic Sub/Dom version of Sleeping Beauty.
From bestselling author Anne Rice, writing as A.N. Roquleaure. In the traditional folktale of ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ the spell cast upon the lovely young princess and everyone in her castle can only be broken by the kiss of a Prince. It is an ancient story, one that originally emerged from and still deeply disturbs the mind’s unconscious. Now Anne Rice’s retelling of the Beauty story probes the unspoken implications of this lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire. Here the Prince reawakens Beauty, not with a kiss, but with sexual initiation. His reward for ending the hundred years of enchantment is Beauty’s complete and total enslavement to him…as Anne Rice explores the world of erotic yearning and fantasy in a classic that becomes, with her skillful pen, a compelling experience. Available from HarperCollins in paperback and audiobook.
Fairies in Modern Fairy Tales
When thinking about updating the tale, a lot of writers play up the sex and drama elements rather than the supernatural. In fact, in modern retellings the fairy element can seem the least important, or the most difficult to translate into other genres. However, fairies were considered real, corporeal beings, and post-Reformation English preachers considered them to be demonic entities rather than friendly sprites. This contributed to much anti-Welsh (and indeed anti-Irish) sentiment, since the Welsh in particular revered fairies throughout the Early Modern period. Shakespeare’s sprites and fairies are arguably the most well-known in Early Modern literature, and his representations in plays like The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream are often influential in re-imaginings of fairylore.
See also: Shakespeare and the Demonisation of Fairies, P. Spyra, (2017) published De Gruyter (free .pdf download)
Sleeping Beauty is a lot of fun because of the super cool antagonist – in this case, the antagonist is an actual fairy. This is consistent across the versions: there’s an Irish version of the tale, Ethna the Bride, and the French version – The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood – was recorded by Charles Perrault, in which the fairy is an elderly fairy, so there’s elements of ageism here as in Snow White: the old spitefully attacking the young.
I’m going to stick to my Welsh roots here because Wales is pretty under-represented in English language writing prompts, and where it comes to fairies, we have you covered.
Wales is still considered ‘a hotbed of fairy haunting activity‘, and while modern depictions can echo ideas found in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s fairies are not like English fairies as found in English folktales, but more like Welsh fairies, as written about by Gerald of Wales (twelfth century).
Gerald of Wales was not the only medieval person interested in fairies. See also: Schwieterman, Patrick Joseph, Fairies, Kingship, and the British Past in Walter Map’s De Nugis Curialium and Sir Orfeo, eThesis, (2010)
Evil fairies could come under paranormal or even horror if done well – that poltergeist activity which isn’t responsive to mediums or exorcism? Could be you invited something else into the house… something older…
And there are plenty of fairy tales to choose from!
CymruCulture has some interesting articles on Welsh myths and fairy lore. A list of digital texts can be found at Folklore, Folktales and Fairy Tales from Wales, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh.
If that hasn’t sparked your creative juices into full flow, try these ideas:
SCI-FI SLEEPING BEAUTY, but where the Protagonist is in a secret cryogenic pod waiting to be awakened by the AI, Prince, and regain control of their space station.
SLEEPING BEAUTY, where the Protagonist is put into a coma (an assassination attempt gone wrong) by a rival mob boss – the Godmother/Godfather – so they can take out the Protagonist’s family and take control of the Family Business/Kingdom. [This might work well as a Romeo & Juliet/Kill Bill mashup!]
SLEEPING BEAUTY, where a snubbed, unhinged family member makes threats and accusations at a child’s christening party. Fast forward sixteen years, and the relative returns with a hypodermic needle and a diabolical plot…
(This would also work with a twist in favour of the family member: perhaps they are the real hero/heroine, saving the child from something…)
SLEEPING BEAUTY, where the Protagonist’s sexual awakening leads them to have a series of erotic dreams about another person, whom they eventually meet in real life, only to find that they’ve been having the same dreams about them.
[Potential for F/F, Bi or Pan or Non-Binary MC]
SLEEPING BEAUTY, but set in a retirement home: the Protagonist is a widowed great-grandmother who calls her ballet-obsessed great-grandchildren her little fairies. A battle for the heart of elderly, wealthy bachelor Mr Prince leads to underhand tricks, with the kind but squeamish Protagonist (who faints at the sight of blood) versus a cold, calculating, gold-digger. Sewing needles at dawn.
SPEC-FIC SLEEPING BEAUTY, in a contemporary setting: a family fall foul of local fair folk, resulting in paranormal activity leading to the Protagonist going into a coma. A Quest ensues to wake them up/the Protagonist must journey through the dreamscape to wake themselves.
SPEC-FIC SLEEPING BEAUTY, in a contemporary setting: the Protagonist finds a sleeping girl in the woods, who, upon waking, claims to be a hundred years old.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY MURDERS: a serial killer is at work, and the bodies of beautiful women are turning up in ruined castles across the country, posed as if sleeping, surrounded by thorny roses. All have been injected with a powerful drug. Who is doing this and why? [This has all the makings of a zombie novel twist, too!]