Wednesday, June 8, 2016

While Beauty Slept - A Historical Sleeping Beauty

I love fairy tale retellings. And while "Beauty and the Beast" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" might be my favorites, I also have a certain personal connection to "Sleeping Beauty." Between my childhood illustrated version of the tale in sign language, the interest in spinning wheels it sparked in me, and connecting to Beauty herself in several ways (long awaited child, my health causing me to sleep so much, etc), it is the tale I perhaps most identify with. Not to mention that Regina Doman's "Waking Rose" is my all time favorite book, and Orson Scott Card's "Enchantment" is quite possibly in my top twenty.

I have previously wondered how any fairy tale might have origins in history (something that I discuss in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn") but until now, I have not found a version of Sleeping Beauty that took this premise seriously. "While Beauty Slept" may not be set in real history, but it functions as such. There is no magic confirmed in the tale, and historical Christianity is real. You can mentally choose to set the story in France, England, Germany, or any Northern European country of your choice.

For "While Beauty Slept" by Elizabeth Blackwell is the tale of the Sleeping Beauty as told by her mother's waiting-maid, a smart young woman of modesty and integrity named Elise. Elise is connected to the royal palace by blood and by history, but she makes her own mark on the royal family through her own virtues.

Disney's Maleficent is here transformed to Millicent - a woman with ties to witchcraft (although no magic is ever confirmed. You can choose whether to believe science or dark spiritual forces, in true historical faction).

I will caution younger readers against this book. Although Elise is conservative and virtuous, there are scenes of sensuality and a couple with married sex. I thought they were well written, but they're definitely in there, so if you're not comfortable with such, pass this book by.

Anyhow, if you're looking for a good adult fairy tale retelling, I'd recommend this one as a good read. It's longer than it looks - the pages are VERY thin.

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