Exploring the Dark Origins of The Sleeping Beauty: From Charles Perrault to Walt Disney

Exploring the Dark Origins of The Sleeping Beauty: From Charles Perrault to Walt Disney

If you grew up watching Sleeping Beauty, you must have been enchanted by the gorgeous Princess Aurora, charming Prince Phillip, and the nefarious Maleficent. However, the classic fairy tale’s original form is darker, grittier, and more sinister than the Disney-fied version we know and love. In this article, we will dive deeper into the origins of Sleeping Beauty, from Charles Perrault’s 17th-century version to Walt Disney’s 1959 adaptation.

Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty

Charles Perrault’s fairy tales were first published in 1697 in a collection called Histoires ou contes du temps passé, or Tales from Times Past. In Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty, a king and queen eagerly await their daughter’s birth. They hold a grand celebration and invite seven fairies to bless their child. However, they forget to invite the eighth fairy, which angers her.

The eighth fairy curses the baby princess, proclaiming that on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The seventh fairy softens the curse, stating that the princess will instead sleep for 100 years. Despite the king’s efforts, the curse comes true and the princess falls asleep. A hundred years later, a prince awakens her with a kiss, and they live happily ever after.

The Brothers Grimm’s version

In the Brothers Grimm’s version, titled Little Briar Rose, the sleeping princess is not named Aurora. Instead, she is called Briar Rose. The seven fairies who bless her are also replaced by wise women. In this version, the curse is not cast by an evil fairy but is due to a prophecy that Briar Rose will prick her finger on a spindle.

However, the prince’s kiss does not awaken her. Instead, Briar Rose wakes up when her twins accidentally suck the spindle from her finger. In the Grimm’s version, Briar Rose’s life is not all sunshine and roses after her awakening. Her mother-in-law is a wicked queen who wants to eat her and her babies. However, everything ends well when the wicked queen receives her just desserts.

Walt Disney’s adaptation

Walt Disney’s 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty is markedly different from the original fairy tales. The protagonist’s name is changed to Aurora, and the story is heavily sanitized and sprinkled with Disney magic.

In Disney’s version, Maleficent is an evil fairy who is not invited to Aurora’s christening. The pissed-off fairy curses Aurora to prick her finger on a spindle and die before the sun sets on her 16th birthday. The three good fairies’ magic saves Aurora, and she is hidden in a cottage in the woods until her prince charming finds her and wakes her up with a kiss.

The Dark Themes in Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty may seem like a straightforward fairy tale, but a closer examination reveals the dark themes it contains. For example, the curse on Aurora is associated with menstruation, a taboo topic in Perrault’s time. The idea of a 100-year-long sleep is also linked to death, and the curse’s phallic symbol suggests penetration and loss of virginity.

The Brothers Grimm version highlights the dangers that women face from malevolent mother-in-laws. It also features cannibalism and murder, highlighting the violence and cruelty present in fairy tales.


Sleeping Beauty is a story that has stood the test of time and been adapted into countless iterations. However, the dark themes present in the original tales might be shocking for modern audiences. Understanding the history and evolution of Sleeping Beauty deepens our appreciation of the story’s complexity. It also reminds us that no fairy tale is all sunshine and rainbows, and there is darkness lurking beneath the surface.

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