Passed down through the generations, from grandparents to children, the bedtime stories of our childhood are filled with the wisdom and divinity that rivals some of the most successful spiritual texts of the present age. Even today, these universal tales continue to mystify children, taking them to a magical world every night, while subtly delivering important life lessons. These are tales which when looked closely, are full of the most richest and profound symbolism.
Especially in modern times, they have proved to be a very engaging subject for literary critics as well as psychologists, looking to uncover and conquer the deep symbolism found there. In these fairy tales, hidden behind the fascinating world of elves and goblins, you gradually realise, lie the mysteries of the Soul. The Sleeping Beauty, or Briar Rose, as it is called by many, by the Brothers Grimm, is a classic fairytale from the 17the century which can be found to be significant in many spheres of our life.
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A story involving a beautiful princess, a handsome prince, and the inevitable evil witch, it tells us about the journey of a woman and a man from infancy to adulthood. Transformation is a very prominent theme in this story. Almost all characters in the story are round characters. Starting from the birth of the Princess Aurora as a result of a boon rewarded to the Queen by a fish, it ends with the happy union of the Prince and the Princess. In between these two events lapse more than a hundred years.
Throughout the story, there isn’t a single object or being that doesn’t hold deep significance to the story. The principal object, the spindle, is an allusion to the Greek female triads, the Fates. Even the fish, found by the queen on the bank of a river, is a symbol of fertility and as for the river, water is known to be an emblem of birth and womanliness. The twelve good witches that the King invites to bless the Princess stand for the twelve months in the traditional calender.
They represent the innocent early life of Princess Aurora, a complete and fulfilled childhood. As the story goes, the thirteenth witch, who represents initiation into adulthood after the safety and security of the early years, then enters the dining hall just before the last good witch is about to bless Aurora. This is when she curses the Princess to take her revenge at being left out of the celebration. According to this curse, the Princess would get wounded by a spindle in her 15th year and fall down dead.
This is when the last good witch, the wisdom imbibed from childhood, comes in to partially reverse the curse and when the king, still hopeful, forbids the use of spindles and spinning wheels throughout his kingdom. This also forms the rising action of the story. Taking the story forward, Aurora has grown into a beautiful maiden. On her fifteenth birthday, all alone in the castle, she starts exploring all the chambers and rooms and comes across an old woman spinning away busily on a spinning wheel.
Curiosity takes over and she ends up fulfilling the evil witch’s prophecy and falls down, deep in sleep. The drop of blood that escapes from the wound, can be interpreted as the onset of menstruation and the Princess’ translation into a woman. As is the rule of the universe, a child’s innate curiosity is the virtue by which he learns. He reflects on his actions and wakes up wiser than before. The century Aurora spends asleep is a period of inner reflection, and the reader knows that when she wakes up she is going to be ready for her Prince and the life that lies ahead of her.
As for the Prince, his transformation occurs on his way to the castle, the climax, when he braves the thick thorns and bushes and the tall trees. While on one hand this might allude to the virginal namesake of Aurora, where the Prince has to go through perils to appreciate the full beauty of the young woman, the journey to the castle and the kiss which awakens the Princess and then the household, can also represent the awakening of all the inner aspects of the Prince’s psyche when he achieves a glorious victory after a tumultuous path. At the end of it they are both read for marriage and a life of responsibility.