As a kid (and to an extent, still today) I loved disney movies, although not overly the ones with Princesses in… I know I drove my brother to distraction watching “The Jungle Book” and I loved watching “The Fox and the Hound” with my Dad. As soon as you start to venture into Princess territory though, there is always some dark undertones which have been seriously covered up. Let’s face it, rarely is there a real Prince Charming, and back when these stories were written, women most definitely were not experiencing any form of sexual equality.
The one I really disliked was “Sleeping Beauty”. It never sat right with me and as I got older, obviously I read the Brothers Grimm rendition of it…but no matter how creepy it is with Prince Charming falling in love with a women who is in a coma, nothing compares to the original story written by Giambattista Basile in 1634 named “Sun, Moon and Talia”.
For me there are quite evident links between this story and the Greek Myth of Chione, who was raped while she slept, and later gave birth. Before I get into all that though – let me tell you the original story.
There was once a Lord and his wife who desperately wanted a child. After years of trying, they finally managed to conceive. On the birth of their daughter, Talia, the Lord called in wisemen and astronomers to foretell what Talia’s life would hold. They warned the Lord that Talia would be poisoned by a flax splinter. On hearing this, the Lord banned flax from his area he was responsible for, in the hope that this would keep his beloved daughter safe.
Talia grew into a beautiful young woman. One day, just before her sixteenth birthday, she was looking out of the window, and she saw an old woman spinning. She had never seen a spindle or a distaff (the stick that is used to wind the wool or flax onto), and ran down to see what the old woman was doing. Taking the distadd from the woman, Talia began to stretch out the material on the distaff. Unbeknown to the woman (who was a traveller) the material was flax. As Talia stretch the flax, a splinter of it slipped under her finger nail, and she instantly fell to the floor (the original story describes her as dead – but that makes this story altogether worse, so I am going to stick with asleep). The woman, naturally scared ran as fast as she could… she is probably still running to this day.
Talia was found by her father, and after many tears were shed, he placed his lifeless daughters body on a throne in one of the rooms of his house, and then sealed the house up and left, as he could not bare to live in this house without his daughter.
Some time later, a King was hunting the the area of the house, when one of his falcons flew off and into the window. The falcon didn’t return when called so the King knocked the door of the house, as it looked to be inhabited. When there was no answer, he called upon his men to bring him a ladder so that he could enter the house through the same window that the falcon flew through.
Climbing into the house, the King decided to check every room, and came across Talia. Instantly the King was struck with how beautiful she was, and lifting her from her throne, he carried her into the bedroom. The King then had his way with her, when he had finished – he found his falcon and left; returning to his realm, he had much business to attend to, so thoughts of Talia drifted from his mind.
After nine months, Talia gave birth to twins (try not to think of the logistics about how she remained pregnant during a coma with no sustenance, or how she delivered twins unconsciously). Two fairies appeared to look after the twins, while Talia remained unconscious. They tried to get the twins to breastfeed, but accidently got one of the children to latch on to Talia’s finger. As the child suckled the finger, the flax splinter came out and Talia awoke.
Now… you or I might wake up and wonder what the hell was going on, you might even think that these were not your children, but not Talia – she looked upon her children and felt that they were the most precious things that she had ever seen, and named the children Sun and Moon. She found food and drink on a nearby table that the fairies had laid out for her, but she never saw her guardians.
As time past, the King’s thoughts turned to Talia, and he decided he wanted to go “hunting” again. Finding the house again, he entered, expecting to find the lifeless girl, but instead finds her nursing two children. The King explains what happened to Talia, and again (perhaps the extra long sleep helped her resilience to take to life changing news) she accepted what had happened, and declared her love for the King. The King, who had been taken with Talia reciprocated.
The King, had his own secrets though, and this was that he was already married to a woman called Maleficent. The King therefore kept Talia in her house, but adorned her with gifts and servants to make her life with his children the most comfortable that it could be. The King would visit Talia often, and Maleficent soon realised that her husband was more absent and some of her servants had gone missing. One day she cornered one of the King’s footmen and asked him where the King goes when they leave the palace. At first the footman refused to answer, but when Maleficent said “If you do not tell me, no one will ever find you…alive or dead if you don’t tell me”, the footman explained all about Talia.
As we all know, a scorned woman is the worst thing you could find, and rather than looking at the King’s questionable behaviour, the King demanded that Talia’s children be brought to the palace, but under the guise that the King had sent for them. Talia, obviously let them go with the King’s men willingly.
When the children arrived at the palace, Maleficent ordered them to be sent down to the kitchen, and be cooked into a great feast. The cook, simply couldn’t kill the children, so prepared lamb in their place, and hid Sun and Moon at his own house with his wife.
Later the feast was served to the King, and every time he complimented the food, Maleficent would retort “eat, eat as you are eating your own”. After a few times of Maleficent saying this, the King got angry and retaliated – “I know very well I eat my own”, (thinking he was eating food from his land) “for you have brought nothing to this house”, and he angrily stormed off to seek solace.
Maleficent, not happy with the thought that she had just fed the King his own children, asked one of the King’s footmen to go and get Talia, again with a message that the King longed for her company. On hearing this, Talia rushed to the palace as she was so desperate to see her beloved.
When she arrived at the palace, instead of being met by the King, Maleficent stood in front of her, red faced in anger she started a tirade of insults at Talia… “Welcome, Madam Busybody! You are a fine piece of goods, you ill weed, who are enjoying my husband. So you are the lump of filth, the cruel bitch, that has caused my head to spin? Change your ways, for you are welcome in purgatory, where I will compensate you for all the damage you have done to me.”
Talia tried to excuse herself, and was trying to explain to Maleficent that it wasn’t her fault as the King had “taken ownership of territory while she was asleep” (that’s a polite way of putting it), but Maleficent was having none of it. She ordered her servants to build a large fire in the courtyard, and she was set to throw Talia on it. Talia asked Maleficent if she could remove her clothes before being thrown on the fire… As Talia’s dress was an extravagant garment, embroidered in gold and dripping in pearls, she agreed, thinking she would get a new dress as part of the vengeance. As Talia removed each layer of clothing, she gave out a scream. As she removed the last of her apparel she let out a louder scream than her previous.
As Talia was dragged towards the fire, the King burst into the courtyard demanding that the servants stop what they were doing and his children to be brought to him.
Maleficent laughed, proclaiming that he had eaten his children for dinner. This sent the King into a tailspin. He was in disbelief that he didn’t realise that he was eating his children and sadness and anger took over. He demanded that Maleficent be thrown on the fire, as well as the footman and the cook. The cook, watching the other two screaming in the blaze, threw himself at the King’s feet, quickly explaining that he could not kill the children and that he had hidden them with his wife. The wife hearing the shouts of the cook, rushed the children into the courtyard, and the King, now overwhelmed with love hugged Sun, Moon and Talia. He made the cook a chamberlain of the kingdom and rewarded him handsomely for his actions.
The King married Talia, and they lived a long and happy life. The moral of the story is that, for those who fortune favours, they will find luck even in their sleep.
Well… I am not sure that any of this was luck or fortune, as this is a story about a woman whose father couldn’t be bothered to find a doctor, a King who has necrophilia tendencies and indulges in sexual activity with a non compliant partner, a woman scorned who has murderous designs and two children who are brought up by a mother who seems to just be very accepting to whatever happens.
I feel it necessary to say here that rape is never ok, and it is very obvious why this story transformed into a Prince waking Sleeping Beauty with a kiss rather than a misplaced breastfeeding child. Potentially I could turn this around by saying that Talia does eventually find her voice while screaming to get the attention of the King, but I would like to remind anyone reading this, not to suffer in silence. There are some links at the bottom of this article if you are in need of help.
It is quite interesting that the King’s presence in the house is brought about by a falcon, the symbolism is striking. Falcons usually represent the need to be vigilant and the opportunity for significant change in your live for the positive if it is well planned; much like how a falcon hunts its prey. In this story, Talia doesn’t have the chance to be vigilant at all, and her “fortune” is not planned in any way – more she falls into an abusive relationship where she is trapped by having children. This is really more of a statement of how the life of women was seen in the 1600’s than a moral story that we need to live by today, but even for that time, this is still a deeply disturbing story.
I have chosen the painting “The Sleeping Beauty” by John Collier to go with this story. Painted in 1921, in the Pre-Raphaelite style in oil on canvas, it probably represents the more commonly felt serenity we attribute to the 100 year sleep that the modern day Sleeping Beauty experiences. The attention to detail in this painting is phenomenal. If you pay particular attention to the stain glass windows, it does lead to royalty finding her with the lion, the horse and the shield, all representations of a king.
I also like the fact that there are two female guardians. It would be another 38 years before Disney released their rendition of the story, so Aurora was still in the making, and her 3 fairy godmothers lingered between varying versions of the tale.
If this story, or that of Sleeping Beauty generally, can teach young women anything today, it would be to challenge everything and not to accept a situation for what it is, just because you find yourself stuck in it.
As promised, there are links below if you do feel that you are in a situation that you need to talk to someone about.
And… because it isn’t always women who are on the receiving end of this deal…
Male victims of domestic abuse
What do you think of the story of “Sun, Moon and Talia”? Why not let me know in the comments? Like this post or know someone who could benefit from the links included? Why not share it?