Sleep steals us away from one place and takes us to the threshold of another. It appears to take us to the brink of death; it also sustains life.
Asleep, we are innocent, unchallenging, receptive, renewed. Sleepless, we are restless, angry, aggressive, doomed.
“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care…sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great Nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Sleeping Beauty avoided the curse of death by going to sleep for a hundred years. She was awakened by a prince’s kiss, or so it is said. She didn’t elect to sleep for so long, nor did she select the one who would awaken her. We perceive her passivity and it irks us now, and fairy tale retellings often seek to reframe her fate, understandably so.
But the story of Sleeping Beauty also went to sleep, for a long time.
When Angela Carter, the visionary British author, began to read the fairy tales of Charles Perrault (1628-1703)–“Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Puss in Boots,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Bluebeard”—as an exercise in practicing her French, she was astonished to discover that the pap she had come to expect of the tales was, in fact, an extraordinarily nuanced dish. She then set out to translate the tales herself. The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault by Angela Carter has been widely studied by folklorists and feminists ever since.
Carter breathed new meaning into Beauty’s sleep: “She’s the victim of a power struggle among the heavy female fairy mafia. We’re dealing with the real world, not the phantasia of the unconscious. Children get quite enough of that in the privacy of their own homes.” –“The Better to Eat You With”
The meaning of sleep is in the eye of the beholder. It can be seen as voluntary withdrawal…
In so many fairytales [sic], the adolescent heroine isn’t certain she’s ready for Prince Charming, but having the prince choose someone else would be intolerable. How to cope? Sleep allows her to withdraw, to come to terms with her changing self and then to reappear when she’s ready to try adulthood and the sexuality it entails. –Valerie Estelle Frankel, From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey Through Myth and Legend
The problem of the exiled one is primeval. Many fairy tales and myths center around the theme of the outcast. In such tales, the central figure is tortured by events outside her venue, often due to a poignant oversight. –Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves
Each awakening is a resurrection of sorts: a rebirth into a new day, with the promise of a trans-formative act or experience ahead. Every creative endeavor requires a period of incubation. Every love needs some space. Anything that grows wants rest.
Even in Perrault’s version of the tale, Beauty awakens at the end of her 100-year sentence, which she served in full, and the prince does not kiss her. He has not saved her from anything but has stumbled upon someone who is in need of help, since everyone she has ever known is long gone (it was the Grimm Brothers who conceived the notion that the kingdom slept with her).
Beauty was victimized/exiled/withdrawn/renewed. Was she passive in the face of persecution, or persevering? Choose your own adventure.