The version of Sleeping Beauty with which most people are familiar is most likely the Brothers Grimm tale, “Little Briar Rose,” and/or the 1959 Disney film. In these versions, we encounter the stereotypical fairy-tale ending, where the handsome prince finds the beautiful princess, wakes her with a kiss, and they all live “happily ever after.” This story’s origins, from both 14th Century France with Le Roman de Perceforest and Giambattista Bercile’s Italian tale, “Sun, Moon, and Talia” from 1634, present a very different narrative, one that is much darker, and much more violent.
One recent interpretation has tapped into these darker aspects of the tale. Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s 2004 novel, Madeleine is Sleeping, has, as the title suggests, a sleeping girl. However, in this narrative, the reader has access to the dreams of Madeleine—which calls the nature of reality into question. Are the dreams more real than her reality? Is violence a necessity? Is there a way in which the idea of the slumbering girl is an incredibly active and chosen role? Has she chosen to be put under a spell? And is her awakening something that can be done on her own?
Filmmaker Maya Deren also incorporated the trope of the dream as spell (including a handsome “prince” to break the enchantment with a kiss) in her 1943 short film, Meshes of the Afternoon. However, as with the early Sleeping Beauty tales, the strange magnificence of the dream-within-a-dream structure of this film portrays more of an atmosphere of a nightmare (and its attendant violence). Deren explained that Meshes “…is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.”
Though there are dozens of interpretations and adaptations of this fairy tale in the arts, the science world has also adopted “sleeping beauty” as a term to describe research that is ignored for decades and then finally awakened, becoming cited and relevant to contemporary theories and scholarship. Daniel Cressey, in a 2015 article in Nature, describes the phenomenon of “sleeping beauty papers”—perhaps the most famous of which is a paper on quantum mechanics from 1935 by Einstein, A., Podolsky, B., and Rosen, N., “awakened” in 1994.
This special report brought to you by Blue Issue contributor Sara Veglahn.