Fairy tales can be pretty dark, like the Brothers Grimm story of a father who chops off his daughter’s hands to make a deal with the devil. But the original Sleeping Beauty is in a league of its own. In Sleeping Beauty’s original story, the “hero” is a king who meets a beautiful sleeping princess and decides to rape and impregnate her while she’s sleeping.
The dark Sleeping Beauty story is miles away from the classic 1959 Disney movie—just like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is completely different from the tragic true story of the couple behind the tale as old as time. In Giambattista Basile’s Sleeping Beauty story, called "Sun, Moon, and Talia" (1634), the “wicked queen” who became Maleficent is actually the “hero’s” wife—and hearing her side of the story will make you want to root for her.
And Disney wasn’t the first to be deeply disturbed by the original Sleeping Beauty story. At the end of the sixteenth century, Mother Goose Tales told Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty story, which took out the creepy sexual assault, including when Sleeping Beauty stripped naked in front of her assaulter’s wife. Once you read the original story of Sleeping Beauty, you'll never be able to look at the Disney version the same.
Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty—a princess is cursed to sleep until her true love wakes her with a kiss. In addition to the love story, there are also spindles, fairies, briar patches, and an evil witch who can turn into a dragon. But the original version of the Sleeping Beauty story is very different from the classic Disney movie.
The original version of Sleeping Beauty was first written down by an Italian author named Giambattista Basile, who published a book called The Tale of Tales in 1634. It contained fifty different stories, including early versions of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, the last of which he called "Sun, Moon, and Talia." Basile's book was used by Charles Perrault in the late 17th century when he wrote Mother Goose Tales, and by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century.
But Basile's version of Sleeping Beauty is much, much darker than the Disney version.
In the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, Aurora and Prince Phillip meet in the woods, where they sing “Once Upon A Dream” and instantly fall in love. But in the original story of Sleeping Beauty, the Princess is not swept off her feet—she’s raped in her sleep.
The two main characters don’t actually meet until Sleeping Beauty is already asleep. In Giambattista Basile’s version, a king finds an abandoned palace. He sneaks through the window using a ladder and searches every single room. At last, the king finds Sleeping Beauty—named Talia in Basile’s story—who is lying on a bed, deeply asleep. And then the story takes a disturbing turn.
“Crying aloud, [the king] beheld her charms and felt his blood course hotly through his veins. He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to a bed, where he gathered the first fruits of love.”
AKA, he raped her. Apparently, sleeping women were a huge turn-on for the king.
As if the king raping a sleeping stranger wasn’t disturbing enough, after he has sex with Sleeping Beauty, the king goes home and “for a time thought no more about this incident.” Apparently, the king didn’t think it was odd to find a sleeping woman abandoned in a castle. And clearly he had no reservations about ditching her after raping her.
When the king “gathered the first fruits of love” from Sleeping Beauty, he apparently left something behind. Nine months later, Sleeping Beauty gives birth to two children, a boy and a girl, while she is still asleep. The author brushes past how, exactly, it’s possible to sleep through a twin labor. Once the babies are born, two fairies appear to help care for them. Basile’s story is already way too dark for Disney, and at this point it takes another strange turn as the fairies try to help the newborns breastfeed.
Sleeping Beauty wakes up when the fairies, in an attempt to place the twins on the sleeping woman’s breasts so they can nurse, accidentally stick them on her fingers instead. The newborns “sucked so much that the splinter of flax came out.” Once the flax—which had made Sleeping Beauty fall into a coma—is removed, Sleeping Beauty “awoke as if from a long sleep.”
When Sleeping Beauty wakes up to find two newborns mewling at her sides, she doesn’t have a typical response, which would probably involve screaming. Instead, she just picks up the babies and starts breastfeeding them. Giambattista Basile doesn’t mention how long the princess has been asleep, although it had to be at least a year. But readers have to wonder if the flax poisoning that put Sleeping Beauty in a coma might have affected her faculties—she sure doesn't react like a typical person. And it only gets worse once the king comes back to claim his children.