Where last we left our heroine, she had just settled in for a long winter’s nap. With a curse hanging over her head, but no hardships on the horizon, this princess has nothing better to do than to wait for her prince to give her life and meaning.
Yes, there are ladies who object.
No, they aren’t all “FemiNazis.”
True, the story of Sleeping Beauty does lack for proper villains. In the original German version, the long-awaited prince has nothing to overcome. What had once been an impenetrable fortress of thorns is now easily-mown straw (or flowers, in some versions). The French and Italian versions have villains on the other side of the princess’s wake-up call, but they are quite dark (check the uncommon version, if you haven’t already). But even there, the antagonists are external. Fairies who punish a baby for her parents’ mistakes. Jealous wives who want to hurt their husbands first, not “the other woman.”
Yes, evil forces in our lives often only want to hurt us because it will hurt someone who loves us. We’re the side dish of their revenge, not the main course. That doesn’t mean that readers don’t want to matter in their own drama. And while Sleeping Beauty is a classic, well-known fairy tale, I suspect this is where our young minds begin to rebel. We want more from a story than an inevitable, easy sleep and a prince who is charming, not sincere.*
Now, you were supposed to derive your own version of the story, with a proper antagonist. Someone who has a specific goal of thwarting or destroying the protagonist—the princess, in this case. Disney solved this problem in their cartoon by setting the fairies against each other. And since, in this version, the prince and princess had already met, “true love’s first kiss” was much more believable. Robin McKinley wrote Spindle’s End, a feisty version with a princess who takes matters into her own hands and fairies caught in a desperate game of outsmarting each other’s magic. (And—spoiler alert!—the princess does NOT wind up with prince charming. It’s a good story.)
There are a lot of adaptations—in print, in film, in dance, in art. As storytellers and story-readers, we need to see a villain overcome in a story. And there is a part of the human soul that wants it to be a worthwhile fight. And easy or uneven battle holds very little interest for us—especially at the end. We want the win to be epic. A climax that rights all wrongs, or restructures the universe, or pushes two people who belong together into each other’s arms.
But that’s a story for another day...
*This is a quote from Steven Sondheim's mixed-up fairy tale musical Into the Woods.