One of the few Sesame Street skits I remember clearly from my childhood was one of Kermit the Frog’s investigative reports. He was interviewing the three parts of every story: the beginning, the middle, and the end. Both the beginning and the end were angry with the middle for taking up so much of the story. The poor middle kept getting left out, because the end wanted his turn.
You may call me unfair, because I don’t intend to talk about plot structure here. I could, but that’s a story for another day. Yes, really. The story of “Sleeping Beauty”—especially as it is known today—is not the best choice for breaking down a tale in such a fashion. I have a good one up my sleeve for that. Later.
Sleeping Beauty is a classic staple of nurseries. Some of the phrases or concepts from it have made it into our everyday conversation. Girls who sleep deeply. The dangers of spindles. The longevity of curses. Prince Charming’s first kiss.
Curiously enough, the last fairy’s inability to properly counter the bad fairy’s curse is seldom dwelled upon. Which may be for the best. Otherwise, the reader might start to wonder about other thin spots in the story. The way the Prince just...rode on into the abandoned castle, for example. No one to fight, nothing to overcome.
Sleeping Beauty, as we know it, is largely a story without antagonists.
Oh, we could argue that the wicked fairy was an antagonist. Quite convincingly. But was she ever overcome? Disney certainly rewrote the story so there were moments of heroism and conflict. To my mind, it’s certainly a more palatable version than some stranger showing up and kissing awake the girl.
Why did I start with the beginning, middle, and end, then? Because there are older versions of the Sleeping Beauty story that tell more. Parts that were understandably left out. (See the uncommon version here.) The Sleeping Beauty we know today is only about the first half of the older version. The clean half, many would say. Rather like Sesame Street’s interrupting ending.
Now and again over the last month or so, we’ve touched on “the bad guy.” Antagonists are valuable parts to the story. They are pretty firmly excluded from the current version of the story. That doesn’t prevent Sleeping Beauty from being told and remembered. But I do believe it is a factor in why we abandon fairy tales as we get older. We want our heroes to overcome something. Someone, often.
More on this next time, but how could “Sleeping Beauty” be told with a proper antagonist? Try and come up with a version of your own.