Sleeping Beauty: the sweet tale of true love’s kiss as told by Disney and Perrault. The romantic story based on Talia, the Sun and the Moon, a tale I hate immensely.
Given an alternative, I’ll rarely read any version of sleeping beauty; me liking a version of sleeping beauty is an occasion so rare that it’s only happened once, with this very book.
Katriona is one among the many fairies who are invited to see the new princess of the realm. But when the evil fairy Pernicia shows up and curses the princess, the desperate Queen entrusts her precious daughter to Katriona in the hope that being hidden away will save her. Katriona, who is not much of a fairy herself and possesses only one gift—that of animal speech—takes this duty to heart and resolves to protect the child with her life. With this resolution she gives the child a gift, different from the one that she could never give during the ceremony: she gives the child her animal-speech. Thus the child grows up in a small village, known as Rose, with a love of running outside with her animal friends and later, spending time with the blacksmith, her only human friend apart from Katriona and her aunt. It is just as life in the village is beginning to grow exciting with the arrival of a few newcomers that Rose is informed of her identity, and her wonderful, simple life falls apart.
This story is a wonderful reflection that McKinley can make beauty come to any story she chooses to work with, and breathe spirit into even the most inactive and docile of heroines. Where Levine countered this issue with magic, McKinley turned the whole expectation upside down and made magic rather a non-issue.
The matter of the many gifts Rose received as a baby is addressed only once, because these gifts—singing, dancing, beauty, needlework—are (apart from the obvious ones that are omnipresent) not part of her daily life. Only after she befriends Peony, a “proper lady” who does everything wonderfully, does Rose begin to learn of her unnatural skill in these areas—and as soon as she does, she shuns the activity entirely.
Rose, throughout the story, remains true to herself. She does not consent to compromise her loves, her way of life, her happiness. The story that thus emerges is more complex and more satisfying than any other version of Sleeping Beauty, leaving you riveted to the pages until the very, very end when you can heave a sigh, close the book and soak in the tale.
The most amusing part of this story was, to me, the love square that popped out of nowhere (although quite possibly if you’d been less led astray by the age difference as I was, it wouldn’t be so shocking). So the paragraph in which everyone was feeding their lunches to the rats because they were love sick was more amusing to me than it would have been if I’d seen it coming.
The Rose/Peony switch was no surprise, but the mere prediction of this event counts for nothing, because it’s not played for shock: it’s played for the truly spectacular events that follow this switch. The famous kiss to break the spell was a bigger, more spectacular event in this book than in any other version I’ve read, mostly because it was less of a “he’s kissing this girl because true love’s kiss breaks the spell” event and more of a “there’s nothing that can be done—but oh, look, can’t say I saw that coming” sort of event because it’s not the beloved prince that kisses the cursed princess: it’s the true princess kissing the fake (and cursed) princess.
And again, when they decided to make the switch permanent, bittersweet as it was, I was ultimately happy with the ending. Because sad as it is that Rose will never get to be her mother’s daughter, I don’t believe that anyone could read this story and argue that Rose would have been happier as the princess, cut off from freedom, animals and simplicity that she so loves. Peony, too, has been so lonely in her life before meeting Rose; while I don’t believe she would have begrudged her friend a life with her family and wed to the man Peony was in love with, I think the sorrow of losing the first person she’s loved that deeply might have wounded her too deeply for her to recover truly.
Yes—I think Peony is a very, very sensitive soul.
Ultimately, neither couple would have married the way they wanted, and Rose would have been robbed of the lifestyle she loved. As things went, Peony has a family that loves her, and her prince; Rose has her freedom, and her blacksmith.
I loved this book. 9.5/10.