Sleeping Beauty: A Christian Fairy Tale
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
This week’s Fairy Tale Summary is based on the version of Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm. This is part of a series giving short overviews of how to see the Christianity within fictional stories.
Who Is Sleeping Beauty?
The princess who is Sleeping Beauty is called Rosamund in the version by the Brothers Grimm, which is the version that I'm commenting on here. There are a lot of other versions, and just like all other fairy tales and stories of folklore, the details (and sometimes even the story itself) vary depending upon the author/storyteller and the audience.
The Disney version is very similar to the Grimm version, but of course there are differences. There is no character named "Maleficent" (which literally means "evil being") in the version by the Grimms, but there is definitely a fairy who places a curse on the princess who becomes known as the "Sleeping Beauty."
When I say the "original version" of the story, I'm not saying that the Brothers Grimm were the first ones to write the story of Sleeping Beauty, but it is the version that Disney used as the basis for their cartoon.
So if you're familiar with the Disney version of the story but not the original version by the Brothers Grimm, then you'll notice some similarities and some differences between the story you remember and the one that I'm commenting on now.
In the Beginning
When the story begins, we see the king and queen who have been praying for a long time to have a child. Their prayers are finally answered, and Rosamund is that long wished-for child.
When we encounter that situation in the Bible (Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary), there is often a special revelation to announce the birth of that child, and that child has an important, and very unique, role to play:
Abraham and Sarah were visited by three angels sent by God to announce the birth of Isaac in Genesis 18
Hannah thought that she was barren, but in 1Samuel 1, she prayed to God, and the priest Eli prayed for her, and then God answered her prayer and gave her a son, Samuel
Elizabeth was thought by all to be barren, until the angel revealed to her husband Zechariah that she would bear a son, who was John the Baptist Luke 1
Mary was visited by the archangel Gabriel and is now called Theotokos, or God-bearer, because the child she gave birth to is God the Son
In the Grimm's version of Sleeping Beauty, it’s a talking frog who tells the queen that her wish (or prayer) has been granted. When the princess is born, the king is filled with joy because of her beauty.
She’s not just pretty…
Beauty is one of God’s attributes, and God is the one who brings true joy, so Rosamund's father—the king—responds as he should to this gift of a daughter from God, and the presence of God in her beauty.
He's filled with joy, and announces a celebration for the birth of his daughter.
There are 13 "wise women" in that land, but only 12 are invited to that celebration of her birth, because there aren’t enough specially-made gold plates for the 13th. This is in the Grimm's version of the story—other versions give different reasons for the absence of just one of these women.
The one who was not invited was not just angry at being left out, but was “burning to revenge herself” over the offense. This is why she cursed the new baby princess to die when she turns 15.
There was one remaining wise woman who had not yet given her gift to the new baby princess when Rosamund was cursed. When she announces her gift, she turns that death into a deep sleep that will last for 100 years.
Why is it Important that She Sleeps?
One reason is that sleep is a euphemism for death. We talk about people going to their “eternal rest” when they die.
Another reason is that although everyone sleeps, the people who are specifically mentioned as sleeping in the Bible (Jacob, his son Joseph, Joseph in both Bethlehem and Egypt, the apostles Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration, etc.) are having a special encounter with God.
When Beauty inevitably falls into her deep sleep at the age of 15, the entire kingdom falls into a deep sleep as well.
This is symbolic of the Limbo of the Fathers, or “Abraham’s Bosom” from the parable by Jesus in Luke 16.
This is where those who died before Christ opened the gates of Heaven waited for the coming savior. Only the Christ—the long-awaited messiah—is able to free them from their sleep of death and bring them into eternal life.
In Sleeping Beauty, when they all fell “asleep” and every living thing in the kingdom was frozen in place (even the flies), the entire kingdom was separated from the rest of the world.
(As a side note, this may remind you of The Magician's Nephew from the Chronicles of Narnia.)
Around the kingdom,
“grew a hedge of thorns thicker every year, until at last the whole castle was hidden from view, and nothing of it could be seen but the vane on the roof.”
The entire kingdom is now in the realm of the dead. No one else is able to enter from outside, because they are still among the living. This kingdom is waiting for the coming of a savior.
The Arrival of the Prince
The prince who comes to rescue her is identified as a king’s son and is told that there have been many other sons of kings who have tried to save the princess, but were “pierced by the thorns” surrounding the kingdom, and were unsuccessful in their attempts to save her.
Only the Son of God is able to conquer death, and that’s who this new prince symbolizes—the long-awaited (100 years in the story) savior.
This prince doesn’t have to fight the thorns because they part for him to enter and close behind him, so he is surrounded by the thorns circling the kingdom—or a crown of thorns.
When he comes through the thorns and enters the kingdom, everything there is perfectly still, including the flies on the wall.
Even the air doesn’t move, and no one is breathing, because this is the realm of the dead.
But when the prince enters, he does breathe, and that breath is the only source of movement in the entire kingdom.
It is the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, sent into the kingdom by the son of a king to bring forth life and renew the kingdom, and to save the bride.
This reference to God breathing should remind us of God breathing life into Adam in Genesis 2, and Jesus breathing on the Apostles while saying “receive the Holy Spirit” in John 20:22.
Each time, it’s because God is breathing new life, and sending someone on a mission.
When the prince kisses Rosamund (the kiss of peace), she is immediately alive again, and so is the rest of the kingdom.
They have been freed from the curse of death through the love of the Son of the King, the one who conquered death for his bride.
They marry, and all live happily ever after, after their resurrection by the Son, and in union with Him.
Check out the rest of the posts in this series!
List of Posts in the "Fairy Tale Fridays" Series:
Sleeping Beauty (This Post)