Sleeping Beauty is perhaps the least interesting of all the princess stories. In the Grimm Brother’s version, the baby princess is cursed with death by an evil old “Wise Woman” as vengeance for being ignored, because all old women are evil, especially the ones who will not be ignored. The curse is softened by a less evil Wise Woman who decrees that instead of dying, the princess will sleep for a hundred years. Despite all the King’s attempts to avert her fate, the princess succumbs to the curse and the entire castle falls into an enchanted sleep. Just as the prescribed hundred years ends, a Handsome Prince arrives and sexually assaults the Princess while she’s unconscious. She wakes up, falls in love with the Handsome Prince, and they live happily ever after. 

Perhaps the reason this story is so simple is because the Grimm Brothers had to excise so many details from the original story. Without all the rape and attempted cannibalism, there wasn’t much plot left (more details about the original story are in the first chapter if you’re curious).

I couldn’t write a woman sleeping through her own story, and I definitely couldn’t re-write the original (I have no interest in morality tales about rape) so I had to find a new story. Sleeping Beauty is one of the few fairy tale princesses whose mother isn’t killed off in the first paragraph. She’s also the only one who interacts with an older woman who isn’t completely evil. It’s not much, but it gave me a place to start. 

A few of these retellings went to some dark places (looking at you, Beauty and the Beast) and I didn’t want the whole book to be about the worst things that men do to women. This was my chance to have some fun – and I did. 

Also, just so you know, Gattara means “cat lady”, Xanthippe was Socrates’ wife, she was so vilified that her name later became synonymous with bitter, nagging wives, and Carson is a friend of mine. I find things like this funny, but it’s ok if you don’t. 

Once upon a time there was a King, but he was not in the least bit interesting, so we won’t mention him again. 

A long time ago in a land far away, there was much rejoicing when a woman called Gattara gave birth to a big, strong baby girl. Gattara was the wisest of the Wise Women, the council of elders who governed the land. The people were not rejoicing because the baby would inherit the Wise Woman mantle (that’s a title you have to earn goddamnit, you don’t just get born into it) but because her people were so delighted that she and the baby had survived the dangers of childbirth, and look, that’s always something to celebrate. Who doesn’t love a party? 

Gattara named her daughter Talia, in the hope that her daughter could reclaim the name given to some old dude’s fantasy about women who wake up delighted to find they’ve been raped. 

Gattara, as was incumbent on the wisest of Wise Women, was a teacher at the local children’s academy. She taught the most important subjects, critical thinking, communication, and science. Old Witch Carson (given this special title of respect and eminence for her contributions to the fields of Morris dancing and safe, affordable abortion) taught healthcare, pharmacology, and dance. Wise Woman Xanthippe taught maths, history, military tactics, and self-defence. It was all a bit irritatingly earnest and idealistic, but, honestly, what did you expect from a feminist fairy tale? 

Talia grew from a big strong baby into a sturdy toddler, full of curiosity and adventurous spirit. She joined the Children’s Academy and learned how to play and share, to resolve conflict with others and within herself. As she grew, she absorbed all the lessons on the functions of government and understood the social contract between people who are chosen to rule and people who choose how they are ruled. She read treatises on the history of empires so she could learn from the mistakes of the past, and dissertations on ethics and critical thinking so she could choose not to recreate them. She learned to ride a horse, swim a river, and tend to wounds. By the time she reached adulthood, she had been taught to understand the mechanics of sex, gender, periods, nocturnal emissions, and the physiology of orgasm. And before this gets any more cloying, it’s time to move the story along. 

Late one summer afternoon, not long after Talia’s eighteenth birthday, tired out after a vigorous fencing lesson with Wise Woman Xanthippe, she was taking a nap next to the rose garden at the Children’s Academy. 

In a typical fairy tale coincidence, just as Talia fell asleep, a Handsome Prince rode past the Academy and decided, for no particular reason, to climb the walls and have a wander through a building he had no right to enter. 

“Ow, ow, ow,” said the Handsome Prince, as he manfully ignored the sweeping pathway and fought his way through the thorny rose bushes. He swung his mighty sword at the roses and with doughty strokes, beheaded a particularly sweet-smelling yellow rose. He flexed his bare arms in case someone was watching and tried to mask his squeaks of pain with rugged grunts. Finally, he won his intrepid battle with the flowers and burst out onto the lawn where Talia lay sleeping. 

“Oh, a fair maiden!” the Handsome Prince cried, gazing at the sleeping Talia. “How hotly the blood courses through my veins in contemplation of so many charms. I shall carry her off to my bed and there I shall gather the first fruits of love!” 

He bent over Talia and tried to sweep her up in his arms. 

“What in the name of arse-guzzling fuck are you doing?” yelled Talia as she woke up, shoved the Handsome Prince’s hands off her waist and jumped to her feet. 

The Handsome Prince beamed at her. “Fair maiden, you need fear no more. I have come to rescue you!” he proclaimed proudly, reaching out a gleaming arm towards her. 

“Touch me again and I will fucking end you, cunt,” snapped Talia. 

The Handsome Prince’s wide smile dropped, and he looked doubtfully at Talia’s rangy frame and close-cropped hair. 

“You are a fair maiden, aren’t you? A hidden princess in need of rescue?” He thoughtfully flexed his biceps and waited for her admiring gasp. 

“Princess of my wide white arse,” Talia snorted. “What is wrong with you? Is this how you spend your afternoons? Chopping up rose bushes and grabbing at any sleeping woman you find? Why hasn’t anyone nailed a bucket on your head?” 

As Talia was looking around the garden in search of a bucket, Xanthippe, Gattara and Old Witch Carson arrived to investigate the shouting, followed by all the students of the Academy. 

Xanthippe looked at the confused and muscular Handsome Prince, still dripping blood from his battle with the rose bushes and started to laugh. 

“Are we starting clown classes!” she asked and poked Gattara in the ribs, “Good move. We’re all getting a bit too stuffy and serious, a bit of old fashioned slapstick is exactly what this place needs.” 

The Handsome Prince stared at her in horror. “Old… woman..? Are you a woman? You look like a man … those breeches, that hair…but… What are you?” 

Xanthippe laughed even harder. 

“Why, little man? Are you looking for a date?” She leered at him and waggled her tongue. 

“Am I… what… You……you…” the Handsome Prince picked up his sword and advanced on Xanthippe. 

“Put that thing down before I hurt you with it,” barked Talia, and expertly flipped the sword from the Handsome Prince’s hand. She turned to Gattara. 

“Mama, I have no idea why this preening little milksop is here or why he made such a mess of the garden. Maybe he’s just scared of roses. But I will not let him put his hands on me. I don’t care how much flower related trauma he’s carrying.” She glared at the Handsome Prince and tightened her grip on his sword. 

Gattara nodded and said calmly, “Indeed my daughter, you could well have wreaked a bloody vengeance upon him. He is fortunate that you refrained.” 

The Handsome Prince looked indignant and rippled more muscle at her. 

“What do you mean? I did nothing wrong! She was lying on the ground, displaying all her…” 

Old Witch Carson’s laughter was as loud as Xanthippe’s. “You want us to blame Talia, little peacock? Did your brain fall out in the rose garden? Why would anyone believe such nonsense?” 

“Why? Why would they not believe me? I am a man and a prince! A handsome one at that,” said the Handsome Prince. “Look at my muscles and my manly chin!” He thrust his chin out at Xanthippe and glared threateningly. 

Xanthippe doubled over, wailing in mirth. “Believe him! Him! That mewling mooncalf! Ahahahaha. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard since the King tried to explain which hole babies come out of.” 

Xanthippe and Old Witch Carson leaned against each other and laughed ‘til they cried. 

The indignant look fought a brief battle with a puzzled frown for possession of the Handsome Prince’s face, then gave up and fled the field. 

He turned back to the calm, dignified Gattara and said, “I do not understand these cackling harridans. You, a good and queenly woman, you will listen to me and give me the maiden for my wife, so she can live happily ever after managing all my affairs and raising my children.” 

“No,” Gattara replied calmly and turned to her daughter. “Talia, what do you want to do with this man who put his hands on you?” 

The Handsome Prince’s face found its beam again, and he strode confidently forward, “My beautiful bride!” 

Talia bared her teeth at him. “I’d sooner marry a syphilitic ferret. Step back, fuckboy.” She turned to her mother and smiled, “All I want from him, Mama, is an apology. I think he owes me that much.” 

The delighted beam dropped off the Handsome Prince’s face, never to appear again. Desperately trying ignore more howls of laughter from Xanthippe and Old Witch Carson, he turned back to Gattara. 

“This is a terrible place! The garden is a mess, and the women are all liars. It’s time for me to leave.”

Want more? Read more extracts here or buy your copy now ($24.99 – including postage within Australia).

Books by Jane Gilmore

Fairy Tale Princesses Will Kill Your Children

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