Friday’s Fairy Tales: Blue Beard

Blue Beard - Plashing Vole
Image: Plashing Vole

Some believe that Blue Beard was a “woman’s story” about the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, or, alternatively, about the dangers of not following their instincts in regards to men, and therefore inherently Feminist.  My first experience with the tale and this opinion was in Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run With the Wolves.  While it is true that Blue Beard was already a popular tale by the 17th century, and it’s possible that it was originally a “woman’s story”, Perrault’s version is based on the combination of two gruesome, and, unfortunately, true, stories.

The first one was about Conomor the Cursed, a Breton chief who it was predicted would be killed by his son.  To avoid the prophecy coming true, he murdered his wives as soon as they became pregnant.  That’s horrible enough, right?  Well, the second is a much more gruesome story, even when compared to Perrault’s tale, and is about Gilles de Rais, a wealthy nobleman who lived during the 15th century.

Gilles de Rais was Joan of Arc’s protector on the battlefield and considered a hero for helping to drive the English out of France during the Hundred Years’ War.  However, he also developed the reputation of practicing alchemy and black magic and being a pedophile and murderer of young boys after he left the military.  Supposedly, he earned the nickname “Bluebeard” from his horse’s fur, which appeared to be blue when seen in daylight, and the original folk tale was told as a way of deterring children from going onto his land.  During his trial, after the remains of fifty boys were discovered near his castle, he confessed to killing over 140 children and described in great detail how he preyed upon and tortured them.  He was burned alive while being hung at the same time.

Regardless of whether the story of Blue Beard is a Feminist tale or a story to frighten children away from an evil man, here are some modern retellings:

Friday’s Fairy Tales: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty
Image: Sofi

Friday’s Fairy Tales is a new feature about a different fairy tale each week/month.  I still haven’t decided which.

Though most often attributed to Charles Perrault, “Sleeping Beauty” was published even earlier as “Sun, Moon, and Talia”, by Giambattista Basile in 1634, also known as “Il Pentamerone, Day 5, Tale 5”.  This version is said to be the primary influence for the version that Charles Perrault wrote in 1697, which was one of the stories included in his book Histories ou Contes du temps passé.  The book was first translated into English by Robert Samber as Histories, or Tales of Past Times in 1729, and “Sleeping Beauty” can also be found in Classic Fairy Tales by Iona and Peter Opie.

Later on, the Grimm brothers borrowed the story from Perrault, as they did with many of their stories.  They cleaned it up and renamed it “Briar Rose”.  Their book was first published in 1812, and their version of the story became the most well known.  However, Charles Perrault was one of the last to avoid waking Beauty with a kiss.  Most of the versions written since, including “Briar Rose”, have used the kiss to awaken the sleeping princess.

You can find the Charles Perrault version in French and English as an ebook or audiobook at Project Gutenberg.

Some modern retellings of “Sleeping Beauty” include Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, The Castle Behind Thorn by Merrie Haskell, Shadow by Jenny Moss, Thornspell by Helen Lowe, While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell, The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey, Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey, When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden, and Briar Rose by Jane Yolen.