Little Briar Rose (A German Tale)

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Jack Zipes, translator. New York: Bantam, 1987.

Click here to read the complete tale.

The Grimms version introduces the Wise Women to the tale, much like the fairies of other versions, who each endow the baby girl with an important quality at her birth feast. One Wise Woman feels slighted for not having been invited to the event, and thus curses the princess to prick her finger with a spindle and die on her fifteenth birthday. Fortunately, there remains one Wise Woman who has not yet given a gift, and she softens the evil curse by changing it to a 100-year-long sleep instead. As the king prohibited flax in Sun, Moon, and Talia, this king orders all spindles in his kingdom to be burnt in an effort to better his daughter’s fate. But on her fifteenth birthday, she discovers an old woman spinning flax in a tower of the castle, pricks her finger, and falls into the long sleep along with everyone else in the castle. Thorns grow around the castle so that it cannot be seen, but the story of Briar Rose spreads far, enticing princes to come and try to break the spell. Many die a miserable death caught in the castle’s thorns, until the hundred years are up and a young prince successfully makes his way into the castle. The spell breaks just as the prince kisses Briar Rose, and things return exactly as they were one hundred years before. Briar Rose and the prince are married and “they live contented to the end of their days.”

This tale is much tamer in that it eliminates the rape aspect as well as the evil wife. Unlike later versions, the kiss does not appear to break the spell but instead coincidentally occurs just as the spell was about to break anyway. The only force of evil is the angered Wise Woman. It is never mentioned, but I suppose it could be implied that the old woman in the castle spinning flax was the evil Wise Woman; how else coud a spindle have made its way into the castle when they had been banned? There are no children and we do not see any activity past the wedding. The Grimms do not attempt a moral, and I struggle to find one. I suppose it could be that no one can change their destiny.

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