Old women, ugly women, and especially old ugly women have suffered a bad rap for centuries. Instead of venerated for our wisdom and tenacity, we were branded as witches and used to scare little kids into eating their Brussels sprouts. The Grimm brothers flooded the market with lurid tales of wicked harridans bent on evil, and, unfortunately, those are the stories that stuck. I personally think the Grimm boys were a couple of twisted misogynists, and I am here to set the record straight about the only story I know by heart, SLEEPING BEAUTY. My equally-maligned sisters out there must speak for themselves.
I am Grizelda, eldest of thirteen fairy daughters born to Roland and Lucretia in the faraway kingdom of Kasnia. Before you get all dewy-eyed about fairy princesses, let me tell you up front that I looked like an old crone the day I was born, and I look like an old crone now, only bigger and one helluva lot older. My twelve sisters were quintessential fairy creatures, all gossamer and gorgeous. I was anything BUT gossamer and gorgeous so my family ignored me and people at court made me the butt of their jokes. At the age of ten, fed up with all the snickers and snubbing, I moved into my own tower and set up a fairy kingdom of books, music, favorite games and my collection of trained songbirds. And no mirrors.
I spent eight happy years in my little tower until invitations to the birth banquet for the new princess went out to everyone in the kingdom. Everyone but me. I decided it was payback time.
When the festivities were well underway, I burst into the hall and shouted. “Exclude me at your peril, oh great Lords and Ladies. Laugh while you may. Tears follow laughter.” It was a stunning performance, if I do say so myself — you could hear a feather flutter in that hall. My family stared down at their plates in horror, and the King stuttered excuses about a misplaced invitation. I ignored them all and sat down in a chair by the door.
When the fairies presented their gifts to the new princess, I remained seated. My sisters, true to form, gave trinkets like Beauty, Wit, Charm and Virtue. When I thought all had finished, I rose and advanced toward the cradle.
“Hear now, my gift to the little princess.” I held up one of the baby’s hands. “On the day she reaches her fifteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.”
The Queen snatched the princess’s hand away from me, lifted her up and wept as she rocked the tiny bundle. “Please, have pity.”
“Where was your pity for me?” I snarled at her, then whirled on the crowd, “Where was a courteous word for the ugly one?”
From behind me, my littlest sister said in her bell-like voice, “I regret I do not have the power to undo my sister’s spell. The princess shall prick her finger on her fifteenth birthday but instead of dying, shall fall into a deep sleep that will last for 100 winters. When that time expires, a prince will waken her with a kiss.”
Believe it or not, my sister’s intervention came as a relief to me. Hell, that tiny little baby never did anything to harm me. I doubted I had the power to make such a curse work anyway, but still….
Time passed and everyone, including me, forgot about the curse. One morning as I worked at the spinning wheel, my little songbird sang a particularly beguiling melody that floated out the window and into the ear of the princess on her morning walk. Lured by the song, she followed it to my tower.
The child had grown into a sweet, enchanting creature. She did not turn away from me in fright or disgust and even called me ‘Auntie.’ I showed her how to work the spinning wheel and entertained her with my stories as she spun. She told me of her lonely life and begged me to join her at Court as a companion.
Warmth and love flooded through me for the first time in my life. Just then, bells rang out heralding the princess’s fifteenth birthday, and I remembered the curse. In panic, I leapt from my chair and grabbed for the princess’s hand. Startled, she jerked, pricked her finger and slumped over the wheel.
Choking on remorse and shame, I lifted the princess off the spinning wheel and laid her on the bed, spread her hair across the pillow and folded her dainty hands. I covered her with a length of silk then locked the tower door and descended the stairs. Not a living creature stirred in the courtyard. Horses slept with their muzzles buried in hay; birds hung from the branches of trees; goldfish lay motionless in the bottom of their pool; a cook slumped over half-kneaded dough; guards dozed at their posts. Silence shrouded the castle.
As atonement for my wretched curse, I vowed to protect the unconscious inhabitants of the castle from prying eyes and scalawags. I planted a hedge of thorns to hide the castle from view and sent fortune hunters scuttling away trailing shredded clothing and bleeding body pieces. The 100 years passed slowly for me, but I kept busy dusting the castle and all its inhabitants, repairing rents in the briar hedge, and maintaining a garden to feed myself.
Looking out my tower window one morning, I spied a young man hunting in the woods and made my way toward him. He didn’t turn from me in disgust as others had done but spoke gently and courteously. He was intelligent, well-spoken and carried a heavy purse at his waist. Satisfied this was the young prince promised by my sister, I told him of the enchanted castle and the sleeping princess.
When the prince approached the hedge, it spread its thorns and allowed him safe passage. Stepping over the sleeping bodies on his way to the tower, he opened the door with my key, climbed the steps and discovered the princess lying as I had left her. When he kissed the sleeping lips, her eyelids fluttered open, and she bolted off the bed. “What the hell took you so long?” she said.
At the moment lips touched lips, hundreds of activities resumed throughout the castle. The cook kneaded her dough, guards snapped to attention, the King continued his speech to his ministers, and preparations for the celebration of the princess’s fifteenth birthday proceeded.
Apprised by the prince of my guardianship over the castle and the princess, the Queen forgave me and the King issued a decree appointing me official godmother to the princess and her future children. My fairy family also forgave and embraced me, and my littlest sister cried when she kissed me. Everyone lived happily ever after.
There you have it, the real story of the sleeping beauty. Am I a wicked old witch, evil and malevolent to the bone, or just a cute little old lady who made a tiny mistake in her youth and spent the rest of her life cleaning up the mess?