How My Favorite Fairy Tale is Getting Me Through Quarantine: Brittany and “Sleeping Beauty”
April 14, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, you might remember, we wrote a blog post all about the power of folklore and how important it is to embrace stories during this strange period the world is going through. Stories can be a bit of magic, a bit of an escape, an amazing connection to others, and so many more things besides, but they can also be just for you. Sometimes, you can curl up into a story and it can yield secrets meant only for you, your circumstances, your heart.
So, with this in mind, we’re going to share how our favorite fairy tales are helping us specifically with the realities of the pandemic on a personal level. These reflections do not define or encompass these fairy tales. One of the very best things about fairy tales is that they never mean just one thing…but they can offer a profound truth to anyone who hears them. Their beauty is at their fullest when they show who you are and what you need.
As you know, my favorite fairy tale is “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s been my favorite since I was quite small (the argument I had with my sister over the lyrics to “Once Upon a Dream” is legendary in my family!) and it’s always held a special place for me. Now, I know that some would argue that this is a terrible fairy tale to have as a favorite for a LARGE variety of reasons – the main character is too passive and a terrible model for women, the older versions of the story frequently feature rape and cannibalism, consent issues abound, and you can even interpret it as a story about the importance of paying your betters their proper due… argh!
But there’s a lot more to this tale too. I won’t go into all the things I love about it here (I’ve done so in numerous other places – here and here, to link just two examples!) – instead, I want to use this story to talk about the value of rest, because that’s the lesson it’s been giving me over the past several weeks.
“Sleeping Beauty” can be interpreted as a story about the seasons, about how, in the fall, the earth goes to sleep through the winter, and is then reborn in the spring. It’s connected to the Greek myth of Persephone, who spends part of her time in the underworld and part in our world – when she’s in Hades, she is with husband, and it is fall and winter in the world. When she reemerges, she joins her mother, the goddess Demeter, and it is Spring and Summer. All things must rest, all things must be continually reborn.
There’s a tendency in typical interpretations of these kinds of stories to view the fall/winter periods as “bad.” The sleep of the princess is a terrible curse, Persephone is forced to return to the underworld each year, flowers wilt and fade away. But I think these stories ask us to remember that this period of “death” is not a real death at all – it’s a period of rest, rejuvenation, dreaming, and planning. It can be lonely, of course – no one can join Sleeping Beauty in her dreams – but her sleep is necessary and beautiful in its own way.
To me, we are all in a period of sleep now. Despite the fact that the sun is shining and Spring flowers are bursting open everywhere, we all continue to sleep, trapped in an unprecedented stasis. We are surrounded by sadness and death and feelings of helplessness. I feel isolated, heartbroken, and frightened so often, but the “Sleeping Beauty” tale reminds me that this can also be a time for good. I have been trying so hard to remember this. I’m not setting lofty goals for myself, but I am dreaming about them and planning for them, for when the world is reborn. I am not sleeping the days away, but I’m being gentle with myself, allowing for pauses and breaks when, in other circumstances, I might otherwise have chided myself for wasting time. This is not wasted time – “Sleeping Beauty” helps me remember this.
I’ve been taking walks again, for the first time in a long time. It’s one of those things that always falls off the radar for me, even though whenever I remember to do it I really enjoy it. I live out in the middle of the country, so there’s no one around (I’m still social distancing!), but there is a wonderful kind of peace in the quiet. I’m trying to use this time for wide-awake dreaming, a time to let my imagination soar. So I’ve been traipsing through brush, holding up my skirt and pretending to be a wild witch on the moors. I’ve been running up hills like Belle in Beauty and the Beast singing about ‘adventure in the great wide somewhere.’ I’ve been chased by a mother-squirrel (after hearing her babies peep, I must have been close to her nest!), taken the time to identify all kinds of wildflowers (PictureThis is one of my favorite apps of all time), fantasized about building forest hideaways, and met a few sheep (and exceptionally dear and protective sheepdogs!)
When I was little, my two neighborhood friends and I would go across the street from my house to this small area of land surrounding my town’s reservoir. It was a bit overgrown, and there was never anyone there, and it felt like a secret, magic kingdom full of things to explore. We made maps, went on adventures, saw everything there through a kind of second-sight. We called it Sharinkenthia, and it was our haven. The area has been “cleaned up” in recent years – paths have been made, fences have been put up, landscaping has been done – and it’s not at all the same place it once was, but I feel like I’m recapturing a bit of the enchantment I felt then on these imaginative, slow, dreamy walks I’ve been taking. Walks I probably wouldn’t be taking if I weren’t reminded by a beloved story that rest, and quiet, and solitude, and dreaming are so very important.
Once upon a time there was a girl who fell into a deep sleep full of dreams and wonder… and when she woke up, the whole world was waiting for her.
P.S. We launched our response to the pandemic this week, “Rapunzel’s Circle: Finding Enchantment Under Quarantine.” This is our offering to everyone who needs an extra dose of magic now more than ever. Come read about it and join us here, we would love to have you <3
P.P.S. We’re also doing another live Profs & Pints lecture on the magical women of King Arthur legends this Thursday (two days away!) More information here, it’s going to be a fun time!