Molding young minds

Internets! Wow! Okay!

Some stuff has been happening, let’s get to it.

1: I’m going to be a secondary school teacher!

Internets, equal with my love of telling imaginary people what to do is my love of telling people what I think about things. I mean, presumably you know that. You read this blog.

I really love teaching – I taught drama to younger kids in high school, and Shakespeare and YA lit to undergrads at Canterbury University, and English to students in Japan and Cinema to undergrads in Melbourne, not to mention a hefty chunk of creative writing workshops. I once thought I would become a university lecturer and teach at that level forever, but my experience as a PhD student convinced me that this path was not for me. It’s a fine job! But teaching is a much smaller part of it than I had anticipated, and that was the part I was really into.

So this year, while I was living with my parents and occasionally my younger sister (taking off for the States again in a week, SO GLAMOUROUS), I worked retail, wrote some books, and thought a lot about what I wanted to do. I am so grateful that my family let me live rent-free, and that they were in a position to do so.

And what I want to do is teach English and Classics to teenagers.

(Internets, are you thinking, Karen, did it seriously take you a year to realise that? Because it didn’t – it took about two weeks, and then the rest of the time was spent making sure I was right. Maturity!)

I applied to the intense and excellent program at the New Zealand Graduate School of Education and was accepted. I’m moving back to Christchurch, city of my heart. I start training in late January, and start getting real experience in classrooms shortly after that. To protect the privacy of my future students (!!!) I will not be blogging about that in anything but the most generalized terms, but I am SO EXCITED. And nervous. AND EXCITED.

I also have to pay for it, about which more later.

2: There is going to be a sequel to When We Wake!

MY FIRST SEQUEL. I’ve been calling it Cheerbaby Goes To State for a while now, but the real title – thus far! – is While We Run. It’s told from the point of view of Abdi Taalib and we’re looking at a publication date of April 2014, and that is about all I’m going to tell you right now, but I am EXCITED. And nervous. AND EXCITED.

So that’s what’s up with me, Internets. How are you doing?

Sleeping Beauties: Disneyfication

Hi, Internets! It’s time for Part II of my second essay on Sleeping Beauties and my forthcoming novel When We Wake.

In the first essay, I discussed the European origins of the fairy tale. In the second essay I made some inflammatory statements about the Grimm brothers and told the sad story of Tchaikovsky yearning for critical approval.

And now, at last, we are ready for this sucker:

sleepingbeauty DVD cover

Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney, 1959.

Walt Disney has a very interesting history, none of which I am going to recount here.

I mean, it’s Walt freaking Disney. You can find emanations of the man everywhere; it is actually rather difficult to avoid him. He is haunting you! Right now! Through this essay.

Sleeping Beauty was a big dream project for Walt – nearly a decade in the making, and with a lot of itty perfectionist details that warm my picky little heart. Much like Snow White, he was convinced it was going to be an immediate critical and popular smash hit, no matter what anyone else said. Unlike Snow White, he was wrong.

But it’s definitely not the movie’s fault, because it’s really pretty damn good; beautifully animated, stunning backgrounds, great music. And, I am going to argue, surprisingly progressive in regards to gender roles! Disney princess feminism: didn’t just start with… uh, well, not The Little Mermaid. Beauty and the Beast? Belle likes to read. Although wow, creepy abusive relationship “I-can-change-him!”/”You-just-make-me-so-angry-never-leave-me!” dynamic there, maybe not. Aladdin? Jasmine’s pretty great, and there’s that whole DAD I AM NOT MARRYING ANYONE BECAUSE YOU THINK IT’S A GOOD IDEA business.

Princess-Jasmine looking angry

Okay. Let’s go with that one. Disney princess feminism: didn’t just start in 1992!

In the Disney movie, like the ballet, more was made of the role of the fairies as active participants and movers of the plot. This time, there are three good fairies – Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather. At the christening (slash engagement party, about which more later), Flora and Fauna give their gifts to the Princess Aurora – beauty and musicality. Why are fairy gifts always like this? I would personally really like the fairy gift of “never loses her keys” or “can pull study all-nighters without fatigue the next day”.

Then MALEFICENT turns up.

Maleficent

Maleficent the Enchantress, Mistress of All Evil, doesn’t seem to be genuinely put out by the lack of invitation. “Haha, you didn’t invite me, BECAUSE I’M EVIL, too funny!” she laughs, and then straight up curses Aurora and disappears.

Meriweather alters the curse – not for a hundred years, but “until true love’s kiss” wakes her. Aurora isn’t going to be handed off to any old king’s son after a century. Only her genuine true love can break the spell, thus negotiating all sorts of tricky problems of consent and treating women as trophies rather than people. In fact, the “true love” clause harkens back to Brynhildr, who could only be wakened by a man worthy of her.

Briar Rose/Aurora is taken away by the fairies to live in hiding, and indeed grows up ignorant of her own identity. One day – her sixteenth birthday! – while dancing in the woods, she meets and dances with a dashing young man. Though neither of them know it, they’ve actually been engaged for the past sixteen years. They meet as strangers, and fall in love as strangers, and again, we are avoiding a lot of consent issues here!

King Stefan and King Hubert actually have a lengthy scene covering this ground, with Hubert first insisting that the two get married immediately and Stefan pointing out that this may come as a shock to Aurora. Hubert takes offense – how could anyone NOT love his son! – and then the two drunkenly agree that of course their children are BOUND to fall in love with each other.

What’s interesting is that both men take it as a given that the children have to love each other before the wedding could take place. While this is to be a political match, it must also be a love match.

Final scene in sparkly embrace
When Kate Sheppard agitated for the vote she DREAMED OF THIS DAY

When Prince Philip turns up and tells Hubert that he’s met the girl he’s going to marry – a peasant girl! – Hubert is genuinely horrified at the thought of his son giving up the throne to marry “some nobody” and orders Philip to “marry a princess!”. But his son, instead of taking this order seriously, laughs and rides off to woo “Briar Rose”. And Hubert’s final concern is not that Philip is disobeying him, or marrying a peasant, but the thought of telling his fellow king that the royal wedding cannot after all take place.

The fairies, though they tell Aurora she can’t meet her dashing gentleman friend because 1) she’s a princess and 2) she’s already betrothed and 3) they’re taking her back to her parents that evening, are also reluctant about forcing an unwanted marriage upon Aurora. “I don’t see why she has to marry any old prince!” Meriweather mutters, and it’s fairly clear that they’re going to do something about the situation. Choice absolutely must be a part of this true romance. PROGRESSIVE! Sort of.

But MALEFICENT has turned up, and hypnotized Aurora into wandering away! The fairies go after her, and their cry of “Don’t touch anything!” enables Aurora to actually resist the hypnotism for a moment. Alas, Maleficent is just too strong. So the fairies put everyone to sleep until Aurora awakens.

Sleepy guards
I dunno, guys, putting armed guards to sleep while they’re holding polearms doesn’t seem that safety conscious to me.

When Maleficent, who has apparently not had enough EVIL for the day, kidnaps Philip, and the fairies again come to the rescue! They pit their wit and magic against Maleficent’s hordes of evil minions and much stronger magics to get Philip free, and arm him with an “enchanted shield of virtues”, and “mighty sword of truth”.

Flora tells Philip that he’ll have to face the final battles alone, but this is LIES. The fairies are with him every step of the way, turning boulders into soup bubbles, arrows into flowers, and boiling oil into rainbows (!!). They help him through the forest of thorns Maleficent conjures up and turn her nasty sidekick crow to stone.

Then Maleficent turns herself into a dragon because she is an amazing BAMF. When all is about to be LOST FOREVER, the fairies enchant the sword. “Oh, Sword of Truth, fly swift and sure, that evil die and good endure!” And BAM, Maleficent the dragon goes down. Because the fairies are awesome! Blah blah, kiss, wedding, and millions of Disney fans argue over pink dress/blue dress forever.

For the record, the blue dress is better.

sleeping_beauty_blue_by_nightwing1975
Better. Especially in this lovely version by nightwing1975 @ DeviantArt

Anyway, I don’t think Sleeping Beauty is an actually feminist movie. There are sorts of hinky issues here: Aurora’s mother gets one line, and no name; Aurora’s first (and thus coded most important) fairy gift is beauty; and regardless of the fact that it will break the spell, Aurora still hasn’t given consent to be kissed.

But. We’ve also got a movie where the most interesting and developed characters on the side of good are three middle-aged women with little wings who like to make ugly, violent things into pretty shining ones. Philip may strike the fatal blow, but Flora, Fauna and Meriweather are the unequivocal heroes of the piece – in fact, they’re probably the protagonists.

The trope of older women necessarily and cheerfully making sacrifices (“No magic! For sixteen years!”) for the benefit of others isn’t particularly enlightened. However, the fairies are not passive, but active participants in the protection of their “Briar Rose”. Older women, as the heroes! Plump older women with their grey hair and their tiny hands, facing down the bad guy! That’s pretty incredible, for 1959 and today.

Flora Fauna Meriweather
Sweet. Charming. Badasses.

And speaking of older women, is Maleficent the best Disney villain, or BEST DISNEY VILLAIN? Maleficent isn’t consumed with envy because she’s no longer the fairest in the land, or because she wants her own daughters to marry the prince instead of her good-for-nothing stepdaughter. She doesn’t have a stupidly “feminine” motive of vanity or avarice: Maleficent is evil BECAUSE SHE’S EVIL. It is both her job and her vocation, and she is clearly very good at it.

Unfortunately, all this great characterization comes at the expense of the nominal heroine. Aurora is lovely and sweet and musical and… that’s about it. Wikipedia tells me she only gets 18 minutes of screen time in the 85 minute movie. I’m not planning to factcheck that, but it sounds legit. Unlike Philip, she doesn’t resist the news that she has to marry some random dude; instead, she is miserably obedient. It turns out well for her, but that’s coincidence!

In When We Wake, Tegan is most definitely the protagonist. She has the most screen time because she has all the screen time: Tegan’s narrating the story, so she’s necessarily there throughout it. But she also relies on Doctor Marie Carmen, the cryonics expert who perfected and successfully performed the first revival. Rather than a prince breaking the “curse” of Tegan’s untimely death, it’s Marie who manages to bring Tegan out of her century long sleep. Marie becomes Tegan’s guardian – as the fairies do for Briar Rose. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but let’s just say she is not passive in Tegan’s protection either.

Tegan is also helped by Sergeant Zaneisha Washington, the deadpan weapons and martial arts expert serving as bodyguard to the “Living Dead Girl”. And because Tegan’s Catholic, there’s a third older woman she respects and admires: Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ Jesus.

virgin-mary_looking at pregnancy test
Fantastic billboard from Christchurch church St Matthews, which caused, oh, some fuss.

Here’s a bit from when Tegan argues her way into a church visit:

I avoided the centre of the nave and the woman replacing the flowers beside the lectern there; I wasn’t interested in Jesus on his crucifix behind the main altar. They had a side altar for Mary, though, and I went down to say hi, past the Stations of the Cross depicted on the wall, my steps echoing through the silent space. She was wearing blue and white, and for once she wasn’t holding baby Jesus; she was just being herself, inscrutable and watchful.

I went to my knees. ‘Hello,’ I said to the perfect stone face. ‘How are you?’

Mary didn’t reply.

‘I was thinking about what that Father guy said,’ I told her. ‘I don’t think them bringing me back was a miracle. I mean, I’d rather be alive than not, you bet. And I think it was people who did it, not God. But I don’t think it’s God’s exclusive territory, either. If it was, they wouldn’t be able to do it. And I don’t feel evil or soulless. I feel like me.’ I gulped. ‘Only sadder. And lonelier. It’s hard.’

Zaneisha would probably have been a lot more comfortable if I’d talked to the Blessed Virgin in my head, which was one of the reasons I was doing it out loud.

I mean, I mostly liked Zaneisha. I just resented that I couldn’t go anywhere without her.

A trio of older ladies! Tegan appreciates that.

The other thing about the Disney movie that I think is interesting is its use of non-original music. Uplifting the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty score wasn’t in itself particularly creative, but it did wonderful things for the movie. The score gives the movie grace without being twee, it foregrounds the old-timey feel of the piece (after all, it is the fourteenth century!), and it underlines Aurora’s gift of musicality. The closest thing Aurora really has to a character trait is the delight she takes in creating and appreciating music. Music is also how she finds simpatico with her beloved; she and Philip unite by sharing a literal song and dance, waltzing to the famous centerpiece of the ballet.

Tegan also tries to make connections to people through music. Just not Tchaikovsky. For guitar-playing Tegan, it’s all about the Beatles, who she describes as the “best musicians of their century. And ours. And all the ones to come.”

The_Fabs
She’s especially into Ringo. AUTHOR AVATAR.

Of course, when Tegan wakes to the future, she discovers that, while a Disney revival a decade earlier has people familiar with Snow White and her princessly ilk, the Beatles are now relatively obscure musicians who were famous once. Here’s Tegan talking to new friend Bethari about a print she’s got up in her bedroom:

ono and lennon on the cover of Rolling Stone

‘Who’s that?’ Bethari asked.

‘It’s John Lennon and Yoko Ono,’ I said.

‘Were they friends of yours, too?’

NOT QUITE, BETHI.

Although the kids in her music class, familiar with musical history, know a little more, none of them are really fans. Except for one guy, Abdi, who is almost as much a stranger to Melbourne, Australia, as Tegan is to the 22nd century. Unfortunately Tegan – accidentally but definitely – offended the hell out of him on her very first day at school. But as Tegan shakily embarks on her first performance, which is apparently doomed to be a failure, he stands up and opens his mouth…

Oh, man, you guys, do you think Tegan and Abdi could find simpatico through song? Will Tegan ever get be comfortable in the 22nd century? Will her guiding trio of older women prove true to her? Will she convert her friends to Beatles fandom?

Did I truly manage to write an entire book invoking the presence of one of the world’s most famous bands without writing a single sentence for which I would have to pay rights?

The answers to the first questions are yet to be seen!

The answer to the last one is yes.

When We Wake cover final


When We Wake will be available from Little, Brown and Allen and Unwin in March/February 2013. Pre-order through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.

When We Wake: Australasian cover

Internets! No second part of Sleeping Beauty essay tonight – Retail Job called for aid, and Rohan Karen will answer!

Consequently, the second part of the essay currently comprises an outline, 300 hundred words, and a picture of the Virgin Mary. You can have the rest of it tomorrow! For realsies.

But I will not break all my promises, Internets. No, in my way, I am true to you. And I believe I promised you the Australian/New Zealand cover for When We Wake, by excellent publishers Allen and Unwin.

Are you ready for this?

Are you sure?

When We Wake Australasian cover

God, I love this picture. Look at Tegan! So direct! So tough! This is a girl with things going on behind her eyes. And that crisp, clean aesthetic, the futuristic vibe, the FROZENNESS (mmmm cryogenics): I love it all.

Oh, and the unplucked eyebrows. CANON.

Oh, and, I’m just going to buff my nails for a second here, check out the blurb from Scott Westerfeld. Yeah. That’s right. “Stirring and vivid,” says awesome person, author, and NYT bestseller..

There’s one on the back jacket too, from Sean Williams (awesome person, author, and NYT bestseller): “A gripping, human story set against the backdrop of a chillingly plausible future here.”

I have always been lucky with covers, Internets, but the covers for this book! I think they take the good fortune cake.

Sleeping Beauties: Transformation and Codification

It’s been another month, Internets! And that means it’s time for another Sleeping Beauty essay, looking at the history of the story, and the influence that it’s had on my forthcoming young adult novel, When We Wake.

In my first essay, I looked at the European genesis of what we now call the Sleeping Beauty story – Brynhildr, Talia, and the princess of Perrault’s tale. Those were the ur-Sleeping Beauties, and they were undeniably influential, but not quite the version we know today.

This month, we’re hitting the Big Three, the versions that codified the Sleeping Beauty story into the one that, by our time, gets retold over and over, as straight up retellings in picture books, as trope-twisted feminist spec-fic novels, as gender bent cartoons and comics, and you know, my book.

When We Wake cover final

A Sleeping Beauty story! With cryogenics!

This essay is enormous, so it’s coming in two parts. Hold onto to your applicable accessories.

Let’s begin!

Little Briar Rose – The Brothers Grimm, 1812.

Oh, those Grimm boys. Look, I don’t want to be too down on Wilhelm and Jacob, because they made a massive contribution to fairy tale lore. They collected and preserved over a hundred stories that might have been lost for good.

Jacob and Wilhelm

I do go for the scholarly type.

They also saw fairy tales as valuable – not just as entertainment or a little light didacticism with a good moral before bedtime. To them, these folk tales were a reflection of German oral tradition, and in capturing them on paper, in the naturalistic style of the storytellers from whom they collected them, they were preserving an important part of German tradition. This was a consciously political act; they were deliberately trying to conceive of an united creative German literature.

Except they fully appropriated and modified a lot of stories in the process, claiming them as wholly German stories when they really weren’t.

1812 Heineman map

Some of these countries don’t exist anymore. Some of them hadn’t existed two decades earlier.

It’s hard for an island girl like me to really grasp this on a fundamental level, but Europe is, like, fluid! Borders shift! People near borders often have way more in common with the people in the next town than they do the people across the other side of the country, near another border, like a common language, and a common landscape – and common stories. And then their stories might shift to the next town along, and so on, and so on – and then the Grimms decided they were German. BAM. Red Riding Hood is a German story. It’s written down, it must be true!

So that frustrates me. And the other thing is that most of the actual storytellers were women. There’s a perception they were all old peasant grandmothers, but that’s not true – most of them were bourgeois women, including Dortchen Wild, who later became Wilhelm’s wife. Rather than roaming the countryside and visiting cottages, the Brothers Grimm sat at home and had stories told to them, largely by other dudes interested in folklore, or educated ladies (go ladies!). But these educated women heard many of the stories from their nursemaids and servants – poor women were the ultimate source for a lot of the tales.

The Grimms did give these women some credit (“This story is from an old peasant woman named Anna!”) but the profits (such as they were – this really wasn’t a moneymaker for the brothers until much later), went to the boys. I guess Dortchen profited from her husband getting wealthier? However, she also had to flee for her life when he took a dangerous political stand against the new German ruler so, uh, basically, ladies, not doing so well out of the Grimms.

And that’s not even mentioning all the name-brand creditability. Does Anna the peasant get a fantasy procedural crime show on NBC named after her? NO she does NOT!

Grimm promo image

Oh, murder TV. So tough on the ladies.

Moreover, Children’s and Household Tales was revised a bunch of times, and in the process it was sanitized, overtly Christianised, and written with a definite bias towards aristocrats and wealthy people. Fewer resourceful peasants, for example, and more bumbling ones.

Earlier versions were much spicier, but condemned for being too salacious and “not suitable for children”. The Grimm brothers hadn’t collected the stories for children, but since the children of wealthy people seemed to be the biggest market to tap, Wilhelm cleaned up later editions to be more appealing to children – or, as Jack Zipes says, more appealing to “adults who who wanted the tales censored for children”.*

What does that mean in terms of the Sleeping Beauty story? Well, for one thing, it was claimed as a German tale instead of a French one. I mean, there was the Brynhildr Germanic influence so it’s not that wild an idea, but Perrault’s fingers were definitely all up in that pie. For another, there’s no ogre mother-in-law (or first wife to the prince). No cannibals wanting to eat children! That’s inappropriate! Instead, that second part of the tale was relegated to a fragment, a not-quite-complete story in itself not attached to the first section.

But boy, did those Grimm boys know how to create an archetype.

Sleeping Beauty illustration

Here’s what happens in their version:

– The King and Queen want a child, and when they have one are so happy they have a huge party.
– They invite all the fairies in the land except one.
– The fairies bless the child with various gifts.
– The left-out fairy turns up and curses the child – when she turns 15 she will prick her finger on a spindle and die.
– The last good fairy modifies the curse – it will only be a deep sleep of a hundred years.
– The King orders every spindle in the land burnt anyway, just in case he can prevent the curse.
– The princess grows up beautiful and so on.
– On her fifteenth birthday she goes wandering around the palace, and climbs to the top of an old tower. There she goes in and finds an old woman with a spindle. She reaches out to try, pricks her finger, and falls asleep.

Sleeping-Beauty-grimms-fairy-tales-4058930-472-550

– Everyone else in the palace falls asleep and a deadly hedge of thorns grows around the palace. Many princes try to break the spell, but are caught in the thorns and die.
– A hundred years later a prince turns up, and the thorn hedge gives way. He sees everyone asleep, but he finds Briar Rose and , overcome with her beauty (Dude! Boundaries!) he kisses her. She wakes up and “looked at him quite sweetly”, as well you might if there was an armed stranger hovering over you with a dopey look on his face.
– “And then the marriage of the King’s son with Briar Rose was celebrated with all splendour and they lived contented to the end of their days.”

BOOM. That’s the Sleeping Beauty story right there. That’s an ideal archetype and a lesson in plot point planning all in one. I mean, look at it: Good thing (child!) – Bad thing (wicked fairy curse!) – Good thing (good fairy helps out) – Good thing (princess grows up gifted) – BAD THING (the curse takes place!) – BAD THING (all those dead princes) – GOOD THING (the princess is woken and all ends in a happy ever after). If I could plot that perfectly I would spend way less time grinding my teeth at pacing issues.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this story is so attractive to people who wanted to modify or adapt it for other media – including, in the late 1800s, some gentlemen who wanted to put on a little dance show.

Sleeping Beauty Ballet

If this is like the dance movies I’ve seen, one of these people taught the other one to bring in the real flavour of the streets.

Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky, Petipa, Vsevolozhsky, 1890

Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was approached by the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres, Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky. His mission was turn the Grimms’ Little Briar Rose into a ballet score, with Imperial Balletmaster Marius Petipa doing the choreography. (Actually, the initial approach was for the story of Undine, which would have been totally freaking cool, but never mind.)

This sounds great and all, but Tchaikovsky’s previous (and first) ballet was some ridiculous frothy piece called Swan Lake, and it hadn’t been that popular among the intelligensi. In fact, it was deemed a critical failure.

It seriously was.

I KNOW.

Poor Tchaikovsky. He wrote a metric buttload of stuff that’s considered classical canon today (The Nutcracker! The 1812 Overture!) but during his lifetime he usually rated a resounding “Enh,” from the critics, especially those of his native land.

Of course, what he was trying to write wasn’t the classical music of the time – it was the popular music of the time, or at least for the people in that time who could afford trips to the opera, concert hall, and ballet. And while his compositions were reasonably entertaining for the general public, the critical success just wasn’t there.

Tchaikovsky was given a scenario by Vsevolozhsky, who had approached the plot via the Grimm version, but had also hit up Perrault, French being way more fashionable in late 19th century Russia than German. While writing the scenario, Vsevolozhsky (maybe with Petipa, who was very specific about what he wanted from the music) had a really brilliant idea to make more of the evil and good fairies.

Why should they just show up, make curses/blessings, and disappear?

No, in the ballet, Carabosse, the evil fairy, is the one who entices the Princess Aurora to prick her finger by disguising herself as a harmless stranger. And the (good) Lilac Fairy turns up to extend the spell to the other members of the court. She then sort of hangs around the woods until lonely prince Florimund appears, where she shows him a picture of the sleeping princess, leads him to the hidden castle and tells him how to break the curse.

ALL IN DANCE.

(Ballet is awesome, you guys. Petipa’s incredible choreography is full of exciting leaps and pirouettes.)

Carabosse tries to stop Florimund, and a battle ensues. ALSO IN DANCE. Internets, you know I love a good dance off!

Brint it on 4 cheer off

This is actually a cheer-off, but I love those too

Of course, Florimund’s dance is MIGHTIER than hers, and he defeats Carabosse. He kisses the princess to wake her up. Then, instead of just ASSUMING she’ll be cool with this kissing stranger dude, he actually proposes, and seeks her family’s approval for the match.

I think Vsevolozhsky’s idea of doing more with the fairies was an excellent addition to the story. They added character and interest, spun out more of the plot, and made much more of the roles of the female characters. We don’t just have a passive princess here, however blessed she is – the fairies, good and bad, have active roles to play in the unwinding of the story.

But Vsevolozhsky also had another brainwave. Why not include lots of the other fairy tale characters that Perrault/the Grimms had used? And thus, while the first two acts of Sleeping Beauty are the story above, Act III is a whole bunch of people like Puss in Boots and Red Riding Hood turning up to join the wedding celebration. And because this is a ballet, they all have to do a special dance.

This is why the full Sleeping Beauty, with intervals, is over four hours long, and also why it’s frequently cut down, and ALSO why no one’s super into the last act except maybe the dancers who get to have a solo or pas de deux.

jr_beauty_elizabeth_harrod_paul_kay_by_john_ross

Everybody look at us!

But oh boy, that music. It’s really something.

The composition of Sleeping Beauty went relatively smoothly for a guy who had destroyed opera scores in a fit of rage because they just weren’t good enough. In 1890 the ballet premiered; all four hours of it. The Imperial Czar ordered the composer to his box, and Tchaikovsky went, expecting FAME and GLORY. The Czar told him the ballet was, quote, “Very nice.”

DUDE. That’s just one step up from, “Well… I really like the font on these programs.”

Sleeping_beauty_original_cast

The original cast, looking super happy about this review.

Everyone else followed the Czar: Sleeping Beauty had a slightly better critical reception than Swan Lake had received, but it certainly wasn’t a praisefest for the composer.

However, that changed with time – Tchaikovsky was a bit of a Sleeping Beauty himself, popularity-wise. By 1903, Sleeping Beauty was the second most popular ballet in the repertory of the Imperial Ballet. By 1921, the ballet was gaining international recognition, and now, of course, it’s an acclaimed and integral part of the classical repertoire.

But alas, real people don’t get to sleep until they can wake into a world that’s ready to welcome them. While Vsevolozhsky and Petipa were both around to see the ballet’s critical stock rise, Tchaikovsky died in 1893, three years after the premiere. In his lifetime, he never received the rampant critical acclaim he so desired.

However, he left the music. That beautiful, beautiful music.

Let’s pretend it’s 1950s USA and we’re thinking about this Sleeping Beauty tale. What have we got here?

We’ve got a very popular Russian ballet of an also very popular German folk tale revision of a French fairy tale of an Italian fable of a Norse myth. We’ve got a basic plot that can spin out for up to four hours – or maybe 90 minutes or so. We’ve got an ensemble of characters that go beyond cardboard cutouts. And we’ve got some really amazing music.

And none of it was copyrighted.

Did somebody say well-loved family-friendly classic story? DID SOMEBODY SAY NO COPYRIGHT?

CALL WALT DISNEY.

sleeping-beauty castle

And join me here for part two, tomorrow!

* Jack Zipes is an excellent Grimm scholar. I recommend The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World to anyone interested in more.

When We Wake cover final

When We Wake will be available from Little, Brown and Allen and Unwin in March/February 2013. Pre-order through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.