101 Classic Short Stories: The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood

By Charles Perrault

THERE was once in a distant country a King and Queen whose only sorrow was that they had no children. At last the Queen gave birth to a little daughter and the King showed his joy by giving a christening feast so grand that the like of it was never known. He asked all the fairies in the land-there were seven found in the kingdom-to stand godmothers to the little Princess; hoping that each might bestow on her some good gift.

After the christening all the guests returned to the palace, where there was placed before each fairy godmother a magnificent covered dish, and a knife, fork, and spoon of pure gold, set with precious stones. But, as they all were sitting down at table there entered an old fairy who had not been invited, because it was more than fifty years since she had gone out of a certain tower, and she was thought to be dead or enchanted. The King ordered a cover to be placed for her, but it was of common earthenware, for he had ordered from his jeweler only seven gold dishes, for the seven fairies aforesaid. The old fairy thought herself neglected, and muttered angry threats, which were overheard by one of the younger fairies, who chanced to sit beside her. This good godmother, afraid of harm to the pretty baby, hastened to hide herself behind the hangings in the hall. She did this because she wished to speak last and repair any evil the old fairy might intend.

The fairies now offered their good wishes, which, unlike most wishes, were sure to come true. The first wished that the little Princess should grow up the fairest woman in the world; the second, that she should have wit like an angel; the third, that she should be perfectly graceful; the fourth, that she should sing like a nightingale; the fifth, that she should dance perfectly well; the sixth, that she should play all kinds of music perfectly. Then the old fairy’s turn came.Shaking her head spitefully, she uttered the wish that when the baby grew up into a young lady, and learned to spin, she might prick her finger with a spindle and die of the wound.

This terrible prophecy made all the company tremble; and every one fell to crying. Upon which the wise young fairy appeared from behind the curtains and said: “Assure yourselves O King and Queen; the Princess shall not die. I have no power to undo what my elder has done. The Princess must pierce her finger with a spindle and she shall then sink, not into the sleep of death, but into a sleep that will last a hundred years. After that time is ended, the son of a King shall come and awake her.”

Then all the fairies vanished.

The King, in the hope of avoiding his daughter’s doom, issued an edict forbidding all persons to spin, and even to have spinning wheels in their houses, on pain of instant death. But it was in vain. One day when she was just fifteen years of age, the King and Queen left their daughter alone in one of their castles, where, wandering about at her will, she came to a little room in the top of a tower, and there found a very old woman, who had not heard of the King’s edict, busy with her spinning wheel.

“What are you doing, good old woman?” said the Princess.

“I’m spinning my pretty child.”

“Ah, how charming! Let me try if I can spin also.”

She had no sooner taken up the spindle than, being hasty and unhandy, she pierced her finger with the point. Though it was so small a wound, she fainted away at once and dropped on the floor. The poor old woman called for help; shortly came the ladies-in-waiting, who tried every means to restore their young mistress; but all in vain. She lay, beautiful as an angel, the color still lingering in her lips and cheeks, her fair bosom softly stirred with her breath; only her eyes were fast closed. When the King, her father, and the Queen, her mother, beheld her thus, they knew that all had happened as the cruel fairy meant, and that their daughter would sleep for one hundred years. They sent away all the physicians and attendants, and themselves sorrowing laid her upon a bed in the finest apartment in the palace. There she slept and looked like a sleeping angel still.

When this misfortune happened, the kindly young fairy who had saved the Princess by changing her sleep of death into this sleep of a hundred years, was twelve thousand leagues away, in the kingdom of Mataquin. But, being informed of everything by a little dwarf who wore seven- league boots, she arrived speedily in a chariot of fire drawn by dragons. The King handed her out of the chariot, and she approved of all he had done. Then, being a fairy of great common sense and foresight, she thought that the Princess, awakening after a hundred years in this old castle, might not know what to do with herself if she found herself alone. Accordingly, she touched with her magic wand everybody and everything in the palace except the King and Queen: governesses, ladies of honor, waiting maids, gentlemen ushers, cooks, kitchen girls, pages, footmen; even the horses that were in the stables, and the grooms that attended them, she touched each and all. Nay, the dogs, too, in the outer court, and the little fat lapdog, Mopsey, who had laid himself down beside his mistress on her splendid bed, were also touched, and they, like all the rest, fell fast asleep in a moment. The very spits that were before the kitchen fire fell asleep, and the fire itself, and everything became as still as if it were the middle of the night, or as if the palace were a palace of the dead.

The King and Queen, having kissed their daughter, went out of the castle, giving orders that it was to be approached no more. The command was unnecessary, for in one quarter of an hour there sprang up around it a wood so thick and thorny that neither beasts nor men could attempt to penetrate there. Above this dense mass of forest could only be seen the top of the high tower where the lovely Princess slept.

When a hundred years were gone the King had died, and his throne had passed to another royal family. The reigning King’s son, being one day out hunting, was stopped in the chase by this great wood, inquired what wood it was and what were those towers which he saw appearing out of the midst of it. Every one answered as he had heard. Some said it was an old castle haunted by spirits. Others said it was the abode of witches and enchanters. The most common story was that an Ogre lived there, a giant with long teeth and claws, who carried away naughty little boys and girls and ate them up. The Prince did not know what to think. At length an old peasant was found who remembered having heard his grandfather say to his father that in this tower was a Princess, beautiful as the day, who was doomed to sleep there for one hundred years, until awakened by a king’s son, who was to marry her.

At this the young Prince, who had the spirit of a hero, determined to find out the truth for himself.

Spurred on by love and honor, he leaped from his horse and began to force his way through the thick wood. To his amazement the stiff branches all gave way, and the ugly thorns drew back of their own accord, and the brambles buried themselves in the earth to let him pass. This done, they closed behind him, allowing none to follow. Nevertheless, he pushed boldly on alone.

The first thing he saw was enough to freeze him with fear. Bodies of men and horses lay extended on the ground; but the men had faces, not death white, but red as roses, and beside them were glasses half filled with wine, showing that they had gone to sleep drinking. Next he entered a large court paved with marble, where stood rows of guards presenting arms, but as still as if cut out of stone; then he passed through many chambers where gentlemen and ladies, all in the dress of the past century, slept at their ease, some standing, some sitting. The pages were lurking in corners, the ladies of honor were stooping over their embroidery frames or listening to the gentlemen of the court; but all were as silent and as quiet as statues. Their clothes, strange to say, were fresh and new as ever; and not a particle of dust or spider web had gathered over the furniture, though it had not known a broom for a hundred years. Finally, the astonished Prince came to an inner chamber, where was the fairest sight his eyes ever beheld.

A young girl of wonderful beauty lay asleep on an embroidered bed, and she looked as if she had only just closed her eyes. Trembling, the Prince approached and knelt beside her. Some say he kissed her; but as nobody saw it, and she never told, we cannot be quite sure of the fact. However, as the end of the enchantment had come, the Princess waked at once, and, looking at him with eyes of the tenderest regard, said, sleepily: “Is it you, my Prince? I have waited for you very long.”

Charmed with these words, and still more by the tone in which they were uttered, the Prince assured her that he loved her more than his life. For a long time did they sit talking, and yet had not said half enough. Their only interruption was the little dog Mopsey, who had awakened with his mistress, and now began to be jealous that the Princess did not notice him as much as she was wont to do.

Meanwhile all the attendants, whose enchantment was also broken, not being in love, were ready to die of hunger after their fast of a hundred years. A lady of honor ventured to say that dinner was served, whereupon the Prince handed his beloved Princess at once to the great hall. She did not wait to dress for dinner, being already perfectly and magnificently attired, though in a fashion somewhat out of date. However, her lover had the politeness not to notice this, nor to remind her that she was dressed exactly like his grandmother whose portrait still hung on the palace walls.

During dinner a concert by the attendant musicians took place, and, considering they had not touched their instruments for a century, they played the old tunes extremely well. They ended with a wedding march, for that very evening the Prince and Princess were married.

After a few days they went together out of the castle and enchanted wood, both of which immediately vanished, and were nevermore beheld by mortal eyes. The Princess was restored to her ancestral kingdom, and after a few years the Prince and she became King and Queen, and ruled long and happily.