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  • The Deconstruction of the Male-Rescuer Archetype in Contemporary Feminist Revisions of "The Sleeping Beauty"
  • Carolina Fernández Rodríguez (bio)

Editor's Introduction

Despite its international scope, fairy-tale studies has been relatively less attentive to Spanish and Latin American traditions, and generally unaware of the scholarship produced by specialists in these areas. In recent issues, Marvels & Tales has tried to address this imbalance and to open up new perspectives for English-speaking scholars by offering translations of fairy tales by Antonio de Trueba (12 [1998]: 351-630, Juan Valera (13 [1999]: 211-33; 15 [2001]: 202-16), and Cecilia Böhl Faber (15 [2001]: 192-201; 16 [2002]: 73-83). In addition to primary texts, fairytale scholarship needs to become more widely familiar with the significant research published by Spanish-speaking scholars. The following essay by Carolina Fernández Rodríguez provides an excellent example of this work, especially at the intersection of fairy-tale studies and women's studies. Translated by the author herself, the essay is a slightly modified version of a chapter from her 1998 doctoral dissertation from the University of Oviedo, "Reescrituras contemporáneas de 'La bella durmiente' en inglés y castellano" ("Contemporary Revisions of 'The Sleeping Beauty' in English and Spanish"), which was published in book form as La bella durmiente a través de la historia [Sleeping Beauty throughout History] (Oviedo: Universidad de Oviedo, 1998). [End Page 51]

In the second half of the twentieth century the nature and function of the traditional fairy-tale rescuer have shifted dramatically. The aim of this paper is then to analyze the changes that figure has undergone in recent times. In order to do so, I have chosen the story of "The Sleeping Beauty" and have compared its most famous versions, that is, those of Basile's, Perrault's and the Grimm brothers', to some of the feminist revisions that have been produced in the last decades. Among these I have selected texts by women authors that belong both to Spanish-speaking areas, such as the Argentinean Luisa Valenzuela, and to English-speaking ones, as for example the English Angela Carter, the Irish Emma Donoghue, the Greek-American Olga Broumas, and the Indian Suniti Namjoshi, to cite but a few.

The former group of texts are responsible for the inscription of the male-rescuer archetype; in other words, they constitute a well-known corpus of tales where the rescuing agent is constantly presented as a male, thus conveying the idea that the redeemer is naturally a man. As opposed to this, feminist revisions attempt, on the one hand, to demythologize the traditional hero, and, on the other, to offer different alternatives to it. In this way they first prove that not all male figures are competent rescuers and also that female figures can sometimes perform the rescuing function more remarkably.

The Demythologization of the Male Rescuer

In traditional versions of "The Sleeping Beauty," the function of redemption is irremediably represented by a male subject. The only exception to this rule might be the case of Basile's "Sun, Moon, and Talia" (1634-36), since the princess Talia is not awakened by means of a man's intercession, but thanks to her son and daughter sucking one of her fingers. Nevertheless, in the rest of Basile's story the role of rescuer is indeed carried out by male characters: a male cook prevents Talia's children from being eaten; later on, the king throws his spouse and his secretary, the worst villains in the story, to the fire, in this manner helping Talia escape death. In Perrault's "The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods" (1697), the arrival of a prince after one hundred years brings about Sleeping Beauty's awakening. Once the rescuer becomes king, he liberates his wife from his mother's malicious schemes. Finally, in the Brothers Grimm tale "Brier Rose" (1812-57), the prince puts an end to the princess's dream with a loving kiss. Their hero, besides, is more perfect than the rescuers in previous versions because he is neither unfaithful to his first wife, like Basile's, nor the son of an ogress, like Perrault's, but a brave...


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