Sleeping Beauty lived in the Ukraine, in 980 AD. You didn’t know that? Then you apparently haven’t read Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment (New York: Del Rey, 1999). I picked it up because I heard it was an adaptation of “Sleeping Beauty”, and kept reading to the end (rather than skimming it like I do usually) because it’s a darn good book.
It’s true, it’s an adaptation of “Sleeping Beauty”, but only in its very bare bones. There is a princess in an enchanted sleep, and the hero kisses her awake. I think the poke with the spindle is mentioned in passing as the reason for the sleep, but that’s pretty much it for the “Sleeping Beauty” plotline. However, for a wannabe folklorist the story is still very enchanting, starting with its hero. His name is Ivan, and he is a Russian boy whose family manages to emigrate from the Soviet Union when he is a child. But on the day before they leave, he sees a mysterious sleeping woman in a clearing in the woods, and her image haunts him throughout his growing years. Fast-forward fifteen years: Ivan is now a graduate student in America, the Iron Curtain has fallen, and he goes back to Kiev to do research for his dissertation:
It was a mad project, he soon realized – trying to reconstruct the earliest versions of the fairy tales described in the Afanasyev collection in order to determine whether Propp’s theory that all fairy tales in Russian were, structurally, a single fairy tale was (1) true or false and, if true, (2) rooted in some inborn psychologically true ur-tale or in some exceptionally powerful story inherent in Russian culture. (p.24)
I mean, how can you not like a hero like that? Of course, Ivan is irresistibly drawn back to the clearing in the woods, kisses the princess (not without some preceding difficulties on his part), and – well, no, they don’t live happily ever after, not yet. In fact, that’s really what the story is about, how this twentieth-century grad student and the tenth-century princess (who thinks he is a wimp because he can’t wield a sword) find their way to each other, truly fall in love, and defend her kingdom against the ultimate in nasty, Baba Yaga herself.
Don’t worry – the passage I quoted is pretty much the last time you hear about Propp and Afanasyev; this is not some high-falutin’ dusty-dry treatise on academics, but a rip-roaring good STORY. Love, adventure, magic, Molotov cocktails… And you do find out where Baba Yaga gets her house on chicken feet from. It’s all around one of the most satisfying novels I’ve read in a while.