Study Guide

Brier Rose in Grimms' Fairy Tales

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Brier Rose

Mmm, Dinner

Imagine that you fate has been determined by fine dinnerware. Yes, dinnerware. The kind you eat dinner with. You may start to get an idea of why Brier Rose is such an interesting character, even though she spends most of the tale snoozing.

The king and queen are so overjoyed at finally having a child that they throw a fancy schmancy dinner party. So, no pressure on their kid to be perfect, right? Unfortunately, they were one golden plate short, so only twelve of the kingdom's wise women could come.

Not good. If there's one thing you want to avoid in a fairy tale, it's dissing a wise woman. Sure enough, the left out lady decides to curse the princess to fall down dead in her fifteenth year. This dire situation is made all the more worse when you take into account the fact that all the other wise women had wasted their blessings and gifts on useless stuff like virtue and beauty. Um. Who needs beauty when they're a kid, thank you very much? Luckily, the last wise woman was able to soften the curse and make it into sleep. Because, you know, sleep and dying are two sides of the same coin. There's a nice thought for you the next time you go to bed.

They Grow Up So Fast

Her parents are also totally over-protective, banning spindles from the kingdom. So, naturally, when she encounters one on her fifteenth birthday, she's all, "What's this?" and wants to touch it. That's Parenting 101. And of course she pricks herself and falls asleep, and so does everyone else in the castle (which is a real blessing, since who'd want to wake up in one hundred years only to find out that everyone you knew was dead?).

We're not told what she dreams about while asleep, but we like to think her dreams were happy and that she wasn't aware that many an ambitious prince died on the thorns protecting her castle. Her guy, the one who finally makes it through the thorns, actually seems like an okay dude, despite the fact that he plants one on her without her permission: "Then he leaned over and gave her a kiss, and when his lips touched her, Brier Rose opened her eyes, woke up, and looked at him fondly" (Brier Rose.174). When she's awakened by the prince's kiss, they're immediately married. Not too bad a fate for a kid with overly neurotic parents.

Things work out, like, ten times more happily for her in the Grimms' version than in the Italian version or the French version, wherein she goes back with her rescuer to his kingdom and is immediately threatened with cannibalism. Oh, and the king in the Italian version? Not only rapes her while she's asleep, but is already married to another chick, who eventually tries to eat Brier Rose and her children. Compared to these tales, the Grimms' take on the plot is downright cheery. But still, what's up with the emphasis on dinnerware as determiner of fate?

As a final note, it's worth mentioning that Brier Rose is one of the most passive heroines in all of these tales. Her fate is sealed while she's still in diapers, and the only move she makes (touching the spindle), promptly puts her in a coma. So if you're looking for a plucky heroine with gumption to spare, well, you're in the wrong place.

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