Interpreting Sleeping Beauty

Telling our cultural stories is one thing; interpreting them is quite another.  In the highly acclaimed ‘12 Rules for Life’ by Jordan Peterson, in the chapter (or ‘Rule 5’) entitled ‘Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them’ (ahem – note to self), Peterson offers a compelling hermeneutic for the classic Fairy Tale

of Sleeping Beauty, which he first taught in his Biblical Series IV: Adam and Eve: Self-Consciousness, Evil, and Death,” a small clip of the video is linked in below, but for now here’s the text:

220px-12_Rules_for_Life_An_Antidote_to_Chaos_book_cover“In the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, the King and Queen have a daughter, the princess Aurora, after a long wait.  They plan a great christening, to introduce her to the world.  They welcome everyone who loves and honours their new daughter.  But they fail to invite Maleficent (malicious, malevolent), who is essentially Queen of the Underworld, or Nature in her negative disguise.  This means, symbolically, that the two monarchs are overprotecting their beloved daughter, by setting up a world around her that has nothing negative in it.  But this does not protect her.  It makes her weak.  Maleficent curses the princess, sentencing her to death at the age of sixteen, caused by the prick of a spinning wheel’s needle.  The spinning wheel is the wheel of fate; the prick, which produces blood, symbolizes the loss of virginity, a sign of the emergence of the woman from the child.

Fortunately, a good fairy (the positive element of Nature) reduces the punishment to unconsciousness, redeemable with love’s first kiss.  The panicked King and Queen get rid of all the spinning wheels in the land, and turn their daughter over to the much-too-nice good fairies, of whom there are three.  They continue with their strategy of removing all dangerous things – but in doing so they leave their daughter naïve, immature and weak.  One day, just before Aurora’s sixteenth birthday, she meets a prince in the forest, and falls in love, the same day.  By any reasonable standard, that’s a bit much.  Then she loudly bemoans the fact that she is to be wed to Prince Philip, to whom she was betrothed as a child, and collapses emotionally when she is brought back to her parents’ castle for her birthday.  It is at that moment that Maleficent’s curse manifests itself.  A portal opens up in the castle, a spinning wheel appears, and Aurora pricks her finger and falls unconscious.  She becomes Sleeping Beauty.  In doing so (again, symbolically speaking) she chooses unconsciousness over the terror of adult life.  Something existentially similar to this often occurs very frequently with overprotected children, who can be brought low – and then desire the bliss of unconsciousness – by their first real contact with failure or, worse, genuine malevolence, which they do not or will not understand and against which they have no defence.”

12 Rules, pg. 132-133

Peterson goes on to “apply” this Sleeping Beauty fairy tale into a concrete example for us today.  We are invited to imagine a three-year old (the older a child gets the more gross this deficiency in behaviour becomes), who simply has never leaned to share, because the parents are, for whatever reason, “too nice to intervene” – a litotic way of saying they’re also too damn lazy and/or horrible!

This scenario develops over the years into parent-child conflict, child-to-child conflict, parent-to-another-parent conflict, and no doubt a goodly does of marital conflict.  The end result for the sweet darling being social isolation, inability to make or hold friends, social awkwardness leading to rejection, misbehaviour and all related depression and anxiety entailements.  This is where the “little brat” opts for unconsciousness (the “sleep of the naïve and damned”) over and against real life.  No doubt she’s met a few little pricks along the way that have “nurtured” her behavioural deficiency along the way.

Anyway, the book is a great read so far (review soon probably), and the chapter heading, as are all this others, is supremely practical if not damn well obvious:  Rule 5:  Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them.

Top Tip:  Interpret our culture’s stories and help our kids to interpret themselves and the world around them!




The full version:

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