Merry meet my fairysouls! Here is my new video and it is all about magic in Sleeping Beauty. If you prefer to read scroll down to read the article. I filmed this on the New Year so you can see the sparkling Christmas tree behind me.
What it comes to the older classic Disney animations, Sleeping Beauty from 1959 is one of my personal favorites. Style of the animation is gorgeous and as an illustrator, I can only admire the delicate background art created by illustrator Eyvind Earle but my absolute favorite part in the film is the representation of magic.
Disney´s Sleeping Beauty is loosely based on Charles Perrault´s fairytale of the same name and Perrault´s fairytale (which you can read here) was based on a medieval ballad, which is the first literal version of Sleeping Beauty. Perrault was the first who included the magical elements to the story, like the spell in the spinning wheel. In the Disney animation fairies are the ones who hold the magical powers.
Aurora´s Fairy Godmothers
In the animation, Aurora´s three godmothers are called Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Flora gives the baby princess the gift of beauty, Fauna gives her the gift of song and when Merryweather is about to give her gift, that is when Maleficent appears, so it is left to Merryweather to change Maleficent curse from death to 100 years of sleep.
Three fairies wear different colors and the color code is based on ancient fairylore where fairies are often associated with different colors.
Flora wears red which represents; life, sun, mother goddess and flowers.
Fauna wears green which represents forest, plants, and animals.
Merryweather wears blue which represents thoughts, thinking, and ideas.
These three fairies are all connected to different elements. Flora is connected to fire, Fauna is connected to the earth and Merryweather is the fairy of the air.
Here are a few interesting facts about these three fairies.
Originally script writers planned to have seven fairies for the animation but that ended up being too much. Three fairies went through many transformations. Flora and Fauna first had different names. Flora was called Tranquility (fairy of dreams) and Fauna was Fernadell (fairy of the forest). Merryweather was always called Merryweather.
These three Disney fairies have some awesome powers and I dare to say it, I like them so much more than Tinker Bell (no offense J.M.Barrie).
Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather have the following magical powers:
Telekinesis - ability to move objects with their minds/wands
Color manipulation - best example of this is Flora´s and Merryweather´s constant fight whether Aurora´s dress should be pink or blue (I´m on #teamblue).
Conjuration - ability to materialize objects from thin air.
Ability to turn invisible.
Talent to manipulate and transform light.
Pyrokinesis - ability to create fire and manipulate it.
Ability to transform objects and change their size.
Ability to fly.
Ability to change appearance, size and looks.
Wonderful World of Fairylore
Three fairies in Disney´s Sleeping Beauty are three fairy sisters and throughout history, this group of three fairies or three fairy godmothers has appeared in one form or another. We can find them from many cultures and mythologies.
Often the fairy godmothers appear in groups of three or four and these fairies are always guardian spirits.
In Welsh fairylore, three fairies originate from Benedith y Mamau which means the blessing of the mothers. Roots of Benedith y Mamau are in ancient goddess cult. Benedith y Mamau represented the triple goddess and the name originates from Latin matres meaning mother. These three goddesses were worshipped as the protectors of people. The matrons were widely worshipped in the 5th century in Gaul, Germania and Northern Italy.
Fairies that are connected to faith (like fairies in Disney´s Sleeping Beauty) often appear in the groups of three. In Norse mythology, the three Norns who are the weavers of destiny, appear in the group of three and so does the Morai, who are the three goddesses of faith in Greek mythology.
In ancient Finland, it was believed that each person had an invisible spirit who guarded them. This spirit was called haltija. Word haltija has many different meanings. It can mean an elf, a fairy or a spirit/nature spirit.
In Arabic folklore jinnie/jenyah (genie) before they were solely connected to wish making and magic lamps were guardian spirits of people and places in nature.
In Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania fairies were known as Laumes and they were the servants of the goddess Laima, who was the goddess of faith and protector of humans. Laumes were the guardian of children and protectors of mothers and pregnant women. It was believed that a fairy was present in each birth and that fairy became the child´s godmother and she protected them throughout their life.
Very often people criticise Sleeping Beauty that it is not a very empowering film for women. If we think about Aurora I agree that she is not a very active princess but I don´t think that is really that much of a character flaw but it has more to do with the story. We can´t expect that many heroic deeds from her since she spends most of the film sleeping.
the magic in Sleeping Beauty is actually rooted in the group dynamics of the three fairy godmothers which makes the film empowering and quite feminist. These three ladies team up to raise a child together and in the beginning, they have no idea how to do that especially without magical powers that I assume they have been born with. They give up their really cool powers for 16 years to protect this girl who is one day going to be the queen of their home land. By doing this these fairies are the heroes of the film. They are the ones who save the kingdom by helping prince Phillip and by raising Aurora and protecting her from Maleficent. Magic of the three fairy godmothers is in their group dynamics and their faith for each others (faith for their "fairy coven"). Sometimes they do get on each others nerves like sisters do but in the end they all know what is at stake and they work together.
Maleficent, The Black Fairy
In the original Sleeping Beauty ballad, the fairies are missing. The story is quite horrifying for modern readers. It includes a prince who rapes an unconscious princess who gives birth to twins while being in a coma. When the prince wants to marry the girl he raped, his wife tries to kill them and the cheated wife is framed as the villain of the story. In Perrault´s version, the prince did not have a revengeful ex-wife, neither he was a rapist but he had a cannibalistic ogre stepmother who wanted to eat couple´s young children.
Obviously, neither one of these scenarios were fitting for a Disney film. The origins of Disney´s Maleficent is in deeper and older fairylore. More specifically, in the legend of the black fairy.
As I mentioned earlier it is common in fairylore that fairies are often associated with different colors.
Colors of Maleficent are black, purple and poison green.
Black represents a hidden identity and death.
Purple represents high magic, spirituality, and high priestess. Back in the days purple color was very difficult to make so it was only allowed for royal people to wear purple. In Sleeping Beauty Maleficent is a ruler of her land.
Poison/yellow-ish green represents jealousy and danger.
Fairy of Revenge
Story of the black fairy follows a very old narrative of the fallen one. We can date first stories back to 30 - 40 000 years to the time of shamanism. In some native American and Finno-Ugric cultures, the world was created by two water birds. In these myths one of the water birds was good and the other bird was an evil/trickster. The world was only water and these birds dived to the bottom and brought some dirt in their beaks to the surface and started to build the earth this way. The trickster hid some of the dirt and when the "good" bird found out about this, he forced the trickster to become his servant, so the trickster bird became the ruler of the underworld and receiver of souls.
A similar story can be found from the Bible where Lucifer is the fallen angel and is banished from heaven. In Koran, the Iblis is the fallen jinnie who is Carlotta by Allah because he refused to bow Adam, the first man.
There are many examples in myths where the "neglected" member in the family/pantheon of deities becomes the ruler of death and the underworld. In ancient Greece after killing their father Kronos, the three brothers Zeus, Poseidon and Hades divided the world. Zeus who was the oldest became the ruler of the skies, Poseidon who was the second oldest ruled over seas and Poseidon who was the youngest became the ruler of the underworld.
The original fairytale of Sleeping Beauty does not have straight connections to magic but it does show the cattiness in female relationships. This is something that can also be found in the story of the black fairy. In ancient Europe there was (and still is) many negative associations to the color black and black fairy wearing the color black automatically has made her an outcast among the other fairy. In the folktales about the black fairy she usually starts out like any other fairy but for one reason or another becomes rejected by the other fairies and this chain of actions causes the black fairy seeking revenge to the other fairies. Disney´s Maleficent has all the same powers than Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather and eventually, her plot does not work out because she lacks the support of others. Her only true friend is her crow. The ogres that work for her are just minions and can easily turn against her.
It seems to be some kind of a Hollywood trend to make fairytale villains seek forgiveness and go through redemption. I have seen this a lot in films and tv in recent years. I did not like the live-action movie Maleficent that much. I thought Angelina Jolie did a good job playing Maleficent but I did not like the plot. In the live-action movie, the three fairy godmothers were turned into caricatures and they didn´t really do anything in the movie. Maleficent was not evil. She was "victim of patriarchy" and she became Aurora´s godmother. I was glad that the film had the fairy godmother-aspect included since that is important part of the story.
In the animation, Stefan and the queen are very loving parents and it broke their hearts when they had to give their child away. I did not like the way Stefan was portrayed in the movie Maleficent since he was a great character in the animation. The live action draws from the original ballad where the princess was raped and abused by the prince. whereas the original animation got it´s inspiration from Perrault´s Sleeping Beauty which draws heavily from the black fairy trope. In the original animation, it is pretty clear that the fairies and Maleficent go way back but their relationship is not explained.
I am a big fan of ABC´s Once Upon A Time. It is another show where redemption among villains is an extremely common theme. Regina the evil queen starts out as a straight forward villain. Season by season she becomes a better person and by the end of the series, she is crowned again as a good queen. Redemption as a story arc can work in a movie or a series but there is no denying that Regina, the evil queen on the earlier seasons is more interesting to watch than the good Regina of the later seasons. Another villain in Once Upon A Time is Rumplestiltskin who also goes through redemption arc. It takes much longer time for Rumple to get his redemption because unlike Regina, Rumple´s support net is much smaller. Once Upon A Time had a very interesting take on the black fairy and to my pleasant surprise, it had its inspiration in the black fairy folk tales where fairies were protectors of children.
The Empowering Villain
Maleficent represents the villain archetype when the three fairy godmothers represent the nurturing mother. What I love about the original Disney´s Maleficent is that she is un-apologetically evil. She has very bold moves, unforgettable laughter (check the video 18:20 and my favourite Maleficent laughter) and she can turn into this amazing kick-ass dragon. Maleficent is the dragon queen. She embodies evil and she does not regret anything she does. My favourite Maleficent scene is the one where she confronts prince Phillip and tells him Now you will meet Maleficent the lover of all evil.
She is very dramatic and among the fairies my favorite character in the movie. Maleficent embraces her evilness, it is part of her. What if we turn the premise of Sleeping Beauty upside down and look Maleficent as a character who is proud of the fact that she is an outcast and she does things differently and that is her magical power. Same way as working collectively is the magical power of the fairy godmothers. Maleficent being this extremely powerful evil character can be seen as a metaphor or as an allegory to love yourself the way you are and embracing that. Maleficent loves herself as an evil creature. It does not come from some emptiness or trauma. It comes from her love for destruction (basically she is a total psychopath). She loves her evilness and that makes her such a great character. We are allowed to love the villains in their villain-ness. They can be empowering and powerful archetypes.
I love Sleeping Beauty, I think it is one of the most magical Disney animations ever made and all these layers in the story and in the different film versions just add more magic into that. Magic in Sleeping Beauty is both collective and individual and deeply rooted in the enchanting world of the fairies.
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
Love fandoms AOGG and Little Women (prefers books over the films). Louisa May Alcott researcher.
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