Robert Coover’s many acclaimed works of fiction have established him as a powerhouse among America’s postmodernist writers. With Briar Rose, he casts his own unmistakable style on an ageless tale. A brilliant recreation of the timeless Sleeping Beauty story, Briar Rose tells of a prince trapped in the briars; a sleeping beauty who cannot awaken, dreaming of a succession of kissing princes; and the old spell-casting fairy who inhabits the princess’s dreams, regaling her with legends of other sleeping beauties and trying to imagine the nature of human desire.
I read the classic fairytale novella Briar Rose by US scholar and author Robert Coover as part of a gothic literature course.
Briar Rose combines aspects from the earliest dark fairytale versions to the Grimm Brothers santitised tales of Sleeping Beauty. In Coover’s reimagining, Beauty never wakes from her enchanted sleep but endures a hundred lives of potential outcomes from her century of slumber as the fairy witch taunts and teases her with the gruesome outcomes of incest, rape by many princes who weren’t ‘the one’ to break her curse.
The prince who does make it through the rose thorn vines that encircle the tower is proud and young. His desire to break Beauty’s enchantment has nothing to do with her wellbeing but everything to do with his own acclaim should he be the one to wake her.
Briar Rose is an deep exploration of forest folklore and the fairytales of ‘sleeping beauty’. The entrapment of the prince in the briar roses, the inability of the princess to wake from endless variations of her potential truth as told and warped by the fairy. The terrible darkness of incest themes, rape, cannibalism and coercion.
This was a fantastic exploration of the Sleeping Beauty tale which was dark, disturbing, and richly detailed. Highly recommended for readers of folklore, fairytales, history and the complex reimagining of the multitude of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ tales.
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