Beauty, A Wicked Sleeping Beauty Tale by Sarah Pinborough reminds me of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre from the eighties. Duvall’s tales were a fanciful, more politically correct take on the classic fairy tales than are Pinborough’s, which take a darker turn with some fun surprises.
As the title states, Beauty is a wicked tale that explores the darker side in all of us. What makes this tale wonderful is that it takes the original premise, strips away the shallowness and the lies, to expose the dark side, to let the good win as in should without the usual magic associated with fairy tales. There is some magic in the tale. What would a fairy tale be if we didn’t have some magic in it? Sleeping Beauty is not who she seems to be and when the prince comes to wake her with a kiss, Rumplestiltskin, yes he is in this tale, is furious because his plan has been destroyed by “Prince Charming.” Be warned that Pinborough takes many liberties, which are wonderful, wickedly twisted, and surprising.
The prince is anything but charming. The prince is slovenly, a drunk, a philanderer, and not kingly material. His royal parents are worried, so they send him on a quest, an adventure. There is a parallel to Shakespeare’s Prince Hal in Henry IV, part I. Henry IV is not happy with Hal’s behavior or friends and needs more from the future king, who will be Henry V. That’s where the similarity ends. In Beauty, the best young huntsman in the kingdom accompanies the prince. They are charged to see what is behind the forest of woods and brambles growing just outside their kingdom. Legend tells them there is an abandoned kingdom behind the wall of brambles and riches may be found. Just outside the wall of brambles a little old grandma, Rapunzel, lives with her goats and a big bad wolf is threatening her. The duo attempt to save her but bungle it, only to be saved by grandma’s granddaughter, Petra, who joins them on the adventure, because she is lured to the wall by a howling she hears from the other side and answers it with her own howling to create beautiful music. Grandma wears the dead wolf pelt to protect her while the trio set off on their adventure. Petra is Pinborough’s creation.
Once through the thicket they discover a different world and this is where Pinborough weaves a most fanciful tale of lust, greed, and wicked justice. The political intrigue is wonderfully reflective of our own times. It has to make me wonder if things ever do change or is it just the same old same old always? The story of duplicity occurs with all characters and we are hard pressed to wonder who to trust. But all that becomes very clear as we reach the denouement. The details of the happy ending were surprising and enjoyable as we find all is right with the world after all, in spite of spells and magic. The question left for us: Is the prince king material, does he transform into Henry V? This is a fun read on a cold day in front of a fire and listening to the Grateful Dead’s Dire Wolf.