To finish our trio of Sleeping Beauty posts, let's turn to the figure of the Thirteenth Fairy.* This quote comes, once again, from About the Sleeping Beauty by P.L. Travers:
"The appearance of this lady at the christening is the great moment of the tale, the hook from which everything hangs. Properly to understand why this is so, we must turn to Wise Women in general and their role in the world of men. To begin with, they are not mortal women. They are sisters, rather, of the Sirens, kin to the Fates and the World Mothers. As such, as creatures of another dimension, myth and legend have been at pains to embody them in other than human shape -- the winged female figures of Homer, the bird-headed women of the Irish tales, the wild women of ancient Russian with square heads and the wisplike Jinn of the Middle East...
"[I]t should be remembered that no Wise Woman or Fairy is herself good or bad; she takes on one aspect or another according to the laws of the story and the necessity of events. The powers of these ladies are equivocal. They change with changing circumstances; they are as swift to take umbrage as they are to bestow a boon; they curse and bless with equal gusto. Each Wise Woman is, in fact, an aspect of the Hindu goddess, Kali, who carries in her multiple hands the powers of good and evil.
"It is clear, then, that the Thirteenth Wise Woman becomes the Wicked Fairy solely for the purpose of one particular story. It was by chance that she received no invitation; it might just as well have been one of her sisters. So, thrust by circumstances into the role, she acts according to law.
"Up she rises, obstensibly to avenge an insult but in reality to thrust the story forward and keep the drama moving. She becomes the necessary antagonist, placed there to show that whatever is 'other,' opposite and fearful, is as indispensable an instrument of creation as any force for good. The pulling of the Devas and Asuras in opposite directions in the Hindu myth and the interaction of the good and the bad Fairies produced the fairy tale. The Thirteenth Wise Woman stands as guardian of the threshold, the paradoxical adversary without whose presence no threshold may be passed.
"This is the role played in so many other stories by the Wicked Stepmother. The true mother, by her very nature, is bound to preserve, protect, and comfort; that is why she is so often disposed of before the story begins. It is the stepmother, her cold heart unwittingly cooperating with the hero's need, who thrusts the child from the warm hearth, out from the sheltering walls of home to find his own true way.
"Powers such as these, at once demonic and divine, are not to be taken lightly. They give a name to evil, free it, and bring it into the light. For evil will out, they sharply warn us, no matter how deeply buried. Down in its dungeon it plots and plans, waiting, like an unloved child, the day of its revenge. What it needs, like the unloved child, is to be recognized, not disclaimed; given its place and proper birthright and allowed to contact and cooperate with its sister beneficent forces. Only the integration of good and evil and the stern acceptance of opposites will change the situation and bring about the condition that is known as Happily Ever After. Without the Wicked Fairy there would have been no story. She, not the heroine, is the goddess in the machine."
Observing the Formalities
by Neil Gaiman
As you know, I wasn’t invited to the Christening. Get over it, you repeat.
But it’s the little formalities that keep the world turning.
My twelve sisters each had an invitation, engraved, and delivered
By a footman. I thought perhaps my footman had got lost.
Few invitations reach me here. People no longer leave visiting cards.
And even when they did I would tell them I was not at home,
Deploring the unmannerliness of these more recent generations.
They eat with their mouths open. They interrupt.
Manners are all, and the formalities. When we lose those
We have lost everything. Without them, we might as well be dead.
Dull, useless things. The young should be taught a trade, should hew or spin,
Should know their place and stick to it. Be seen, not heard. Be hushed.
My youngest sister invariably is late, and interrupts. I am myself a stickler for punctuality.
I told her, no good will come of being late. I told her,
Back when we were still speaking, when she was still listening. She laughed.
It could be argued that I should not have turned up uninvited.
But people must be taught lessons. Without them, none of them will ever learn.
People are dreams and awkwardness and gawk. They prick their fingers
Bleed and snore and drool. Politeness is as quiet as a grave,
Unmoving, roses without thorns. Or white lilies. People have to learn.
Inevitably my sister turned up late. Punctuality is the politeness of princes,
That, and inviting all potential godmothers to a Christening.
They said they thought I was dead. Perhaps I am. I can no longer recall.
Still and all, it was necessary to observe the formalities.
I would have made her future so tidy and polite. Eighteen is old enough. More than enough.
After that life gets so messy. Loves and hearts are such untidy things.
Christenings are raucous times and loud, and rancorous,
As bad as weddings. Invitations go astray. We’d argue about precedence and gifts.
They would have invited me to the funeral.
* There is some diagreement about which fairy, in the story's cast, should be called the Thirteenth Fairy. For some, the designation belongs to the uninvited, malevolent fairy who curses the infant princess with death. For others, it's the very last fairy to bestow her gift, mitigating the wicked fairy's curse by turning "death" into "sleep." For the purposes of this post, I'm using the former definition.
The images above are: Two views of "Sleeping Beauty, Scene 1," doll art by Anna Brahms (Israeli/American); "Sleeping Beauty," paper cut art by Su Blackwell (English); "The Thirteenth Fairy" by Harry Clarke (Irish, 1189-1931) Errol Le Cain (English, 1941-1989); "Sleeping Beauty and the Spinning Wheel" by Trina Schart Hyman (American, 1939-2004); two illustrations by Jennie Harbour (English, 1893-1959); "Sleeping Beauty, Scene 2" by Anna Brahms; and "Sleeping Beauty and the Spinning Wheel" by Edmund Dulac (French, 1882-1953). The poem is copyright 2009 by Neil Gaiman; it first appeared in Trolls Eye View (Datlow & Windling, eds).