I love me a good old fashioned fucked up fairy tale. Like most of us, I grew up on Disney. I don’t know when the magic moment came, but the original stories were brought to me and OMFG you guys, it was awesome. I began to devour collections of tales from around the world, and the more violent and fucked up they were the happier I became. How awesome is it when a fake princess gets red-hot iron shoes nailed to her feet and everyone watches until she dances herself to death? And when The Little Mermaid returns to the water and becomes sea foam because she can’t bring herself to stab her love in the heart and smear the blood over her legs to get her tail back? Fantastic. And Briar Rose… Sweet, sweet Briar Rose. Imagine waking up because you’ve given birth and your baby has crawled up your lifeless body to grab on to your breast and feed. What in the fucking fuck, right? Prince Charming McCharmy banged you in your death sleep, knocked you up and took off.
Original tales, retellings, erotica, metaphor, modern day, tales for kids, the familiar motifs… bring them all to me.
And then I opened Robert Coover’s Briar Rose.
Remember up there when I said I liked the twisted tales? I was not prepared for this delightful nightmare. The tale is told in three voices: Briar Rose, The Prince, and the fairy who trapped them both.
The Prince follows his story close to the letter. He hears there’s a princess, no other man has made it in to save her, he might be the chosen one, here come the thorns, let’s move in. Will he make it? What will happen?
The fairy is an interesting and fantastic take. When you put a spell on a princess, you better be prepared to hang out for a hundred years waiting to see if it will ever be broken.
And then there’s Briar Rose. When you sleep, you dream. When you dream, shit gets weird. How much of your dream is real? How much is formed by snatches of conversation? How does the sound of a room make its way into your mind? How does it feel knowing you’re about to wake up, but then no… you slip back into your death sleep.
And what happens when the world knows there’s a sleeping princess in a room in a castle surrounded by thorns? What happens if a prince makes it in, looks at the girl and then thinks maybe he doesn’t want a wife and he doesn’t want to be the hero, but as long as he’s here…? Briar Rose has dream after dream of her prince arriving to wake her with a kiss only to pinch her, to rape her sleeping form, to tie her up for gang rape, to have animals crawl over her body while her parents watch… How much is dream and how much is reality? How frustrated must a man be to crawl through the thorns only to discover that his kiss isn’t the one to break the spell? What if the seven dwarves appear only to realize that this sleeping beauty isn’t their Snow White? A young body, delicate lips… waiting… waiting… waiting. No one can see, no one can hear…
Meanwhile the fairy waits for Briar Rose’s dream self to appear seeking comfort. She tells her tale after tale, waiting for the moment when the girl realizes that the tales are all true. But she’s a stupid girl, waiting for her prince, her kiss, and her love. All those terrible things must not be true because that’s not how tales go. That’s not how her tale goes.
So the fairy watches over her. Cleans up a hundred years of menses. Wipes her bottom. Keeps her hair brushed. Prepares her body for the readiness of her prince. They are forever twined together, these two. No matter how much the crone fairy scares her, she remains the one constant in Briar Rose’s life and she will continue to return to her for tales, but never for understanding.
So Briar Rose waits. Yet another prince climbs through the window. Or is this the first prince? Her prince?
Her eyes flicker beneath her lids, but still, she sleeps…
Coover’s writing is beautiful. His words are absolutely gorgeous as they reveal the rape and bestiality and incest and hope. The rhythm of Briar Rose’s sections are dreamlike and disjointed. As her body is violated again and again, she drifts away into her dreamy haze. I stopped several times to reread an especially breathtaking passage. He crafts a tale of horror using lovely language and I could not stop reading.
I’ve read a lot of retellings, and this is hands down the most fucked up one of all. And Coover’s gift of words makes it amazing. Another author could have gone for a debasing tale or a twisted erotica or pure kink, but Coover does so much more.
I have no clue who I’d recommend this to. If you love fairy tales, then go for it, but prepare yourself to love something completely abhorrent.