Retelling

The original fairy tale is usually interpreted as an account of menstruation and female chastity or sexual awakening. Kaori Yuki’s retellings in Ludwig Revolution focus on the female figures of Grimms’ fairy tales, and although they mainly seek to entertain with a good story, many of them — at least during the first half of the series — aim to give those figures a voice. Blanche in Snow White and Idike in Little Briar Rose are the best examples of this, as their original counterparts are noted for being very passive princesses, waiting for true love’s kiss to wake them from their unnatural sleep.

In the following, I’d like to explore the modifications and additions of Kaori Yuki’s Little Briar Rose — after all, they’re a result of reflecting on the original and the main motivation behind Ludwig Revolution, as she notes in the afterword of the first volume:

Why are princes in fairy tales always such indifferent men? Why do princesses always content themselves with beauty and their fate? And why are there hardly any princesses with bad personalities? I’ve been fascinated by the ungrateful Cinderella and her immensely cruel revenge since childhood. Because of this, I decided to draw this manga. However, it isn’t the heroines that are its focus, but the prince who embellishes the tales. Fairy tales end with “and they lived happily ever after”, but in reality, a long life with many hardships follows. To illustrate that, I drew the prince as the central figure.

Rather than simply listing the differences, I’ll split them up so as to be able to talk about them in detail, as I think that the consideration that was put into this interpretation of the original tale makes a big difference. This is not to be mistaken with me calling the fairy tales themselves shallow — they are what they are, and Grimms’ collected tales typically do not aim to characterize or individualize.

In the retelling, the psychological impact of the blessings the princess received as an infant is examined: They seem to warp her surroundings’ treatment of her (if many people at the court truly didn’t know that the ceremony was a farce) and influence her self-perception. Growing up, the princess struggles both with being perceived as perfect, which makes any effort on her part go unacknowledged, and the criticism received whenever she is anything other than perfect. In any setting other than the original fairy tale setting, the perfection granted by blessings — even just the notion of well-wishes being magic blessings — is thus not something to welcome, but is perhaps the real curse.

While the buried pocket watch and the flower field are Kaori Yuki’s own additions, they flesh out the central elements of the fairy tale: frozen time and unnaturally long-lasting slumber. Remaining asleep for such a long period is, in this case, a kind of fake death; sleep itself is a natural way to recover, but forcing oneself to stay asleep or feeling sleepy for a prolonged period can be a result of one’s psyche. In Idike’s case, she drowned herself in her sleep so as to run away from life because she isn’t ready to accept the truth; she halted her own time to hold on to the truths she knows, rather than face change and development.

However, the reality which she wants to avoid continues in her dream, as her loneliness still holds her prisoner — that’s what dreams are: a way for the subconsciousness to express itself. The pocket watch in the story exists in reality and in the dream, as it’s the element that allows Lui to cross realms and connect with Idike, and forces her to open up eventually. Lui tells her not to expect to gain anything just by sitting around and waiting (perhaps in direct reference to the passiveness of the sleeping princess in the original tale), and in the end, Idike has to wake up and face reality in order to mature.

The long period of sleep is finally taken into consideration at the end of the tale: The princess wakes up and time starts moving again, but the frozen hundred years catch up with her and she dies. I assume this is both intended as a reaction to the unnatural sleep in the original (which comes with no consequences) as well as a dark literal interpretation of “and they lived happily until the end of their days”.

As the Fates are depicted as spinners and weavers in mythology, a spinning wheel can symbolize fate, and indeed, the inevitable is a major element in the original tale. The uninvited guest curses the princess and thus foretells her fate: She will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 15th birthday and fall into deep slumber.

The King banishes all spinning wheels and the princess isn’t told about the curse. She explores the tower and meets a woman with an unfamiliar tool; not having seen a spinning wheel in her life before, she curiously approaches it and bleeds when trying to handle the spindle, succumbing to the curse. I assume this part in particular — the withholding of knowledge and the inevitable caused by that withholding — leads to the original tale being interpreted as parents repressing their daughters’ sexuality and sexual awakening. Neither the King’s precaution nor the last fairy’s last wish are able to prevent the curse from unfolding, and none of the men seeking out the princess manage to pass through the thorns before the foretold hundred years are up.

In the retelling, however, the witches aren’t actually real witches (with one exception, who amusingly ends up as one of Lui’s companions), and the curse as it was believed to exist turns out to have been a sleeping drug. Its effect was exaggerated due to Idike’s despair, conflicted feelings and her willingness to embrace the lie — a contradiction to her desperately wanting to hold on to the truth. How much hinges on Idike’s will is also present in the scenes leading up to the spinning wheel: She climbs the tower and pricks her finger on the spindle of free will, in full awareness of the “curse”; even though it’s a lie told by one of the King’s mistresses, she is fully aware of her own actions. Fate, in this tale, is not an inevitable course, but one steered by human will.

Fairy tales and chivalric tales often feature a constellation involving princess, prince (or any kind of figurative knight), dragon and witch, wherein the princess is a passive prize for her brave saviour who overcomes obstacles and repels temptations or dispels enchantments and curses. In Kaori Yuki’s retelling of Little Briar Rose, however, Idike isn’t a damsel in distress.

As mentioned above, Kaori Yuki’s princess is responsible for her own fate. She is the one who, albeit unknowingly, cast the illusion around the castle and locked herself in; she is the figurative witch of her own tale as the “curse” of the Briar Castle is her own doing, and in her final appearance after the story, her witch powers have been activated and she wields thorny vines — symbols of her former curse — as her own power, bringing down a literal lindwurm/dragon with their help.

But Idike is also the figurative dragon of her tale: She is the obstacle that stands between the prince and herself, the sleeping princess; her thorns — her anger and her pain — unknowingly take the lives of countless people within the castle as well as those who seek to free her. This is best conveyed when Lui and Wilhelm finally decide to break through the thorns to enter the castle: Idike, warped beyond recognition by magic, thorns and bitterness, appears in the sky to threaten anyone who dares approach her.

Lastly, but most importantly, Idike is her own prince, her own knight: Lui doesn’t dash into the castle and free her. Lui helps her awaken by nudging her towards the truth, and he doesn’t even use gentle words to do so. He pushes her to her breaking point and to make her face the reality of her own situation and her emotional self-imprisonment in the dream, which represents her internal world. He then gathers evidence for the false curse and the witch’s involvement in it, and presents those hard facts when facing her in reality, the outside world. But it is ultimately Idike who intently listens to Lui’s words and accepts them, it is Idike who finally faces reality and decides to wake up, and it is Idike who dispels her own curse, thereby dissolving the physical thorns that surround the castle. Lui doesn’t save her — Idike does, with Lui’s help.

In summary, Idike isn’t a victim of magic she is powerless against — her imprisonment is her own story, and the only one who has power over the curse is herself. Idike isn’t a prize for whoever braves the danger and makes it to the castle — Idike guards herself, and only by getting to know Idike and sincerely caring about her can the thorns be braved. Idike also isn’t a passive princess who waits for her prince until the end — Idike realizes that she can’t just wait forever and expect to be saved, so she wakes up and saves herself. All of that paints her as the actor of her own tale and attributes a significant amount of agency and power to her, which stands in stark contrast to the passive princess in the original.