Symbolism

Thorns are the most important symbol in Idike’s story — it’s the Briar Castle and Little Briar Rose after all. As in the original tale, thorny vines serve as a physical obstacle that prevent anyone from waking the princess. But in Kaori Yuki’s tale, thorns are more than just that: They not just keep people out, they also keep people in — Idike can’t escape the thorns, and during her second dream encounter with Lui, it seems as though the thorns are her personal prison as they close in around her. Within the story, thorns are considered the curse of the sleeping castle, and for Idike, it is said curse that keeps her from waking up.

More importantly, thorns are a manifestation of Idike’s self-doubt, pain and anger — they protect her from the things she cannot accept, as vines shoot up from the ground to throw Lui out of the shared dream both times that Idike’s temper flares up, which implies that they are at least partly steered by her will and emotions. Thorns are a symbol for the wall that Idike has built in response to the harsh reality so that she may protect her own heart from all that threatens it. Lui says as much: “In your despair, you locked away your own heart as if caging it.” Since the same can be said about her personality (how she rejects everything, the way she blames everyone while shutting herself off, her harsh language), thorns are also representative of the persona she has adopted to deal with the pain.

In the moment of truth, Lui points out the contradiction in Idike’s behaviour — she pushes people away, yet wishes to be rescued. This is perhaps more clearly expressed in Rapunzel, as Rapunzel wants to be loved, yet judges others for loving her and doesn’t know how to love anyone, much less herself; it is with good reason that Lui compares Rapunzel to Idike. In the same vein, thorns prevent people from touching her, while vines tie them down forcefully — it’s that same motion of simultaneous pushing and pulling.

So when Idike cries because she hates the cruelty of her own thorns, it is not literally the curse that she cries about — it’s the self-erected prison, the combination of her loneliness, her weaknesses, the rashness of her actions and the prickly personality that shuts everyone out without being able to give voice to her pain and her longing, all of which has maneuvered her into a corner she cannot escape from.

Thorns being her prison and protection both becomes most evident when Lui and Wilhelm eventually try to enter the Briar Castle. They are prevented to do so by the thorn-ridden witch, perhaps the personification of thorns, who turns out to be Idike herself — Idike as she is at her ugliest, angriest and most vulnerable. But Lui recognizes her despite all of that, and that’s what it really means to find her: to see her past that ugliness, past that weakness, past that personality, past the prison and wall of protection — past the thorns.

All of this makes Idike’s appearance in the final volume tremendous: With her witch powers awakened, she wields thorny vines as her source of magic, which reflects her development as she has converted all that pain into something she has power over. Her past no longer chains her — it’s an experience from which she has learned and from which she has emerged stronger than before.

I think it merits mentioning that roses are notably absent in Kaori Yuki’s version — not that they were an element of the original tale, but considering the princess’ name, Little Briar Rose (Dornröschen), it’s striking that a new and seemingly unrelated name was chosen, as the connection isn’t as clear as, say, in Snow White’s case, who is called Blanche in Ludwig Revolution (Blanche being French for the colour white). I’d like to draw on this to speak about roses before moving on to discussing the meaning behind Friederike.

Thorns, the main motif, are commonly associated with roses, and to appreciate the rose, one has to accept it along with its thorns and handle it with care. To me, roses are absent in the tale because roses are a symbol for overwhelming beauty, whereas Idike’s relationship with Lui revolves around ugliness, and seeing the beauty in that ugliness.

There are two short mentions of Lui’s long fingernails in the chapter, and I had always wondered why they were mentioned at all. Upon contrasting the two panels, I think I might see why: Lui examines his nails when seeing the Briar Castle for the first time and doesn’t take action, remarking that it’s difficult to wield a gun with such long nails. At that point, he doesn’t know that the sleeping princess is the girl he saw in his dreams, and also hasn’t seen Idike’s pain in order to empathize with her just yet. But when he returns for the second time in order to free Idike, he fires the gun and breaks a nail — for Wilhelm and for Idike’s sake, as he protects Wilhelm and intends to brave the thorns for Idike. Thus, Lui was willing to get “pricked” in order to see the beauty of the rose.

And when Lui finally meets Idike in reality, the narrative says that he is struck by her beauty so as to echo the original tale — but it’s made very clear that he had already let her into his heart well before that. Lui’s feelings for Idike have very little to do with her beauty — her not being his type (as in, her being flat-chested) is an expression of that. Even more telling is that whenever she appears in his memory afterwards, it isn’t as the awakened sleeping beauty that he found in the castle, but as the 15-year-old self as she appeared in his dreams — the Idike that he got to know and learned to love. That justifies the absence of the rose symbol to me, as with these two characters, it never was about the rose.

The sleeping beauty in Kaori Yuki’s version is not associated with roses. Friederike is said to be named after a flower, as Lui wonders whether the princess is as beautiful as that very flower upon first hearing her name. Lui and Idike’s meeting place in their dreams is a flower field, the same flower field Lui enjoys at the start of the story. It’s also where he finds Idike’s pocket watch, as she buried it in a place she fondly remembers from her childhood and associates with her mother’s love. It’s the same flower that Lui sows all across the castle grounds at the end of the story, and it frequently appears in panels with Idike — including her final appearance, where flowers gently rain down from above.

Here’s the thing: It took me ten years to figure out which flower that was supposed to be, and only because I insisted on covering it on this very page. Neither Friederike nor Idike are flower names, and I didn’t realize the Heidekraut which the German publication specifically mentions was that flower, since the term is often used for any type of dwarf shrub on a specific kind of soil. Aerandria’s scanlation doesn’t even mention the flower by name, and sakura-crisis listed Heather, which I didn’t know was the English equivalent of Heidekraut.

Lui first meets Friederike as “Idike”, and later realizes it’s the diminutive of Friederike. Idike isn’t even a name as far as I’m aware, or at least a very uncommon one, and I sure do not think of Friederike when reading Idike. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that two independent translations chose something as uncommon as Idike specifically, which hints at it being the correct choice. But having looked into it, I wonder whether the diminutive was supposed to be “Erike” — beyond the obvious (it being part of Friederike), I’ll explain why in a moment. Not that it changes anything, since after all this time, I think that everyone will continue referring to her as Idike. (It’s odd that in Aerandria’s scanlation, only Idike’s introduction blurb during the second volume, where she doesn’t make an appearance and isn’t mentioned by name, lists her as Erike.)

It makes sense to assume that Erike, in turn, is supposed to refer to the Erika/Erica flower, the English common name of which is Heather. It matches up with the appearance of the flowers within the story and the purple colour assigned to them. Interestingly, it seems that the term briar that is such a prominent part of both the original and reimagined tale can both refer to “a tangled mass of prickly plants” as well as a particular shrub, Erica arborea, which is a genus of Erica. I’m not sure Kaori Yuki went through this process to pick that name rather than go for something more obvious and immediate (see above), but I’ll roll with it here.

Heathers are known for their hardiness, capable of thriving in poor, rocky soil, and their seeds can survive in the soil for decades — just as Idike sleeps for a hundred years amidst the thorns. I’d like to think that the seeds Lui sowed around her resting place will endure for a long time as well. The flower’s resilience is conveyed in how Idike puts up a strong front, and how Lui and Idike’s feelings for each other endure time. In flower language, the purple Heather represents admiration, beauty and loneliness, whereas its white variant means protection from danger and says that all wishes come true. All this is connected to the reimagined tale, especially loneliness, which really stands out, and (self-)protection.

As for myths, the white Heather is said to grow in the final resting place of faeries, and Heather fields are believed to have been the sites of enormous battles, with the flowers only thriving where no blood has been shed. Little Briar Rose is a tale that involves witches, and Idike becomes a witch post-mortem, resting in the blooming castle grounds. Lui sowed the flowers because he thinks they suit her better than thorns, which, I think, ought to override the previous deaths and blood trapped in the thorns.

I prefer not to look too deep into the colour of Heathers since they come in various shades, so I’ll limit it to the mention that purple is most strongly associated with spiritual fulfillment. Considering how they are a recurring element in Idike’s appearances especially after her death, I’d like to think that they signifiy her peace of mind after her encounter with Lui.

Idike’s colour is white due to her white dress and her silver hair (or platinum blonde, depending on the translation). In symbolism, white represents many things, which I’d like to split up into three stages of Idike’s story: the period before she falls into deep slumber, the events during her tale, and her post-mortem.

To me, white carries negative connotations during the time Idike was still awake and alive. It’s the colour of perfection, purity and innocence — the idealization of a person. It isn’t clear how many people believed that her traits were a result of the false blessings, just as it isn’t clear how many people knew that the witches weren’t actual witches; after all, Idike’s words make it seem as though it wasn’t common knowledge that the “forbidden tower” was the residence for the King’s mistresses, and she didn’t know he had mistresses in the first place. Idike was idealized as a blessed being, and she unknowingly contributed to that belief by striving for perfection herself in order to gain her father’s attention. When you consider someone as perfect, when you elevate them to an ideal, you fail to see them as a person — which is precisely what Idike struggled with: She wasn’t acknowledged.

When Lui meets Idike, I think white is still used the same way, especially if you consider the fairy tale setting. Grimms’ tales are notable for their very rigid black-and-white thinking and strong definition of good and evil (especially when it comes to female figures), which is often expressed through the colours white and black. Lui is mesmerized by Idike’s beauty when he first sees her — it’s an idealized image supported by the white colour. But then she opens her mouth and the illusion is shattered from the start. The unstained colour and its purity are thus misleading. This is important because in Kaori Yuki’s retelling, Idike is not just the princess, victim of the curse — she’s dragon and witch, too, and has power over herself. Obstacles and evil are typically coded black in Grimms’ tales, so in a way, colour-coding Idike as white strengthens the reader’s subconscious belief of Idike’s victim status, which makes the twist — that Idike is responsible for the curse and her own imprisonment, that she is the one threatening people — all the more successful.

White further conveys emptiness and loneliness, as it is the absence of colour. It’s among the colours that represent death and mourning. Idike felt misunderstood and lonely, so she locked herself away and unintentionally froze her own time. The loneliness, however, didn’t fade, and, trapped in the prison of sleep, continued for a hundred years — figurative death.

Due to the absence of colour, using white in a character’s design also conveys simplicity. Idike is a princess, but in her conversations with Lui, her princess status is only mentioned as part of her backstory and how it shaped her as a person. They don’t treat each other as royalty, which is among the reasons their relationship is so strong and genuine, and Idike’s manner of speech and simple dress aren’t princess-like. White here strips her of anything pertaining to the exterior and appearances so as to allow the story to focus on her innermost: who she really is as a person, and who Lui ultimately finds when he makes it through the thorns.

Finally, white is the colour of new beginnings, the blank page. At the end of her tale, Idike has finally found freedom from all that trapped her, and has made peace with herself. Due to the fairy tale setting, death is not final (not that it needs to be regarded as final outside of the setting either), but allows her to grow further, as evidenced when she returns in the final volume with new powers.