Proof of Power
Among the various symbols in Idike’s story, thorns are the most important — it is the Briar Castle and Little Briar Rose after all. As in the original tale, the thorn hedge serves as a physical obstacle that prevents 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 cannot 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 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. The same can be said about her personality: Idike rejects everything, blames everyone while shutting herself off, and has a very sharp tongue. Thorns are thus 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 does not 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 Idike, while vines tie them down forcefully — Idike drives people away as she begs for them to stay.
So when Idike cries because she hates the cruelty of her own thorns, it is not literally the curse that she cries about. It is 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.
Idike’s prison as she shuts Lui out a second time.
Thorns being 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 is what it really means to find her: to see her past that ugliness, past that weakness, past the harsh words, past the prison and wall of protection — past the thorns.
All of this makes Idike’s appearance in the final volume tremendously meaningful. With her witch powers awakened, she wields thorny vines as her source of magic, which reflects her development: All that pain converted into something she has power over, her past no longer chains her. It is an experience from which she has learned, and from which she has emerged stronger than ever.
It merits mentioning that roses are notably absent in Kaori Yuki’s version of the tale. Not that they were an element of the original tale, but considering the princess’ name, Little Briar Rose (Dornröschen), it is striking that a new and seemingly unrelated name was chosen. What’s more, the connection is not as clear as in, say, Snow White’s case, who is called Blanche in Ludwig Revolution (Blanche being French for the colour white). I would 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 Little Briar Rose, and I had always wondered why they were mentioned at all. After comparing the two panels, I think I might see why: Lui examines his nails when he sees the Briar Castle for the first time, and does not take action, remarking that it would be difficult to wield a gun with such long nails. At that point, he does not know yet that the sleeping princess is the woman he saw in his dreams, and also has not seen Idike’s pain so as 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” so that he may 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 is 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 flat chest) is an expression of that. Even more telling is that whenever she appears in his memory afterwards, it is not as the awakened beauty that he found in the castle, but as the fifteen-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 Language of Heathers
The sleeping beauty in Kaori Yuki’s version is not associated with roses. Instead, Friederike is said to be named after a flower. 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, and where he finds Idike’s pocket watch. Before falling into long slumber, Idike buried it in the place she fondly remembers from her childhood, a place she associates with her mother’s love. It is the same flower that Lui sows all across the castle grounds at the end of the story, and that frequently appears in panels featuring Idike. In her appearance on the last page of Little Briar Rose, for example, flowers gently rain down from above. That flower is the heather.
For some fun stories about name confusions, click here to expand the section. Otherwise, read on below.
Heathers are known for their hardiness as they are 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. It would be nice if the seeds Lui sowed around her resting place endure for a long time as well. The flower’s resilience is reflected 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 represents protection from danger, and says that all wishes come true. Connections to all of these can be found in the reimagined tale, especially loneliness — a major element — and (self-)protection.
As for myths, the white heather is said to grow in the final resting place of faeries, whereas 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 herself 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.
The Colour White
I prefer not to look too deep into the colour of heathers as they come in various shades, so I will limit it to the mention that purple is most strongly associated with spiritual fulfillment. Heathers being a recurring element in Idike’s appearances especially after her death, I would like to think that they signifiy her peace of mind after meeting Lui.
Idike’s signature colour is white due to her white dress and her silver hair (or platinum blonde, depending on the translation), both of which can faintly be made out in the few colour illustrations that include her. In symbolism, white represents many things, which I will 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 associations during the time Idike was still awake and alive. It is the colour of perfection, purity and innocence — the idealization of a person. It is not clear how many people believed her traits to be a result of the false blessings, just as it is not clear how many people knew that the “witches” were not actual witches. After all, Idike’s words make it seem as though it was not common knowledge that the “forbidden tower” was the residence of the King’s mistresses, and she did not 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 so as 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: Her existence as an individual was not 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 — an idealized image supported by the white colour. But then she opens her mouth and the illusion is shattered from the start:
“I wouldn’t touch a long-haired man even with a pair of tongs!
Get lost, you ugly eyesore!”
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 is 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 is 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, did not 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 do not treat each other as royalty, which is among the reasons their relationship is so strong and genuine. The way Idike speaks and her simple dress are not very princess-like either. 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.