About the Sleeping Beauty (Part VI)

Wicked Fairy

The last post on this blog finished with the question: Why did Pamela L. Travers fail to discern the most obvious symbolism in Sleeping Beauty’s fairy tale? Why didn’t she recognise the pattern of stunt maturation? Why didn’t she acknowledge the little girl stuck on the threshold of maidenhood?  Could her interpretation of the story have been influenced by some unhealed emotional wounds from her childhood? I believe the question deserves examination.

If studied carefully, Pamela L. Travers’s interpretation in the Afterword of “About the Sleeping Beauty” appears to be, above all, a meditation on the character of the Thirteenth Wise Woman (the Wicked Fairy). What makes this  unusual perspective especially interesting is that it is linked to Pamela L. Travers’s childhood impressions which appear to have stayed with her for life. She was well into her seventies when she wrote: 

For me she (the Wicked Fairy) has always been unique among the shadow figures of the stories. As a child, I had no pity for the jealous Queen in “Snow White” or the shifty old witch in “Rapunzel”. I could cheerfully consign all the cruel stepmothers to their cruel fates. But the ill luck of the Wicked Fairy roused all my child’s compassion. She was, in a sense, a victim. For her alone there was no gold plate – all she could do was accept the fact.  (…) All I could do, in the face of the tragedy, was to comfort myself with the thought that in another story, at another time, the Thirteen Wise Woman would be avenged. (…) chance would give her the possibility of playing the part of the Good Fairy.

(P.L. Travers, Afterword, “About the Sleeping Beauty”)

This childhood recollection struck me as most significant. Why would a child resonate so intensely with the “unfair” treatment of the Wicked Fairy? And why would Pamela L. Travers, in her crone years still be interested in the Wicked Fairy’s fate? Could it be that, throughout her life, she felt a connection, a similarity of fates between her and the Wicked Fairy? I believe it to be possible.  

As a child Pamela L. Travers was often cast aside by her parents, her mother was  too busy taking care of her two younger siblings and her father, while still alive, was in the grips of his drinking addiction. It is not difficult to deduce that young Pamela must have felt wronged and resentful just as the Wicked Fairy but, unlike the Wicked Fairy, she was a powerless child who had no other option but to accept the fact of being the victim of an injustice. (For those of you who are interested, the following posts explore the subject of Pamela L. Travers’s early interactions with her parents: Pamela’s First Gods (Part I) and Pamela’s First Gods (Part II).)  

At the age of twenty-four, Pamela L. Travers finally avenged herself by leaving her family and Australian homeland behind, only to return for one brief visit. But, by physically dislocating herself did she succeed in truly freeing herself up from her emotional wounds? Did she hope that by  changing scenery, she would change her inner landscape?  

I believe that Pamela L. Travers’s  unconscious wounds from her early childhood followed her across the ocean and continued to influence her life.  It is quite possible that later on in her life she felt guilty for leaving her needy mother behind, or for having same sex relationships, or for not telling her son that he was adopted and that he had a twin brother. She had her own reasons for all these choices, but maybe her rebelliousness was not fully integrated.  

Pamela L. Travers, very likely, was tortured by ambiguous emotions. She felt as if touched by some evil force and, at the same time, felt her essence to be of  good nature. This inner conflict finds expression in all of her writings. She seems to have oscillated throughout her life between opposite poles without ever finding her balance.  This inner tension may explain her lifelong connection to the archetypal energies of the Wicked Fairy.   

Pamela L. Travers conceived of life as some external force, something to be faced, a trickster who did not give her the opportunity to play the Good Fairy. Knowing this, her interpretation of the fairy tale is in equal parts an invitation to see the Thirteenth Wise Woman (the Wicked Fairy) as a participative creating force in the story and a sort of personal redemption. 

Pamela believed that it was the role of the Thirteenth Wise Woman to propel the story forward: 

Up she arises, ostensibly, 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 an indispensable instrument of creation as any force for good. The pulling of the Devas and Asuras in the opposite directions churn the ocean of life in the Hindu myth and the interaction of the good and the bad Fairies produces the fairy tale

(P.L. Travers, Afterword, “About the Sleeping Beauty”)

However, the Thirteenth Wise Woman, by herself alone, could not have propelled the story forward.  This observation made me realize that the unfolding of Sleeping Beauty’s fairy tale can be viewed as a beautiful illustration of the Law of Three taught by Gurdjieff, Pamela L. Travers’s spiritual teacher. I wish I could discuss this with Pamela too….It is surprising to me that she did not see this connection.  

Gurdjieff’s Law of Three 

Gurdjieff taught his followers that everything that is manifest in nature is the result of the interplay between three essential forces : Affirming, Denying and Reconciling. (Positive, Negative and Neutral). The third essential force often goes unnoticed but is actually the one that propels life forward.  

How does this threefold interaction play out in the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty? Well, it is quite simple. The opposing forces are the Sultan, who represents the affirming force of the temporal world and, the Thirteenth Wise Woman who represents the denying force of the extratemporal world. The reconciling force is the Twelfth Wise Woman representing the universal principle of compassionate justice. So if someone needs to be acknowledged as the propeller of the story that is certainly the Twelfth Wise Woman. Without her the princess would have been dead and there would have been no story of awakening and a happily ever after.

It can be concluded, in the light of the ending of Pamela L. Travers’s retelling, that she wrote her version of Sleeping Beauty for the purpose of giving herself the opportunity to avenge both herself and the Wicked Fairy and, to put to right that which was wrong: 

And ever about them as in a dance, light and shadow flickered and gleamed as the sun dappled the forest. Were there, I wonder, among the sunshafts, bright flashes of another kind-of gold head and silver foot and a dazzle of rainbow shapes? Indeed, I think it very likely. There is no  good love without good luck and what more fitting than that the Thirteen Wise Woman who had played so potent a part in the story should accompany their mortal nurselings on the first stage of their journey, to bring the fairy tale to a close and fortune to the lovers? 

(P.L. Travers, Afterword, “About the Sleeping Beauty”)

Maybe by giving the Wicked Fairy a chance to be good she was also inviting life to give her the opportunity of playing a positive role. 

One last thought, the Sultan’s disregard towards the Thirteenth Wise Woman can be seen as an expression of emotional neglect. A gift, by its nature, is an act of love. The deliberate absence of a gift symbolizes rejection. And rejection is hurtful. From it often times germinates evil.  I believe that hurt from rejection was the nature of Pamela’s darkness.