She has already become a legend. The beautiful headstrong girl I knew is gone forever, her life transformed into myth. The princess who pricked her finger on a spinning wheel and fell asleep for a hundred years, only to be awakened by true love's kiss.
While Beauty Slept
I must start my tale with her, for all the events that followed, all the wonders and horrors I have witnessed in my many years upon this earth, it all began with a seed she planted in my soul almost from birth: a deep-rooted, unshakable certainty that I was meant to be far more than a peasant's wife. Every time Mother corrected my grammar or admonished me to stand up straight, it was with an eye to my future, a reminder that despite my ragtag clothes I must comport myself with the manners of my betters. For she herself was proof that great changes in fortune were possible: Born into a poor servant family and orphaned at a young age, she had risen to a position as seamstress at the castle of St. Elsip, seat of the king who ruled our lands.
"While Beauty Slept" retells the "Sleeping Beauty" legend from the perspective of Elise, who rises from humble beginnings to the enviable position of confidante of Queen Lenore, mother of the fabled sleeping princess. In Elise's account, the princess's life was no fairy tale.
The inspiration struck Blackwell after she watched Disney's animated version of "Sleeping Beauty" with her daughter, she said. Blackwell learned from the "making of" feature on the DVD that the artists took their stylistic cue from medieval tapestries. If something had been woven into a tapestry, Blackwell pondered, perhaps it was based on a real event. She posed herself the challenge: How could she make the "Sleeping Beauty" story real?
"What really drew me to the novel was the opening line of the first chapter, 'I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told,'" said Amy Einhorn, publisher of Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam and the book's editor, via email. "It's such a great line, and it's so true — we've all heard the story of Sleeping Beauty, but we've never heard it from the help's perspective."
Did Blackwell conceive of Elise as a role model for her own daughter ? "Anyone raising a daughter wants her to think independently and not feel she has to wait for the prince to save her," Blackwell said.
But writing the book was, for her, more a creative outlet "not tied in to being a mother," she said. "In the course of writing this book I had twin boys and all the sleepless nights, diapers and formula that entails. The world of 'When Beauty Slept' was a complete mental escape from the everyday. I would come back from driving my minivan to Target, sit at my computer and go off to the castle."