Snow White's story (unabridged):

And now the king’s son had it carried away by his servants on their shoulders. And it happened that they stumbled over a tree-stump, and with the shock the poisonous piece of apple which snow-white had bitten off came out of her throat. And before long she opened her eyes, lifted up the lid of the coffin, sat up, and was once more alive. Oh, heavens, where am I, she cried. The king’s son, full of joy, said, you are with me. And told her what had happened, and said, I love you more than everything in the world, come with me to my father’s palace, you shall be my wife.

Did Grimm get that from older folklore? If so, what was the earliest version of a "Only true love can awake" type of story?

1 Answer 1


Yes, the Grimm brothers tale is based on earlier works and folklore. As a rule, the Grimm brothers fairy tales were all existing folk tales.

The Sleeping Beauty (which I'm focusing on instead of Snow White, since it contains the same key element, and it's easier) story derives directly from Charles Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty" (La Belle au bois dormant), and published in his collection "Histoires ou contes du temps passé". The first half of it is very much the familiar (ie. Disney ± 1 dragon) narrative.

The older stories it draws from mostly somewhat miss the true love's kiss detail, unfortunately. Instead, a splinter holds the woman asleep, a our noble hero fails to wake her, proceeds to have sex with her, and nine month later she (still asleep) gives birth, and her newborn sucks the splinter from her finger, causing her to awaken. A well known version of this is "Sun, Moon, and Talia" by Giambattista Basile, and perhaps the earliest is “Histoire de Troïlus et de Zellandine" from "Perceforest" (which I couldn't find a good source of online).

There some possibility that sleeping beauty could draw some inspiration from the story of Brynhildr in the Völsunga saga (Chapter 20), who Odin punishes by putting to sleep with a sleep-thorn, until she is saved by one who does not "know the name of fear" (Sigurðr, who she later marries):

Odin, in vengeance for that deed, stuck the sleep-thorn into me, and said that I should never again have the victory, but should be given away in marriage; but there against I vowed a vow, that never would I wed one who knew the name of fear.

The Story of the Volsungs, trans. William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson, Chapter XX

  • I understand correctly that acording to this, "true love awakes ..." is a 17th century trope? Or is it likely the Perrault wrote down a far older story?
    – mart
    May 31, 2016 at 14:03
  • @mart - Perrault was definitely drawing from "Sun, Moon and Talia" or a similar telling of that story. He changed the story to suit the attitudes of the nobility of his day. Today, that "Sun, Moon and Talia" just sounds like rape, but that definitely doesn't take into account the attitudes of the storytellers (especially considering that they do fall in love and get married and all that). I would also consider the Völsunga saga story to be a pretty good example, but that depends on whether you consider proven worthy to be an adequate analog to true love.
    – femtoRgon
    May 31, 2016 at 16:31

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