thoughts on rice’s the claiming of sleeping beauty

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Ever since I devoured Anne Rice’s vampire and witch stories in my twenties, I’ve been curious to read her erotica, written under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure. I finally got around to it with The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty.

I assumed Rice had eschewed Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty in favor of something more like Gianbattista Basile’s but wondered how she might make that version erotic. Rape, murder, and cannibalism, the stuff of Basile’s version, are not acts I associate with erotica.

As it turns out, Rice’s version of Sleeping Beauty is a BDSM take on the tale that begins by straddling the line between the two versions. In Basile’s version, a king rapes Beauty then trots off, abandoning a still-comatose Beauty who is now pregnant with twins. As repellent as that is, it only gets worse in Basile’s tale. The more contemporary version has a prince wake Beauty up with a kiss. Like Basile’s king, Rice’s prince rapes Beauty. The act does not impregnate her but it does wake her.

After the prince rapes beauty, who is prohibited from wearing any clothes, he takes her to the castle run by his dominatrix Queen mother. Beauty becomes one of many prince and princess slaves there although she is the Prince’s particular favorite, much to his mother’s dismay.

Reading the first few chapters of this book challenged me. In some ways, I felt abused. It surprised me that anyone could accept this story as erotica. Would I have to accept defeat and quit the book? Had I become a prude in my old age?

What I decided I had to do was to not let my personal preferences get in the way of the story and the story world. To focus on character growth and story evolution. That sort of thing. Once I committed to that, the story drew me in. I could begin to feel the erotic nature of it.

I admit that I became teary-eyed when Beauty surrendered during pony play. Beauty ran along the bridle path wearing only high boots clad with horse shoes, and clips with bells on her nipples. The mistress “driving” her repeatedly spanked Beauty’s bare bottom with a paddle. Beauty’s initial focus was all in her head: her discomfort being on display and her concerns about the Queen, Prince, and mistress accepting her performance. She shifted into the physical experience of the moment: the feel of her muscles, the sting of the paddle, the endurance required of her body. Then she relaxed into her role and experienced peace. It was very Zen-like.

If you had told me at the outset that I would become emotional about that transformation, I’d tell you to lay off the hooch. But there I was struggling not to sob. It’s as if I surrendered alongside the protagonist. Rice must be a storytelling voodoo queen.

There were a few chapters toward the end that I wish were handled in a different way though. It was basically backstory monologue of a supporting character. I’m not sure how else Rice might have managed the content or if all of it was necessary. It slowed down the story and irritated me.

To summarize the protagonist’s arc, Beauty begins the story comatose, literally sleeping through life. She wakes childlike, naturally timid, obedient, and eager to please those around her even though she’s extremely uncomfortable having her dignity and pride stripped away. Who wouldn’t be, right? She struggles to learn and satisfy others’ needs but eventually discovers her own and learns to be comfortable in her own skin, literally. She is encouraged to open up to more expansive ideas about love and an acceptance of her slave role. But in a final act, she deliberately defies her masters, knowingly causing them suffering in order to satisfy her own desires. It reads like a rebellious adolescent act. But then again, this is the first novel in a series. I suspect that Beauty will eventually come into her own as an empowered adult.

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