Reawakening Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty TrilogySeveral years ago I attended a romance conference in which Anne Rice made a guest appearance in order to help promote the new release Beguiled, written by her sister, the late Alice Borchardt. After a brief discussion about Alice’s book, the conversation quickly turned to Anne’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. One intrepid but shy audience member raised her hand to ask about Anne’s “erotic series” when Anne interrupted her and said, “You mean my porn?”

The release of those books caused a feminist outcry that they were examples of female degradation. Anne Rice has countered that her trilogy is “elegantly sensual” and harmless to readers. I’ve also read that she considers the series her political statement about women’s right to read and write whatever they pleased. The books were major bestsellers for her, out-earning what she made from Interview With The Vampire.

If this all sounds rather familiar, it should. We’ve had a resurrection of the discussion in the popular media on erotica and erotic romance with the 50 Shades releases. They’ve been pulled off library shelves (just as the Sleeping Beauty trilogy was), been celebrated for reigniting tired married couples’ intimacy, and been decried by writers aplenty as poorly written schlock. When Sleeping Beauty was released it caused outrage among conservatives and feminists and is included in the American Library Association’s list of the “100 most frequently challenged books” of the 1990’s. On the flip side, it’s also developed a cult following, particularly among the BDSM community.

I read the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and I read all three 50 Shades as well. As an avid consumer of books in general and romance in particular, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Moreover, I’m interested in whether it’s erotic, erotic romance, or just plain ‘ol porn. And I guess this is where it gets tricky for me. According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, pornography is defined as “obscene writings, drawings, photographs or the like, having little or no artistic merit.” Whoa. If that’s not a can of worms I don’t know what is. I’m backing away with my hands held high.

Next March will be the 30 year anniversary since the first of the Beauty releases. How far have we as readers of erotic romance come since that day? In my opinion, quite far. There’s been an explosion of electronic romance publishers who allow us writers to push the boundaries of eroticism while staying within the confines of romance. There’s a very large dedicated romance audience, with new readers coming on board every day. Yes, there are still groups of people who shun the genre, and that’s OK, too, as long as they don’t try to force others to do the same. For those of you who haven’t read the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, I urge you to give it a look. For those who have, it might be fun to dust off your copy and enjoy it a second time and, as Anne Rice said, celebrate the fact that we can read it – or not – as we please.

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