After the runaway success of Cinderella in 1919, Rackham collaborated with his editor, C. S. Evans once again to produce a companion volume, based on another fairytale originally told by Perrault: The Sleeping Beauty. As before, Evans lengthened the story, recasting it in his inimitable conversational style and providing a setting for over fifty illustrations. But this narrative is darker, with the treasured princess Briar-Rose cursed by a vengeful fairy to die from a spindle prick, before her death sentence is magically commuted to a century-long enchanted sleep, that ends only when a prince struggles through a bramble forest to rouse her with a kiss.
Responding to the extremes of the story, Rackham’s illustrations for The Sleeping Beauty are ever more adventurous and experimental. Courtiers shush each other as they tiptoe across the title page, the text of a royal proclamation is stained with inky fingerprints, and complex double-page spreads show the whole castle in cross-section, revealing the panoply of life above and below stairs in the moments before, and immediately after, 100 years of sleep.
Building on what he had learned from Cinderella, Rackham summons up a succession of striking images: the royal garden with its delicate foliage and ornate fountains; the crowd simmering with rage during the enforced burning of their spinning wheels; the corpses of unsuccessful rescuers tangled in brambles; and the hair-raising scene of the spiteful fairy bewitching the innocent baby. Almost 100 years after it first appeared, The Sleeping Beauty remains one of the most distinctive visualisations of a fairytale ever created, and one of the crowning achievements of Rackham’s illustrious career.