"It was not sleep - it seemed unnatural, like a state of trance"
Illustration for Charles Perrault's La Belle au Bois Dormant (1897)
Public DomainIllustration for Charles Perrault's 'La Belle au Bois Dormant' (1897) - Credit: Gustave Doré

Marlow’s description of the African jungle draws on a characteristic feature of European fairytales: the enchanted forest. A later allusion to the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (see bookmark 'an enchanted princess') suggests Conrad had in mind Charles Perrault’s version of the story, ‘La Belle au Bois Dormant’ (‘The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood’, sometimes translated as ‘The Beauty in the Sleeping Wood’), in which the sleeping princess’s castle is surrounded by an apparently impenetrable thicket of trees and briars, a forest said to be haunted by ghosts, sorcerers or a cannibalistic ogre.


Equatorial Forest, Upper Congo (1899)
Public DomainEquatorial Forest, Upper Congo (1899) - Credit: Édouard Foà


When Heart of Darkness was originally published in book form in Youth, a Narrative, and Two Other Stories, the collection was preceded by an epigraph from the Brothers Grimm fairytale 'Rumpelstiltskin' (1812):

But the Dwarf answered: No; something human is dearer to me than the wealth of all the world.