Guess what’s back, back again.
No, not Slim Shady circa 2002 but my fortnightly Fairy Tale Friday feature. Yay I hear you cry. Or is that just me?
Well I’m pleased because these are fun for me to do!
A recap because it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.
No, it’s not been that long, old Rose.
Because I love fairy tales to the top of the beanstalk and back I decided that I wanted to introduce a feature all about them. But because I have a job that is incredibly time consuming (and this post is oddly incredibly time consuming) I couldn’t do it every week so I do it every other week instead.
Or… um… try to…
I’ve only done three so far but don’t fret as there is plenty to come.
Because there are a lot of fairy tales to choose from I asked some friends what their favourites are and decided to do those first. So far we have had Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel.
The next offering is our poor girl in the tower (no, not that one) but Rapunzel.
This is a story which could be called ‘Rapunzel: The Devolution of a Resourceful Woman’ because even though the Brothers Grimm did a lot for the popularisation of fairy tales they also removed a lot of female agency and this story is one of those examples.
When we think of Rapunzel we are often thinking of the Grimm version recorded in 1857 but this is the revised second edition as the Grimm’s first published the story in 1812. Like with most of their work this was not an original and they adapted the story from Friedrich Schulz’s 1790 version.
But Friedrich was also not the originator of this tale and he based his version on a story called ‘Persinette‘ written in 1698 by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force.
But wait! Charlotte-Rose was also not the original creator and she based her version of off ‘Petrosinella‘ written by Giambattista Basile in 1634.
Phew. That’s a lot of versions.
But before we go into the differences between these versions let’s remind ourselves of the most known, the 1857 version by the Brothers Grimm.
there lived a husband and his pregnant wife. The wife began to experience severe cravings for the rapunzel plant that grew in her next door neighbours garden and after some persuading had convinced her husband to pluck some for her.
Unfortunately eating the plant once wasn’t enough and the husband had to steal more of it to keep his wife happy. Even more unfortunately, the plant grew in the garden of a witch and when the husband was eventually caught by her he begged for mercy and said he would do anything to save himself.
Turns out anything was giving up his newborn baby. Which he did. Because if we know anything it’s that parents in fairy tales are rubbish.
The witch took the baby girl and named her Rapunzel after the stolen herbs that the wife craved. Now if I was named after my mum’s pregnancy cravings I would be called Spare Ribs.
Anyway – the witch took Rapunzel and you guessed it, whisked her away to a tower where there was no way of entering other than the window. I have questions on logistics here but hey ho, they’ll go unanswered.
Over time Rapunzel grew into a beauty and as she grew so did her hair which was now used by the witch to enter the tower. Ouch.
One day a Prince heard Rapunzel sing but had no way of reaching her. After some time (and several spying sessions) he spotted the witch climbing Rapunzel’s hair and when he knew that Rapunzel was all alone in her tower he did the same.
The Prince visited often and all went unnoticed by the witch until Rapunzel inadvertently revealed the truth by saying that the witch was heavier to lift then the Prince.
It, or more specifically the witch, hit the fan.
Rapunzel had her hair cut off and was kicked out of the tower to wander in the wilderness. This she did alone until she had the Prince’s children. I guess they did more than talk on his visits. Ahem.
As for the Prince – the witch lay in wait for him, tricked him into climbing Rapunzel’s chopped hair and when he reached the tower window she threw him into a patch of thorns where he was instantly blinded.
He also wandered the wastelands but he and Rapunzel managed to find each other and when they did, Rapunzel’s tears of joy fell into his eyes and restored his sight.
They found their way back to the Prince’s kingdom where they lived happily ever after. We never know what happens to Rapunzel’s parents or the witch and I remain living in a permanent state of confusion.
The above revised version is the version that the Grimm’s published after they decided to remove any mentions of The Sex.
In the first edition the reason why the witch flew off the handle so dramatically wasn’t because Rapunzel insinuated that the witch was fatter than the Prince, oh no. It was because Rapunzel made an off-hand comment about her own dress not fitting her around her middle anymore.
Ah yes, an unplanned and unexpected pregnancy to a poor naive young woman who clearly has no clue about this sort of thing due to being locked in a tower.
The original version ‘Petrosinella‘ was a similar story but with some notable differences – there was no witch but an ogress. Petrosinella remained with her mother for 7 years until her mother grew so frightened that she hadn’t kept her promise to the ogress (to give her the baby) that she eventually gave Petrosinella away.
While this version also has Petrosinella and the Prince having The Sex it also ensures that Petrosinella has her wits about her. She makes sure the ogress is knocked out before the Prince turns up and it’s only through a neighbourhood gossip that they get found out.
But in this version, Petrosinella is a tad more resourceful and already has a back-up plan lined up. The Prince and Petrosinella escape the tower with our plucky heroine using the ogress’ three magic acorns against her. These turn into a variety of animals until the last one – a wolf (of course) – eats her.
In Persinette, we may lose some of that resourcefulness but it’s not actually needed as it becomes a different kind of tale.
The ogress is now a fairy who loves Persinette and keeps her in a gilded
cage tower when she reaches puberty – all to protect her from the evils of men. The story follows the same course as the newer Grimm but at the end the fairy actually realises that the Prince and Persinette love each other and so she gives them her blessing.
Schulz’s version also keeps the fairy but she’s sad instead of angry about the discovery of Rapunzel’s pregnancy and ultimately the Prince throws himself from the tower.
Phew. Lots of versions mean a lot of changes.
We have moved from ogress to loving if not massively overprotective fairy to wrathful witch. We have also moved from a resourceful and ‘fighting for her freedom’ heroine into an isolated and long suffering one.
What is the moral here?
I don’t know.
The original moral apparently was ‘there is no fighting fate’. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, the people who are meant to find you will find you or you will find each other.
I’m confused because this is NOT really the moral I am getting.
If we look at it another way we can say that being an overprotective parent is very much not a good thing and that some methods of ‘parenting’ can be a destructive way to show ‘love’ and ‘care’ that can easily become oppression and control.
Or you could even spin it so that the moral is – the world is a scary place and the people who try to protect you may have the best of intentions but they don’t go about it the right way.
After all, our Prince happily spies on Rapunzel, lets himself into the tower and doesn’t seem to worry about any negative consequences or harm to a young, sheltered woman. His actions aren’t so much about helping her as it is helping himself to her.
Like I said, I don’t know. There are many different versions here and all seem to be saying different things.
Adults suck and no one in fairy tale world is good at parenting.
We (as people) seem to love a story about women in towers. There are multiple versions of Rapunzel as I have mentioned above but other cultures have their own versions too.
There is a Persian tale of Rudaba who lets her hair down so her lover can climb to her.
There is a Christian tale of Saint Barbara who was kept in a tower by her father because he wanted to preserve her from the world (and to stop her becoming a Christian). Hers is a sad tale with a gruesome ending and she was canonized because of it.
We also have the story of Saule, a Baltic sun goddess who was captured by a King and kept in a tower.
Then there is Danae in Greek Mythology who was prophesied to have a son that would kill her father. Her father kept her in a tower to stop this from happening. Unfortunately… Zeus. That’s it. Just… unfortunately, Zeus.
We like our women in towers so that no one can get to them or so that they can’t get out. Oh yes, these stories are all about the limitations of female freedom. Hello, oppression my old friend.
Did the witch set this all up from the beginning with the plant so she could take a baby? If so, why? Why then keep her in a tower for the rest of her life?
Was the witch overcautious but misguided or was she just controlling? I am so conflicted on this. So conflicted.
Once again, mother or maternal roles in fairy tales are brought into question. But then the dad doesn’t do so well here either. But I’m beginning to think people had mother issues. Especially the Grimm’s.
I actually think the Prince is a bit of a dick.
Rapunzel isn’t one of the most popular fairy tales to lend itself to retelling’s – despite a very popular version existing. And I happen to love that popular version very much!
- Tangled (movie) – yes this is the popular version I love very much 😉
- The Tenth Kingdom (tv show) – has an episode where Virginia, the heroine, ends up being cursed with long Rapunzel-esque hair
- Into the Woods (movie) – the witch has adopted Rapunzel and has kept her in the tower to keep her safe from the perceived dangers of the world
- Cress by Marissa Meyer (book; part of The Lunar Chronicles) – a sci-fi retelling with Cress being locked in a satellite orbiting Earth
Now I have two vague ideas here:-
One of those is that Rapunzel is being kept inside the tower for the protection of others. Her singing draws men to her where she proceeds to devour them. Unfortunately eating so many hearts has made her nigh on invincible and so to keep people safe she has been captured and kept in the tower. That’s all I got.
The other is based on something that I read that suggested the witch or fairy was beautiful in her youth, suffered from the ill abuse at the hands of men and so she kept Rapunzel in the tower to protect her from the same fate.
My idea is that Rapunzel and the witch are the same person. There’s magic involved (somehow, somewhere) but Rapunzel, trying to stop herself from suffering horribly once she has left the tower, becomes a witch to try and protect a younger version of herself and to change the chain of events. This involves taking her own younger self away and locking her in the tower.
This goes as well as expected until she either accepts that some things are fated or one of her versions stops trying.
The next one should be on The Ugly Duckling.
As always, let me know your thoughts on the fairy tale and I welcome discussion and suggestions for future Fridays!