Rapunzel has survived centuries to be one of the more popular and referenced fairy tales in modern times. She doesn’t beat out Cinderella or Snow White by any means, but did you have the Snow Queen memorized before Frozen came out? Rapunzel is a simple story on the surface: a child is stolen from her parents, grows up in a tower and is saved by a prince. But beneath the simplicity are complicated themes of yearning, parenting, adoption, and true love—themes that are still important today.
Like all fairy tales though, Rapunzel continues to undergo changes to fit the times. When Disney reinvented Rapunzel for today’s audience, they devised an intriguing and thrilling story for Tangled. It’s the only version I know of where Rapunzel is reunited with her parents. We are a very parent centric society and look down on any parents who don’t hold their children up as number one in their lives. I think that Disney realized today’s audience needed to know that the mother and father of Rapunzel were always looking for her.
Tangled is also the only version where Rapunzel is born a princess and her rescuer is a commoner. Not only is he a commoner, but he fits the bad boy mold perfectly. Today’s audiences are looking for a little more in a hero than the past perfection of the Disney Prince had to offer. Making Rapunzel’s hero sketchy really tapped into what today’s lovers of Twilight movies are looking for.
But the best part of Tangled is Rapunzel’s cooky personality. I have always thought Rapunzel would be at least a little crazy being locked up in a tower all the time, and I really appreciated Disney addressing it. Rapunzel is often two dimensional in her own story, and Disney really brought her to life.
Though I enjoyed Tangled, my favorite modern retelling is the Rapunzel part of the Broadway musical Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim. Into the Woods is a mash-up of several fairy tales. I was lucky enough to play in the pit orchestra for a local production of Into the Woods several years ago. While other songs were my favorite (Red Riding Hood and the Princes’ songs particularly) Rapunzel’s story was the best story in the first half of the show. Sondheim holds a magnifying glass up to the themes of abuse and parenting in his treatment of Rapunzel. The witch is often the most empathetic character in the play, especially when she’s singing about her reasons to keep Rapunzel locked away in “Stay with me”. I found myself constantly having to remember that the witch did steal the baby and did lock her away. Making characters gray rather than black and white is something else modern audiences are looking for. We like stories messy, and making the witch not exactly evil was a brilliant move.
In Into the Woods, Rapunzel is also a bit crazy, as in Tangled, because her world revolves around her hair. I would’ve loved to see Sondheim portray her more in the happily ever after segment of Into the Woods, but unfortunately Rapunzel gets squashed by the giant.
I think having her die in the second act has always annoyed me because in March I wrote my own version of Rapunzel’s happily ever after that didn’t involve being stepped on by a giant. As mentioned in last week’s post, Rapunzel had twins. Thinking about a woman who was locked away in a tower for most of her life becoming a parent really sparked my imagination. She must be a totally anxiety ridden mother bent on keeping her children safe even to the point of their detriment. This was a woman I could empathize with—myself being a nut job after the birth of my first child.
When my husband and I started talking seriously about the self publishing business, I decided Rapunzel: Stay at Home Mom would be the first story we’d publish. Well, I got obsessed with my pen name, and published first under it, but this will be the first story self-published under my real name Even though it’s a short story, I wanted it to have illustrations like all good fairy tales and didn’t think that would happen at a short story market. Sometimes a story gets one picture, but I really wanted more. Rapunzel: Stay at Home Mom begins with her in the shadow of the tower at her prince’s castle, watching her children playing under the deadly sun. As promised, here is the tiniest of sneak previews:
by Kevin Yancey
I hope you’ve enjoyed these mini-essays about “The Maiden in the Tower” stories and how they’ve both changed and stayed the same throughout their retellings. I’m really looking forward to the December release of Rapunzel: Stay at Home Mom. I hope you are too!