Rapunzel Now

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!


Fairy Tale Inspirations: Rapunzel’s Heritage Part 2

 Rapunzel (The Brothers Grimm)


When I was pondering this post, I got caught up in the notion that nowadays, once something is published we don’t muck around changing it. Copyright laws forbid us to republish a work under our own name. If a story like Beauty and the Beast was penned now as it was centuries before in France, we wouldn’t have version upon version of the story like we do. It’d be like taking Pride and Prejudice and rewriting it with zombies. Oh, wait. Somebody did that.

Rather than being inclined to keep prose sacred, it seems to be human nature to grab onto a story we love and change it over and over to reflect either how we feel as the author or how society feels. It’s the only way I can explain the proclivity to reboot comic book hero after comic book hero.

Last week, I talked about a version of the Maiden in the Tower stories called Persenitte by a French writer named Charlotte-Rose de La Force. La Force actually changed her tale from an Italian story called Petrosinella byGiambattista Basile. La Force’s story was in turn taken by a German man named Freidrich Schultz a hundred years after her. He was the first to call it Rapunzel.

After Schultz, it became a story in German oral tradition rather than something read out of a book, which is where the Grimm brothers come in. The Grimm brothers collected fairy tales as mainly a scholarly pursuit and expected them to be put in scholarly places. They changed the fairy to a sorcerous because fairies were too French. They also called the sorcerous Mother Gothel which is simply godmother. Part of the Maiden in the Tower tradition is Rapunzel always has twins. In some versions, the Prince is discovered by the fairy or sorceress because Rapunzel is growing round from pregnancy. When the Brothers Grimm realized that their stories were being sold to children and families, they began to take out mention of Rapunzel’s pregnancy more and more in each subsequent edition until the twins just magically appeared at the end of the story.

I’d actually like to see the pregnancy put back in for current generations. What a great way to introduce sex education: through fairy tales. Also, taking out the pregnancy strips the story of some of its yearning and feeds into this odd obsession that princesses must be virginal. When I discovered Robin McKinley, I stalked her online for awhile and read many of her essays. She wrote a dark fantasy called Deerskin based on the fairy tale Donkey Skin. In it, the heroine is raped by a family member. A common complaint about the book was the heroine wasn’t a virgin. Really? No empathy for her plight of incestual rape? She can’t be a heroine because she wasn’t a virgin.

I think it should be emphasized rather than obscured that Rapunzel was pregnant, banished to a different land, had not just one but two babies and managed to keep herself and the babies alive on her own. Wow! That is a heroine I can admire. Trying to keep Rapunzel virginal makes her seem like a weak and waiting girl/woman. She can’t do anything until her prince rescues her.

It’d be an interesting study to go through fairy tales and see how sexuality changes depending on the time they’re written in. I’ll have to file it in my “Projects Way in the Future Box.” Next week, I’ll talk about current versions of Rapunzel and my own take on the heroine in my up coming publication Rapunzel: Stay at Home Mother.

Fairy Tale Inspirations: Rapunzel’s Heritage Part 1

Persinette by serwaaproductions

Fairy tales are enjoying a recent resurgence in pop culture, but many people, like me, have loved them all their lives. Fairy tales have been important throughout history because their themes remain germane to current issues. It’s worth researching their origins to see how the lessons of the stories have fluctuated, and, in some cases, been lost. My fantasy and sci-fi stories are both influenced by my years of reading fairy tales. Even when I was a music teacher, I integrated folk tales into my music lessons as I taught songs from all over the world. They give us insight into both the past and the present. For a long time I’ve wanted to make my fairy tale research a permanent part of the blog. I’m finally diving into it today with one of my favorites: Rapunzel.

Rapunzel, like many fairy or folk tales has a history of both oral and written tradition. In the Aarne–Thompson classification system, the stories are in the category of “The Maiden in the Tower”. Different aspects of the story were emphasized depending on the time and target audience for the tale, but the baby, the garden, the tower, the hair, and the prince were always a part of it.

In 1697 a woman by the name of Charlotte-Rose de La Force published an adult fairy tale in France called Persinette. This “Maiden in the Tower” tale was a subversive story against arranged marriages and for the independence of women. It opens with a pregnant woman craving parsley, and her husband gathers it from an enchanted fairy garden. Of course the fairy demands the unborn child in exchange for the parsley. I’ve always wondered why the parents so willingly turn the baby over to the fairy, but if you’re looking at it in light of arranged marriages, it’s easy to see girls as nothing but bargaining chips.

The baby is named Persinette, and when she reaches puberty the fairy locks her in a tower to keep her away from men. At least in the La Force telling, the tower has paints and books and furnishings—it even has fairy servants who wait upon Persinette. However, Persinette being locked away in a tower is akin to young women of La Force’s time being put in convents. Persinette has no choice but to yield. At last a prince arrives to free her.

In La Force’s time, Persinette falling in love with the prince and eventually marrying him after several trials from the fairy showed Persinette being an independent woman by deciding on her own to marry the prince. It also showed the prince breaking tradition by choosing his own wife and not allowing his parents to arrange a marriage for him. Love conquered all.

Though the themes in Persinette of arranged marriages and girls being bargaining chips are no longer pertinent in today’s society, the yearning for something unattainable still is. The mother yearns for a forbidden herb, the husband yearns to satisfy his wife’s cravings, the fairy yearns for a child, Persinette yearns for freedom and the prince yearns for Persinette. That’s what keeps “The Maiden in the Tower” stories still relevant today.

When the Brother’s Grimm took Persinette under their quill and changed her to Rapunzel, they wrote her for the German middle class of their time rather than the nobility of France in the late 1600’s. Next time I’ll show you some of the changes Grimm made and if the effects were good or bad for the heroine.

For more reading about Rapunzel, please head over to theTerri Windling essays at Endicott. She covers a larger history of the Maiden-in-the-Tower stories, which is where I got most of my information.

I wish you good writing this week, and I hope you have lots of inspiration.