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.