Fairy Tale Fridays #6: Rapunzel | The Brothers Grimm

(If I backdate this to the start of September, will people notice I’m severely late on this and that I completely missed August?)

Rapunzel is an odd one – it’s one of those stories that you think you know but the original is a little bit more interesting and in true Grimm fashion, a little bit more terrible. I’ve recently read Cress from the Lunar Chronicles (which will definitely be a FTF feature once I finally finish the series…) which inspired me to return to the original version.

Some Background Information

Author: The Brothers Grimm
Published: 1857 in Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales)
Fairy tale tropes featured: evil enchantress, exchange of newborn child, magical tears
Aarne-Thompson folklore index folktale type: 310

Rapunzel

Rapunzel’s story starts off with a couple. Whilst pregnant, the wife has a craving for rampion (or rapunzel in German) that taunts her every day in her neighbour’s walled garden. The wife declares one day that if she cannot eat any rampion she shall die (very melodramatic). Her neighbour is a powerful enchantress and is dreaded by all so they can’t possibly ask her for any.

Because he loves her (and because you don’t argue with a pregnant lady), the husband sneaks into the garden and steals some rampion. He brings it home and his wife eats it but isn’t satisfied. Now she wants three times as much rampion. The husband goes back but this time he’s caught. The enchantress is understandably angry. The man explains his predicament and she allows him to take as much rampion as he wants but on one condition – he has to promise her their unborn child who she says she will treat well and care for like a mother. (Yes, this apparently the less harsh response.) The man is terrified and agrees.

Baby is born, the enchantress steals her and names her Rapunzel. She grows up to be beautiful and at 12 years old she is locked up in a tower with no stairs or a door. (So much for treating her well and being motherly.) They develop a system that allows the enchantress to climb up where she shouts

‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down you hair to me’

Which Rapunzel obediently does and then the enchantress climbs up Rapunzel’s long, golden locks.

Rapunzel climbing hair.jpg

After a couple of years (i.e. when Rapunzel is about 14) a prince riding through the forest hears Rapunzel singing in the tower. He wonders how he can climb up but can’t figure it out and gives up and goes home. He comes back and listens to her sing every day and one day sees the enchantress climbing up the tower. He thinks, I could try that so he shouts up to her.

The girl either doesn’t realise that she isn’t hearing her adoptive mother’s voice or is like a little trained robot and just lets down her hair when he says the magic words. When he climbs up, she’s scared – poor girl has never seen a man before. He’s friendly though and tells her he loves her singing. Rapunzel is no longer afraid.

The next step in any fairy tale is to propose to the woman you’ve just met. So he does. Rapunzel, despite having nothing to compare to,  thinks that he’s young and hot, he’ll love me more than Dame Gothel (enchantress gets a name!) and says yes. There’s just one problem: she can’t get down from the tower. So instead of him bringing some sort of ladder, they agree that he should bring some silk every time he visits and she will weave a ladder and then she can climb down and he can take her away on his horse.

Because the enchantress visits during the day, the prince begins to visit her every night. And yes, that means that they are sleeping together (I guess bringing up bits of silk was going to take a LONG time.) Let’s now remind ourselves that she’s 14 years old because she makes a dire mistake and notes to Dame Gothel that she’s so much heavier to pull up than the young king’s son.

Rapunzel by abigaillarson
Portrait of Rapunzel by AbigailLarson via Deviantart.

Dame Gothel is not pleased. She chops off all of Rapunzel’s hair and takes Rapunzel to the desert and abandons her there. When the prince comes to find Rapunzel, Dame Gothel uses the hair to trick him into climbing up. Then the enchantress confronts him and tells him that the girl is gone. The prince leaps from the tower in his despair (melodrama is totally a theme in this story) but falls into a bed of thorns that pierce his eyes and blind him.

He wanders into the forest, eating berries and roots, weeping and roaming for years (apparently no one in this kingdom thinks it odd that the prince hasn’t returned so no search parties…). He eventually finds himself in a desert where he bumps into Rapunzel and the twin children that he fathered and she then birthed. She sees him and weeps over him

‘Two of her tears wetted his eyes and they grew clear again, and he could see with them as before. He led her to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented.’

Notable Characters

Dame Gothel, the Enchantress: Again, we have the trope of powerful and magical women in fairy tales as ultimately being evil. She ‘softens’ at the thought of a husband helping his pregnant wife but still steals someone’s child and then is a terrible mother. I also read her as being a bit puritan; she locks the girl up once she shows signs of  beauty, never lets her meet a man and punishes her severely once she does.

Rapunzel: Not the smartest of protagonists but I’m going to cut her some slack here. Was it dumb to let a stranger climb up into your tower? Yes. Was it dumb to let it slip that she was secretly seeing a strange man? Yes. But in her defence, she is a teen and grew up ridiculously sheltered. 

The King’s Son: It’s very common in fairy tales for men to fall in love with the beauty of a girl and then promptly propose but in this case, he’s not a saviour of any sort. He doesn’t fight the enchantress, he doesn’t actually get Rapunzel out of the tower.

Magic

Magical Tears: Although there is an enchantress, the only real magic featured is magical healing tears that save the day. And the power of love too. (No, the hair doesn’t count, that’s just fairy tale logic.)

Happily Ever After?

Ultimately yes – the ending is quite clear. They have both escaped their suffering, Rapunzel is free, they get married and live their lives in a castle.


Featured image is by FunderVogel on Deviantart and can be found here. Sadly I can’t find the source for Dame Gothel climbing up the tower but I think it’s wonderful and I love the detail for the facial expressions.

When I was reading Cress I saw so many parallels between the book and the original fairy tale. Were you aware of all the suffering in Rapunzel?

2 thoughts on “Fairy Tale Fridays #6: Rapunzel | The Brothers Grimm

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