Saturday, April 14, 2012

A French Rapunzel

"The Godchild of the Fairy in the Tower" is much like the Rapunzel story we know and love, with few minor details...until a rather surprising ending.
There once was a woman who found she was with child. She was overcome with the desire to eat cabbage, but the only cabbage was that of a fairy, and she didn't dare ask for any. So she snuck in and took some during the night. The next day the fairy noticed the missing cabbage heads. The woman ate the cabbage for two days and then ran out, and went back on the third night. This time the fairy became angry and decided to catch the theif.
The fairy attached bells to all of the cabbage heads. When the woman came back a third time, the fairy heard the ringing of bells-first one, then two, then three. By the third bell, the fairy had come out and demanded the woman pay for the cabbage heads.
The woman begged for pardon, telling the fairy that she was with child and had had a strong desire to eat cabbage, but wouldn't do it again. The fairy granted pardon, but only on the condition that she become godmother to the child the woman was carrying.
The woman agreed, and went home and told her husband all that had happened. When the baby was born, they went to get the fairy to act as godmother.
The fairy gave her goddaughter a gift-she would have golden hair and would be the most beautiful girl in the world. Then she said that she would take over the girl's education as soon as she was old enough, and would come to get her. When the time came, her parents were very sorry to see her go, but there was nothing they could do.
The fairy told her godchild she would be very happy if she behaved as she should, and the girl promised she would. She was given a dog to keep her company.
The fairy showed her the chores the girl was to do, and then left on a trip. The girl was given instructions to close all the doors tight, and when the godmother called, "godchild, give me your golden hair," to pull her up through the window.
The godmother came back from her trip and all things went as she had instructed. The next day the fairy went on another trip, for two weeks, and the child got bored, and spent her time waiting at the window, and passersby noticed and wondered about the beautiful girl. A prince was among those, and as he stopped to see her better, saw the godmother come home and gain entry to the castle by way of the girl's hair.
Once the fairy asked if the girl had been good, she left the next day again on a trip. The prince came by and talked with the girl, and promised to return again. He came back and climbed into her chamber through the window with her golden hair.
When the fairy returned, the dog said, "Your godchild made love with the prince."
"What is the little dog saying?" asked the fairy.
"Godmother, she says that I have worked well and that I have cleaned the rooms carefully."
The next day the fairy left, but only for two days. When she returned, the dog said that the godchild spoke with the prince for a long time, but the godchild claimed the dog was just saying she had worked well and set everything in order.
The next day the fairy came back while the prince was still in the girl's room, and he hid behind the bed. The dog told her, and the fairy pretended not to know and went in the other room. The next day the prince came and took the girl with the golden hair away, but the dog came and told the fairy. The fairy called, "Godchild, may you turn into a frog and may your prince have a pig's snout." As soon as the wish was expressed, the beauty with the golden hair turned into a frog, and the prince grew a pig's snout.
*****
It seems that this story was influenced by other Rapunzel versions. The word "tower" only occurs in the title, and the fairy appears to live in a regular house on ground level, with multiple doors that are simply not used for some reason. There is also no mention of the girl's hair being especially long, but golden. So the main images associated with Rapunzel-the girl with the fantastically long hair imprisoned in a tower in the woods-are not present in this version, making it a little less memorable.
Also, I think the fairy seems a little more sympathetic in this version. Offering to become a godmother and provide education seems like an extremely gracious response to someone stealing from you, although how she expected to educate her when she was going on trips all the time is questionable. Really, young girls who have just reached the age to begin their education should not be sneaking boys into the house, although if you're going to leave for two weeks at a time, you shouldn't be all that surprised when it starts to happen.
The ending seems so sudden, and it's like the reverse of most animal bridegroom/bride stories that start with a prince or princess cursed to be a pig or frog and end with the transformation to human. But, the next time someone accuses fairy tales of being idealistic and always ending happily ever after, you can add this tale to the list of tales that actually don't end happily.
Tale found in "The Borzoi Book of French Folk Tales", Selected and Edited by Paul DeLarue
Illustrations by Frank Cadogan Cowper and Walter Crane

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