Friday, January 15, 2016

Rapunzel Alternate Beginning

Anne Anderson's Rapunzel

One great thing about the annotated tales over at Surlalune are that Heidi Anne Heiner has included the Grimms' notes with some of them. Not even my complete first edition of Grimm tales has that!

I was reading about Rapunzel and came across this interesting fact: the Grimms had found a version that seems like it blended Bluebeard and Rapunzel. The witch lives with a young girl, and entrusted all of her keys to her, but forbid her to go in a certain room. The young girl, of course, disobeys, and finds the witch sitting in it with "two great horns." Because of that, the girl is placed in a tower.

This tale still seems more reasonable than Bluebeard. The witch, at least, hasn't killed anybody in the process, and really has nothing to hide. And while it's still not entirely fair, at least a child should be expected to obey adults more so than a wife should be expected to have entire rooms in her house off limits.

Still, in both cases, female curiosity is punished. While it's upsetting for feminists, the punishments in both cases (locked in a tower/death) are just so extreme, maybe tales like these were sometimes meant to express frustration with societal expectations of women's complete obedience.

Also, on the subject of niece drew this for me for Christmas. My favorite detail is the "no tower" thought bubble coming from Rapunzel. Although many fairy tale Princesses are trapped in towers, servitude, or death-like sleep, their goal is universally escape!

Illustration-Anne Anderson


  1. The beginning of the Rapunzel story isn't actually related to Bluebeard/ the Maiden Killer tales, but to a different type about the protagonist's apprenticeship at a supernatural teacher/godfather. Tales like Iron Hans or Mary's Child fall into this category.

    These tales concern the protagonist both being protected by the teacher and learning useful, sometimes supernatural things until s/he does something forbidden and consequently is cast out into the world and needs to learn how to fend for him/herself. Interestingly tales with female protagonists often use the motif of the forbidden door and therefore overlap with Bluebeard in that regard.

    What is interesting about this type of fairytales is that the disobedience is punished... but in doing so the protagonist is given the chance to trule grow and become an adult. The truly happy ending where s/he has rescued others, found a spouse and become wealthy, wouldn't have been possible is s/he staed obedient forever. In the end curiosity is rewarded.

    The version you talk about differs fom this. Instead of the girl being "set free", able to explore the world to find her place, she is locked away. The motif of curiosity/disobedience towards the witch (which some would probably interpret as her mother) which sets in motion he process of becoming an adult is doubled, which makes this version "diffuse" as the Grimms call it.

    1. There's always that irony in stories that if there were no mistake made, even if the hero is "blamed", there would be no story. The audience usually secretly wants the character to make a mistake-if nothing else to live vicariously through their consequences.

      I had never thought about a punishment that "sets free" verses "imprisons"-that's a very interesting thing to consider. Of course, Rapunzel/those imprisoned still eventually find their way out of the tower and to their own adult, happy ending, so the witch still indirectly gives her a happy ending. Part of the irony of the "Maiden in a Tower" tales is that, you can attempt to lock up your daughters and hide them from the world, but it never works, it often leads them right into whatever you were trying to hide them from.

      So many good insights, as usual!

  2. I have to wonder about these tales in which the heroine is given the key to a room she is told not to open. What can it be but a test? If you don't want the room opened, why hand over the key? Mind you, if the heroine of Bluebeard had stayed obedient, would she have been murdered anyway when the serial killer husband tired of her? What did his first wife find in that room with no other wives to discover? A test! The witch in Rapunzel maybe didn't want to be seen in that room, but again, why hand over the key?

    You have a delightful niece, Kristen! She knows what you like. :-)

    1. Yes, the audience always wants that door to be opened. And sometimes that curiosity is directly rewarded in fairy tales, such as in "Fitcher's Bird" and "The Golden Key".

      Yeah, you really can't look for too much logic in "Bluebeard," one of the frustrating things about it. Bluebeard is clearly willing to kill for any slightest little thing that upsets him. And there's always that question of the first wife!

      Yes, our niece is great!

  3. That's a really interesting find. I love it when tales blur the lines like this! It reminds me of Sleeping Beauty stories too, where the girl is exploring the castle and finds a room with the spinning woman in. Her curiosity is also punished by pricking her finger & falling asleep. Also, both sleep and being placed in a tower are forms of isolation which raises a whole lot more questions.

    I like the idea that keys are a test, but I also see them as potential. They possess opportunities, which can either be good or bad. In this case, bad. Not so much a matter of trust, but just pot luck as to which door you open.

    Also that picture is adorable!

    1. See I never really see the spindle episode as punishment for her curiosity, but simply a result of her ignorance which was caused by her father, and the irony of his trying to prevent the spell really caused it. And, there's a sense in which it was predestined and unavoidable. I think we've talked about this some on the comments of one of our blogs all of the scholars see it as punishment for curiosity?

      I also love the idea that keys are opportunities! Because really, even despite many of the moralistic interpretations of fairy tales, the elements of the plot speak louder (the main characters being rewarded in the end) than the official "lesson." Those who show curiosity may encounter obstacles but are ultimately rewarded! In fact now I think this needs to be another post...

  4. Yes, that's another way of looking at it. The coming of age/sexual interpretation both see the sleep as inevitable & natural instead of punishment. I think people see it differently depending on what they're looking to get out of the story. Like with any fairy tale, you can see in it what you want to and mould it to fit your ideas. Personally, I prefer the inevitable interpretation. But punishment is just another reading which is similar to Bluebeard.

    You could totally do a post about keys and opportunities! The journey is always much more important than the outcome, because that's where the characters make their decisions which lead to, as you say, the reward at the end (or not, in some harsher tales...)

  5. I often thought of that, the interpretation; girls like Rapunzel and Sleepy Beauty are actually stories about overprotective Parents shielding their daughters from the world (and perhaps trying to prevent them from discovering their sexual maturity).

    I also read of another Rapunzel origin theory: ever heard of Saint Barbara? it was said that she was one of the early Christian converts and was also locked away in a tower. Interestingly, it was not a mother figure that locks her up, but her Father. There's also some versions of the story that the Father wants to commit incest with his daughter because she reminds so much of his wife/her mother, that's why he locked her in a tower so no other man would have her.

    1. Its like the Parents are so protective of every aspect of their child, including their sexual innocence. Its locking them in an Ivory Tower. In a way, I could this 'punishment' the girls face as a reward or escape from that Ivory Tower.

    2. Yes that's definitely a way to interpret these tales-especially since the locking up/sleeping happens right when young girls are maturing! I've heard of Saint Barbara, she's in the Surlalune book on Rapunzel I have. Maid Maleen and similar stories also have fathers doing the imprisoning-for various motives