Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thoughts on Rapunzel

This is the campanula rapunculus plant, also known as Rapunzel, or Rampion, and the source of the title of the famous Grimm fairy tale. Rapunzel's birth mother has cravings for various forms of leafy greens in the different versions of the tale, like lettuce or parsley.

Fun fact about the fairy tale from the annotations of Maria Tatar: the Mother Gothel character was originally called a "fairy" in the Grimm story, and later changed to "enchantress." Some English translations use the word "witch." I wrote not too long ago about how Rumpelstiltskin has gradually come to be perceived as more villainous, through changes made to the story's wording and largely due to illustrator's ideas as well. So often fairy tales are thought of as being completely black and white, with characters separated into all good and all evil, but maybe even this is not innate to the nature of fairy tales, but a more recent phenomenon. The narration of the tale never condemns Mother Gothel for wanting to raise a baby as her own child, or wanting to protect her from the world, however extreme her actions may have been. Although she sends a pregnant Rapunzel to fend for herself alone and blinds the prince, Mother Gothel is never punished as many fairy tale witches are-the reader never learns what happens to her.
Most illustrations of Rapunzel revolve more around the fantastic length of golden hair, or feature Rapunzel and her lover, but these illustrations by Anne Anderson (above) and Arthur Rackham (below) portray the adoptive mother as a more stereotypical witch.
Another fun fact: Rapunzel's hair is 20 ells long in the Grimm story. Measurements for an ell varied from country to country but was at least 18 inches. So, Rapunzel's hair was at the very least 30 feet long. The French ell was 54 inches, so by that standard her hair would have been 90 feet! My nerdy fascination with numbers aside, the point was not exactly how long it was, but to create a vivid and extreme picture of an unprecedented length of hair.


  1. If you haven't seen it (and it's not under your 'musical' tags) you would probably be interested in the play Into the Woods. Act 1 follows the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, all tied together by the new story of The Baker and his Wife. Act 2 follows what happens after 'happily ever after.'

    Relevant to this post, Rapunzel is the Baker's lost sister, and the Witch still lives next door. The Witch's story arc centers on parenthood, and features a fairly famous song "Children will listen."

  2. I love Into the Woods! I've wanted to post on it for a while but haven't had anything specific to say about it...I'm sure I'll think of an angle eventually :)