Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Your Story is Fishy

Do you actually remember the story of Rapunzel? A girl with really long hair gets locked away in a tower. She lets a witch and a prince climb up her hair (ouch!) and she lives happily ever after with the prince. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Wrong. Recently I heard the story again and picked up on some things that hadn't occurred to me the last time I read it.

Rapunzel is locked up in her tower when she's 12 years old. A year or two later (according to one story) the prince comes riding along and hears poor, lonely (and probably hideously bored) Rapunzel singing to comfort herself. He wants to see her, so he waits around until the witch comes and tells her to let down her hair.

Here comes the fishy part, taken directly from the story:

"So that's the staircase, is it?" said the Prince. "Then I too will climb it and try my luck."
So on the following day, at dusk, he went to the foot of the tower and cried:
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your golden hair,"and as soon as she had let it down the
Prince climbed up.

At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man came in, for she had never seen one before; but the Prince spoke to her so kindly, and told her at once that his heart had been so touched by her singing, that he felt he should know no peace of mind till he had seen her. Very soon Rapunzel forgot her fear, and when he asked her to marry him she consented at once. "For," she thought, "he is young and handsome, and I'll certainly be happier with him than with the old Witch." So she put her hand in his and said:
"Yes, I will gladly go with you, only how am I to get down out of the tower? Every time you come to see me you must bring a skein of silk with you, and I will make a ladder of them, and
when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse."

They arranged that till the ladder was ready, he was to come to her every evening, because the old woman was with her during the day. The old Witch, of course, knew nothing of what was going on, till one day Rapunzel, not thinking of what she was about, turned to the Witch and said: "How is it, good mother, that you are so much harder to pull up than the young Prince? He is always with me in a moment."

"Oh! you wicked child," cried the Witch. "What is this I hear? I thought I had hidden you safely from the whole world, and in spite of it you have managed to deceive me."

Does it sound to you like the prince is a bit of a scoundrel? Especially that part about speaking so kindly to a girl who is no more than 14 years old and has no knowledge of men and then "proposing" to her? Yeah, I bet he's with her in only a moment. It sounds to me like she's being taken advantage of. Do you think I'm reading too much into it? In another version of the story the witch finds out about the nightly visitor when Rapunzel asks her why the waist of her dress is getting so tight. Let's look forward a bit in the story.

The witch is so upset with Rapunzel that she cuts her hair, takes her out of the tower, and leaves her to fend for herself in a desert place in the wilderness. The prince comes back again and finds the witch, who tells him he won't see Rapunzel again.

The prince was overcome with grief, and in his despair he threw himself from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell poked out his eyes. Blind, he wandered about in the forest, eating nothing but grass and roots, and doing nothing but weeping and wailing over the loss of his beloved wife. Thus he wandered about miserably for some years, finally happening into the wilderness where Rapunzel lived miserably with the twins that she had given birth to.

He heard a voice and thought it was familiar. He advanced toward it, and as he approached, Rapunzel recognized him, and crying, threw her arms around his neck. Two of her tears fell into his eyes, and they became clear once again, and he could see as well as before. He led her into his kingdom, where he was received with joy, and for a long time they lived happily and satisfied.

When, I wonder, did the two of them get married, considering he only saw her when he hoisted himself up to the tower on her hair. I'd like to see the priest climb up there in his robes. Maybe this was a time when consummation of the marriage was as good as a ceremony. One way or the other, there were twins.

Have you ever noticed how horrible some of the fairy tales are? Hans Christian Andersen was particularly good at making stories with rotten endings (The Little Match Girl freezes to death, The Little Mermaid can't be with the man she loves and turns to sea foam, The Steadfast Tin Soldier is thrown into a fire that his Ballerina also gets blown into, and the owner of the Red Shoes has her feet chopped off. Nice.)

On the up side, it looks like Disney is making a CGI version of Rapunzel set for release on Thanksgiving 2010. I bet the story will be much less sketchy.


Morgan said...

yes! i've totally noticed. i actually just took out fairy tales week for next year on my preschool calendar. i had a hard time finding any i was comfortable with!

Christin said...

I hate fairytale. I can't stand Beauty and the Beast either. They all seem so nice until you grow up and realize how dysfunctional they are.

Carrie and Karl said...

One of my friends had to do a presentation in her dating and courtship class. For it she analyzed fairy tales and explained why they wouldn't have been "Happily Ever After" stories.
Examples: Snow White and her stalker, The Little Mermaid, whose man of her dreams is so in love with her voice that he doesn't care about anything else, Pocahontas and the white man she rolls around on the grass with (at least in the Disney version), Cinderella and the Prince with a shoe fetish...
I think she ended up deciding that Beauty and the Beast is the only one with a chance of working, because the characters actually got to know each other, and didn't rely on silly things like looks.

Della Hill said...

Did you know that the word Grim has a base in the "Grimm Fairytales"?
Because all of those stories had not only sad, but often disturbing endings.
Cinderella's stepsister cut off her toes to try to fit into the glass slipper in the original version.
I once gave my dad a copy of a book that was "Politcally Correct Fairytales".
In the end of Snow White and the 7 Dwarves in that book, Snow White and the witch leave the testosterone induced oppression of their culture and go off together to start their own business.
Regardless, I have always loved fairytales, and as a confession, when I go to the beach, which is often, I always get a little sad thinking about the little mermaid when I see the foam on the waves.
(Word verification: Manti).