(Illustration by Trina Schart Hyman for Rapunzel, retold by Barbara Rogasky; New York: Holiday House, 1982; found here)
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair
That I may climb without a stair.
That little couplet always jiggles about in my mind when I start thinking about Rapunzel, but when I reread the story in Joyce Crick’s edition, I discovered that nobody says the second line. I wonder where it came from? Well, anyway, to the point, I can report to you that if you think you remember the story of Rapunzel, then you do. There are no surprises, and it is very well known, so I am not going to attempt a précis here. Should you wish to remind yourself, D. L. Ashliman’s translation is here.
In her notes, Joyce explains that the Grimms took their version from a story in Kleine Romane by Friedrich Schulz (1790) and noted ‘doubtless from oral tradition’. Actually, Schulz’s source was Madame de la Force’s ‘Persinette’ (1697); part of her story was based on the first part of Giambattista Basile’s ‘Petrosinella’ in the Pentamerone (1637). You can read a translation of the Basile version here; ‘Persinette’ is not available online (and I haven’t read it either!) but there’s a summary of it by Terri Windling on page 2 of her excellent article here. She writes that the Schulz version is essentially the same as ‘Persinette’, except that his fairy is more sympathetically drawn:
Confronting Rapunzel's pregnancy, she's more Disappointed Mother than Vengeful Fury; and she doesn't throw the prince from the tower — he leaps himself, in a fit of despair.
He also changed the name of the heroine from ‘Parsley’ to ‘Rapunzel’. (What is ‘rapunzel’? There is some dispute. It may be Valerianella locusta, or lamb’s lettuce, which looks like this:
Or it may be rampion, known as Rapunzel-Glockenblume in Germany (Campanula rapunculus), the leaves and root of which used to be eaten, which looks like this:
Or it may possibly be spiked rampion (Phyteuma spicatum), which looks like this:
My favourite contender is rampion, not least because somehow I can imagine longing to eat a radish but not really longing for lamb’s lettuce…) So this is a fairy tale with a very literary history, although there may have been oral versions both preceding and running alongside the printed texts. More generally, there are ‘Maiden in the Tower’ stories in other cultures. The tenth-century Persian tale of Rudāba includes the striking detail of Rudāba lettubg down her hair so that her lover Zāl can climb up the tower to her.
(David Hockney, ‘The Older Rapunzel’, etching with aquatint, from Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm; London : Petersburg Press in association with the Kasmin Gallery, 1970; from here)
It’s hard really to discuss the changes which the Grimms made to Schulz’s story without having read it, and in any case Windling enumerates the differences in her article very clearly, but let this not hold me back. So. The humour is less evident in the Grimms’ tale. Rapunzel decides to weave a ladder of silk with which to escape, and asks the prince to bring her a thread of silk every time he visits her. This is a rather lovely metaphor for the love which they create together. Schulz’s prince is something of a worldly seducer but the Grimms tone this down and their prince offers marriage to Rapunzel the first time he sees her. In the later editions of their Märchen they also tone down a significant development in the relationship between Rapunzel and the prince. In Schulz’s version, the sorceress guess what’s afoot when Rapunzel starts getting fat, but as the Grimms’ Märchen became more popular with children, so the Grimms felt they must remove this evidence of premarital sex from their story, and Rapunzel betrays herself by stupidly asking the sorceress why she’s so much heavier than the prince. (She still has twins after her casting out though, so really the Grimms wasted their time.) This is a shame, since Rapunzel’s pregnancy relates directly to the central concerns of the story as the Grimms themselves perceived it.
In the Grimms’ retelling, the fairy becomes a sorceress, less kindly and forgiving. (Apparently the Grimms felt that fairies were too French. !) When she casts out Rapunzel, she casts her out utterly; she doesn’t continue to plague the lovers as Schulz’s fairy does. She becomes (more explicitly?) a jealous and possessive maternal figure, a contrast to the mother who had given up her baby seemingly without complaint (and the father who handed over his child to save his own life). The sorceress’s love for Rapunzel is so consuming that it is even compared to that of a lover: the story pairs her with the prince, since they both climb the rope of hair, and, in fact, Rapunzel accepts the prince’s proposal of marriage because he is ‘so young and handsome… He’ll love me more than Dame Godmother’. The trimming of the tale’s ending also highlights the balance between the two halves of the story: two pregnancies, two rapunzels – salad and girl – whom the sorceress attempts to keep safely walled up, two men who climb in and rob the sorceress. Twice temptation is yielded to – first the cravings for rapunzel, then – erm, the same thing. But while the parents displace their punishment onto their innocent baby, Rapunzel and her prince accept their penance and are ultimately healed and freed by it.
(Paul O. Zelinsky, illustration for Rapunzel; New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1998; found here)
Next time: ‘The Three Little Men in the Forest’.
(Uncredited illustration in text: Rapunzel by Frances Macdonald, inscribed: ‘AND EVEN NOW A HARSH / VOICE SEEMED TO HANG / ABOUT MY HAIR’, watercolour and gold paint on vellum (1897); State University of New York at Buffalo, found here)