Let down your hair!"
Those words may be the most iconic and memorable portion of the story of Rapunzel, but the phrase, though oft repeated, is just a small portion of the original fairy tale. Since my last entry for Fairy Tale Fridays featured Melisande, an updated long-hair princess story, I thought I would take this week to explore the classic version of Rapunzel. As is often the case, the story has origins dating to the 1600's but the version that most consider the classic tale is the one recorded by The Brothers Grimm. (Full text of the story is available here.)
In this version, a childless couple lives next to a walled garden owned by a witch. Seeking to please his wife, the man sneaks into the garden to steal some rampion. Though successful at first, the man's thievery is discovered by the witch who demands, as payment, "the child [his] wife will shortly bring into the world". It is unclear in the story whether the wife was expecting before the man went to steal the rampion. I used to assume the the wife's craving was associated with pregnancy, but an interesting alternative was that the wife was simply looking for things denied to her as part of the frustration of her inability to have children. With this perspective, it could also be taken to mean that the man's interaction with the witch caused his wife to conceive. It could be that the only reason the man agreed to the witch's deal was that he did not believe his wife would ever have a child. Needless to say, the man strikes the bargain, a child is born, and the girl is given over to the witch who promises to care for her as a mother. (Rampion is a plant similar to lettuce or spinach and is also called rapunzel, giving the girl and the story its name.)
Rapunzel, of course, is kept in a door-less tower by the witch who comes to see her and climbs into her window by requesting each time the well-known phrase, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!" In the Grimm story, her hair is golden and it's one of few details preserved from the original story in the Disney film Tangled. (Loved the film, but for now I'm going to tailor this post towards the original story.) The witch's method of entry into Rapunzel's tower is then observed by a prince who hears Rapunzel's singing and falls in love with her. She is frightened by him at first but he wins her over with kind words and compliments. He pleads for her to escape with him and she instructs him to "bring a skein of silk" every time he comes to see her and plans to construct a ladder to use to climb out of the tower.
Of course, before the prince's love and determination are witnessed, Rapunzel makes a big blunder. She reveals her relationship with the prince to the witch. The witch cuts off Rapunzel's hair and casts her into exile. Waiting in the tower for the prince, the witch fools him with the hair into climbing the tower before revealing that Rapunzel is gone. And then the prince throws himself out the window. I'm not sure why he was so easily upset by the witch. I would have preferred for him to fight for Rapunzel or demand to know her whereabouts. I can only assume - or at least hope - that there was some magic involved in the prince's instant turn toward despair. Though he survives the fall from the tower, he is blinded by thorns which prick out his eyes.
One might expect a Brothers Grimm story to end here. Rapunzel is cast out, the prince is blind, and the witch is seemingly triumphant. However, there is something better in store for the ending of this tale. The prince wanders far and wide, until,
"...he came to the desert place where Rapunzel was living. Of a sudden he heard a voice which seemed strangely familiar to him. He walked eagerly in the direction of the sound, and when he was quite close, Rapunzel recognized him and fell on his neck and wept. But two of her tears touched his eyes, and in a moment they became quite clear again, and he saw as well as he had ever done. Then he led her to his kingdom, where they were received and welcomed with great joy, and they lived happily ever after."
This post is part of my 2011 Fairy Tale Challenge (6 out of 12) inspired by Tif of Tif Talks Books. What do you think about the original version of Rapunzel? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section here or link up with your own post about this tale or any fairy tale you feel like reading this month!