Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Rapunzel

Three Rapunzels.  To be read and discussed during one day of the Fantasy class.  Three interpretations of a tale that has changed in both oral and print form.

The most classic of these, from the story to the art, is Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky.  Zelinsky won the Caldecott medal for this Renaissance-painting-inspired version.  He could easily have won another award for his excellent source note in the back, which details a lineage of written versions of the story as well as oral tradition inspirations.  The various mini-versions of the story make for intriguing reading, but this book is really about the glowing illustrations.  The tale is the most traditional of the three:  Rapunzel is raised by a sorceress (taken from her mother who ate the rapunzel in the sorceress' garden), locked in a tower, meets her prince but their passion is thwarted by the sorceress, who blinds him and leaves him to wander in the woods.  Meanwhile, she bears twins, also alone.  When they meet again, her tears heal his eyes, and they are finally a family.

Straightforward enough.  But Zel by Donna Jo Napoli offers an eerie psychological take on the story, using alternating perspectives to see things from Rapunzel's (Zel's) point of view, her "mother's" point of view, and also Count Konrad, who sees Zel at market one day.  This novel-length retelling has room to elaborate on Zel's character and her near insanity when imprisoned in the tower.  The witch's motivation is clearer as well; she has sold her soul for the powerful growing magic that allows her to manipulate and control nature in many ways, including growing Zel's hair to such unnatural lengths.  She bemoans her barrenness, staying angry at all women who bear children, even her own Zel when she becomes pregnant by Konrad.  Konrad meets Zel once and becomes obsessed, pursuing her for years.  None of this make logical sense, as folktales often don't, but Napoli coaxes a kind of psychological sense that changes the way you see the story.  The witch is both evil and pitiable.  Konrad and Zel share an inexplicable bond after the one meeting, one that is more plausible from Zel's socially deprived perspective than from Konrad's, but it basically works.  Told this way, it's a drawn-out love story.  The way that Zel came to live with Mother is only explained later, when Mother admits to Zel what she did and hopes that Zel too will choose to sell her soul to the devil so that they can stay together forever.  Electra complex fans would have a field day here...  but the story of a mother who will do almost anything to keep her daughter from growing up and coming to power, especially sexual power, remains bewitchingly compelling.

Finally, Shannon and Dean Hale collaborated with artist Nathan Hale (no relation) to create Rapunzel's Revenge, a graphic novel set in a fairy tale wild west.  Rapunzel here is not stuck in any tower, though she does have unusually long red hair and uses it to whip or lasso her enemies.  This is pretty far flung from the original... the main motivation that Rapunzel has is to rescue her real mother, whom she meets the one day she escapes from the witch's villa.  It's silly and goofy and fun, especially when her thieving sidekick Jack turns out to be a romantic interest as well as the guy with the magic beans.

It's going to be a great set to compare and contrast:  picturebook, novel, and graphic novel.  Three very different retellings of an old story.  I'll need to watch the Disney movie Tangled before class starts, and I might also throw in an article by Marina Warner on her own Rapunzel retelling.  Should be fun!  

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