by Isabel Fitzmaurice
The fairy tale of Rapunzel originated from Germany and was written by the Grimm brothers, Wilhelm Carl Grimm ( 1786-1859) and Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (1785- 1863). They were born in Hanau, Germany to Philip Wilhelm Grimm and Dorothea Grimm. During their lifetimes the Brothers Grimm were responsible for many well-known fairy tales such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and numerous others. They were compiled from the folk tales and stories of various peoples. These fairy tales have such a resonance for the Western imagination that more than two hundred years later they are still being adapted into popular films, books and theatre productions. This fairy tale illustrates several themes which are frequently to be found around beauty such as the anxiety about being deceived, the powerful attraction of long blonde hair, and the dangers of impulsivity and quick courtship.
The story of Rapunzel and her long hair has been written and re-written many times in many different forms and languages.
Perhaps the most well known version is this.
Once upon a time, there lived a poor unhappy man and his wife who lived in a small cottage on the edge of a small village. They were unhappy because they longed for children but did not have any.
At the back of their cottage was a small window and from it they could see down into small valley where there was a field of ripe, fresh, delicious rampion. Rampion is a vegetable with roots rather like a parsnip. Unfortunately, the field belonged to a witch and was surrounded by high and forbidding walls. In those time food was often scarce and famine not uncommon. The wife looked at the vegetables with such craving. She thought they looked so wonderful and good to eat but she could not have any. Each day she would look out to them longingly and she became even unhappier as she could not eat them. One day her husband asked her what was wrong. She replied “oh, if I don’t get some of that rampion from the garden I’m certain I shall die.”
He husband loved her dearly, and he decided to take the risk himself rather than have his wife die. So he crept over the wall that night and stole a handful of rampion leaves for his wife. She made an amazing salad with them which was so good she had to have some more the next day. So he climbed over the wall again that night but this time was filled with terror as he saw the old witch standing there. She was furious. “How dare you,” she hissed, ” You are a common thief to climb into my garden and steal my rampion. I will see that you and your wife suffer greatly for your foolishness”
The husband was aghast and he explained desperately what the situation was. “My wife had such a longing for your vegetables that I fear if she had not gotten any, she indeed would have died!”
The witch considered this carefully and then said. “If it is as you say, you may take from my garden the rampion that you desire, however, you must give me your child which is soon to be born into this world, and I will be it’s mother.”
The husband was still terrified, and was forced to agree before hurrying back over the wall. Sure enough, his wife gave birth to the most beautiful child in the land. She had soft creamy skin, big gorgeous eyes, and fine golden hair. Reluctantly, the weeping couple gave over her to the witch, who carried her away, and they never saw her again.
Because of her parents actions the old witch named the child Rapunzel which was apparently another name for the rampion. Rapunzel believed the witch to be her mother. The witch raised her but when she was just twelve (which would have been around the time of her puberty and, therefore, fertility), locked her away in a high tower. This tower had no door and just a small window at the top. The witch wanted to protect the beautiful Rapunzel and hide her from everyone. Rapunzel would sit by the small window and gaze into the distance longing to be able to travel to the horizon. Whenever the witch would come to visit Rapunzel she would cry “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” And so Rapunzel would unplait her long golden hair, and push it out of the small window for the witch to climb up. Apart from these visits by the witch, Rapunzel was completely alone. She would pass the days brushing her long hair, or singing sweetly out of the window.
One day a prince on a fine white horse was riding through the woods while hunting and heard Rapunzel’s lovely voice. “What sweet creature could produce such a voice?, I must find her!” The prince rode around looking for Rapunzel, but could not find her. He returned in vain each day longing to find the owner of the voice, but alas, could not see where it was coming from. But then, one day he saw the tower in the distance, and galloped towards it. He hid behind a tree and saw the witch cry “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.” The prince thought about what he had seen, and returned the next day when the witch was not there. Standing at the foot of the tower, he called out the words he had heard the day before; “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!” Rapunzel, hearing the words she had for so many years, unplaited her hair and pushed it out of the window. The prince climbed up, she gasped as he climbed through the window. The prince also let out a cry of surprise, for standing before him was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. “Tell me fair maiden.” He said softly. “Was it you who touched my heart with such beautiful song?” Rapunzel nodded quickly, she was very scared of this stranger, having never seen anyone but the old witch before. But she soon overcame her fear, when the prince treated her kindly and, after coming to see her several days in a row, asked him to marry her. She accepted, and was so happy that she would be getting away from the tower and the old witch, and be able to explore the world she had longed to see her whole life. So happy she was, that the next day she spoke of the prince in front of the witch. “What?!” cried Mother Gothel in dismay “You wicked child! I keep you here safe from all harm and predators and you deceive me!” And with that, she wound Rapunzel’s hair around her fist and cut off her beautiful blonde locks with a pair of scissors. She hung the long plait on a hook on the wall, and banished Rapunzel to a lonely, barren deserted land. The next day when the prince returned, unable to wait to see his new love, he called out again “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” The witch flicked the plait out of the window, and the prince climbed up. He gasped as he came through the small window, and said in surprise “What? What have you done with my dear Rapunzel?!”
“Aha!” cackled the old witch “You thought you would see your pretty maiden and take her from me, but you shall see her no more!” The prince cried out in dismay, and flung himself from the tower. At the bottom, sharp thorns pierced his eyes, and he was blinded. As he slowly walked through the woods, weeping at the loss of Rapunzel, the old witch could be heard cackling cruelly to herself. The prince was beside himself with despair, and he simply wandered through the woods eating what he could, roots and berries. One day, he wandered close to the land in which Rapunzel had been banished, and he heard her beautiful sweet singing voice, singing a song of a lost love. He raised his head and thought “Could it be my sweet maiden?” And ran towards the sound. Rapunzel saw and recognised him, and threw herself against him and wept. They clung together, and tears from her eyes dripped into his. His eyes healed, and he could see his beautiful love in front of him. He then took Rapunzel to his kingdom, where they were both made King and Queen, and welcomed with such joy, and then lived happily ever after.