A pregnant woman begins to crave an herb, rapunzel, that grows in the garden behind her house. She is so desperate to have it that her husband steals some for her. When she sends him back a second time, a sorceress finds him and tells him that he can only take the rapunzel in exchange for the child his wife will bear. When the baby is born, the sorceress names her Rapunzel and takes her away. The sorceress locks her in a tower and comes and goes by climbing Rapunzel’s hair.
One day, a prince finds the tower, spies to see the sorceress ask Rapunzel to let down her hair, and when the sorceress is gone, climbs it himself. They fall in love, and soon, Rapunzel becomes pregnant. The sorceress discovers Rapunzel’s pregnancy, chops off her hair and sends her to live in the wilderness. Rapunzel gives birth to her two children alone. The sorceress confronts the prince, who falls from the tower, blinded. He wanders until he finds Rapunzel, whose tears heal the prince’s sight. The raise their children in the prince’s kingdom and live happily ever after.
The characters represent the dichotomy of innocence and evil. They fill their archetypal roles of witch and damsel. The “hero” archetype is somewhat fulfilled in the person of the prince; he delivers Rapunzel from her loneliness, but not from the tower. The characters are not dynamic or even interesting outside of their archetypes.
The plot of this fairy tale is so ingrained in culture that it is difficult to analyze, although modern retellings often omit Rapunzel’s pregnancy. It is an eerie tale with an expected ending. It is almost satisfying; the sorceress is never punished for her actions, and Rapunzel is never reunited with her parents.
The story is set in the distant past, in Italy, where Zelinsky maintains the story originated (“A Note about ‘Rapunzel'”). Except for the illustrations, the story would be easily transplanted into any place. The Renaissance-style illustrations greatly complement the story, evoking characterization and emotion to enhance a largely flat retelling.
The repetition of the sorceress’s command, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” is crucial to the plot and is a repeated element that augments the style of the writing. The traditional motifs of magic and inexplicable trades are present in the story as well.
Publishers Weekly calls RAPUNZEL a “breathtaking interpretation of a favorite fairy tale,” and a “bold experiment” that “brilliantly succeeds” (1997). School Library Journal calls Zelinsky’s illustrations “dramatic” and state that they “express powerful emotions…in rich detail” (2005).
HANSEL AND GRETEL retold by Rika Lesser
PETROSINELLA by Diane Stanley
RAPUNZEL retold and illustrated by Alix Berenzy
RAPUNZEL retold by Barbara Rogasky
RUMPELSTILTSKIN retold by Paul O. Zelinsky
For your next fairy tale or hair-themed story time, try this tower craft!
Dotson, Chazley. “Craft Ideas for Children’s Librarians.” Accessed September 11, 2015. http://padlet.com/chazley_dotson/fjsx02duziuf/wish/68725594
Publishers Weekly. 1997. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-525-45607-0
School Library Journal. 2005. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rapunzel-jacob-grimm/1100191700?ean=9780142301937
Zelinsky, Paul O. 1997. Rapunzel. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525456074