In connection to the Lunar Chronicles read-a-long where this month’s book was Cress, based on Rapunzel, I thought I would bring you a new Fairy Tales Debunked (you can read the first one here), this time about the fairy tale Rapunzel. I will explore the original version and some later historical alterations, but first let us look more closely at the tale (as old as time, as one might say). Fair warning, this rather a long text and I have tried to edit it shorter to the best of my ability but there is just so much to share with you. It is a part of my master thesis from my time at university I have edited down for you enjoyment, or so I hope.
In contemporary literary culture it is widely acknowledged that the version of Rapunzel, by the Grimms, is the one most people are acquainted with. However, few people are aware that their version is the latest and most accumulated version, which due to circumstances of the fairy tale genre, led to the popularity and recognition of it to be the one read henceforth. However, there is much more to the tale than this. Regardless of which version of the fairy tale is discussed, it is important to remember that neither version can be credited as the original tale of Rapunzel. Arguably, as the Grimms titled the tale Rapunzel they coined the tale itself and any future versions of it. When the tale is historically traced it becomes clear, however, that there is a limited number of other fairy tales, which are possible to determine as the original forerunners of the version of the tale we know today. Most people know the overall story of Rapunzel; the maiden locked in a tower and then rescued by a prince to live happily ever after. These essential elements are what most people recognise and will retell from the tale.
The first version is traced back to Italy and one of the two fathers of fairy tales, Giambattista Basile. Basile’s tale Petrosinella from 1634 is accordingly the earliest literary tale of the maiden in the tower tale, which is later recognised as Rapunzel. The tale of Petrosinella resembles that of Rapunzel in many ways; however, there are certain details worth discussing.
Basile’s version begins in similar terms known from the tale; the mother is caught stealing and must promise her child as payment to the ogress. Compared to the Grimms’ version, in which the new born girl is taken after birth, Petrosinella, lives with her mother till the age of seven, at which time the ogress re-enters the story to claim her payment, as she also receives in the form of Petrosinella.
Interestingly, the characterisation of the owner of the parsley garden is an ogress, which in turn is arguably an old way of describing a witch. However, the effect the word ‘ogress’ has, is linguistically stronger in the manner of making the character more fearsome, as she is portrayed in the tale. Despite this, it is a less fearsome act that the girl is allowed to live with her mother for seven years before the ogress takes her away. Furthermore, the presence of magic is evident in this version, whereas in the Grimms’ version it is barely mentioned and if present, it is not referred to as magic directly. Basile explains different circumstances through the use of magic and the potential help, it can lend. Then the prince is introduced after an unknown amount of time after Petrosinella’s tower imprisonment. It is not said how much time has passed, nor how old Petrosinella is meant to be at this point in the story. This gives no indication to the proper age to marry at the time of writing, indicating to societies’ marital acceptance in Basile’s time. Nor is there any further comment on the mother in the tale in contrast to the French version, which we will get to in a moment.
Continuing this, the prince and Petrosinella fall in love, as the fairy tale genre deems it, and later decide to trick the ogress and flee from the tower. This action calls for magical assistance because instead of simply locking Petrosinella in the tower, the ogress has also cast a spell to keep her there. To escape the tower Petrosinella must find and use three magic acorns, which are hidden in the tower. After escaping the tower, Petrosinella and the prince are pursued by the ogress. The purpose of the three magic acorns is then revealed to help Petrosinella and her prince in their escape. The first acorn turns into a dog, which the ogress tames easily. The second turns into a lion, which the ogress tricks by dressing in a donkey’s skin. The third acorn turns into a wolf, which eats the ogress dressed as a donkey. The couple succeed in their escape and are left to live happily ever after.
The included details of the elaborate means of escape are all things, which have been altered, if not completely left out since. So at what point did for instance magic leave the tale completely, and why? Let us continue the search in the next place where we can trace the tale, which is France.
As you could read in my first Fairy Tales Debunked, the fairy tale genre flourished during the seventeenth century in France, so a version of Rapunzel is found there as well. This is the tale of Persinette by Charlotte-Rose De La Force (Mme La Force) from 1698.
At this point in history, the foundation of the family has a significant meaning as the tale begins with two young lovers, happy to be pregnant after a long period of courtship. It is further stressed, that it is their love that makes the husband steal the parsley, with the same results as in the other tales. Arguably, it could be suggested that the fairy (the evil characterisation has been broken down slightly, by the alteration of the ogress to a fairy, which linguistically sounds more positive) leads the husband into a trap via her garden. The wall-guarded garden leaves its doors open by fortune on two occasions; the second time the husband is caught. The fairy is still portrayed as mean-spirited and cunning through her capture of the husband.
In Mme La Force’s version, the infant girl is born with the fairy at the mother’s side and performing various ceremonies to ensure the beauty and fortune of the new-born. The girl is then taken away and named Persinette, raised by the fairy as her own. Notably, the child is taken away by force and not willingly handed over as in Petrosinella. The power and wishes of the parents are disregarded and the force of the fairy is enhanced when she takes the girl. Thereby her character description may have lessened in linguistic matters, but her characterisation is more evil compared to the ogress in Petrosinella, who waited to take the girl until her seventh year. The tale is further endowed with a reason for Persinette’s ‘imprisonment’ in her tower unlike Petrosinella; it is told that the fairy is aware of Persinette’s destiny (what precisely this destiny is, is unaccounted for), and therefore decides to try and shield her from it, by locking her in the tower. Similar to Petrosinella, the element of magic is present here as well when the tower is built and equipped with everything fit for Persinette, except company. The method of entering the tower by calling the famous sentence to Rapunzel as known in the Grimms’ version is actually present in this version as well, albeit not exactly the same.
Persinette let down your hair so I can climb up (Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm).
That is the original French version of the call to Rapunzel/Persinette, which has later been altered to the version we recognise from the Grimms’ version.
The way the prince is introduced is generally similar in all three tales in various elements; he tricks his way into the tower the same way and persuades Persinette to marriage by use of pretty talk. The thing of most interest in this case is the description of her consent;
She consented without hardly knowing what she was doing. Even so she was able to complete the ceremony (Jack Zipes The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm).
The sexual indications are much more present in this case, compared to Petrosinella. The completion of the ceremony is referable in two ways. Firstly, the completion of the ceremony in its simplest understanding; they say their vows and are married, which in itself would be a big thing for Persinette who has no knowledge of such matters based on her secluded upbringing. Or secondly, the completion refers to the sexual consummation of the marriage, which is arguably a bigger unknown matter for Persinette. Given the tale’s following description of how Persinette became pregnant within a short time, the second interpretation appears most fitting.
Persinette’s secret is revealed when the fairy discovers her pregnant condition and realises her precautions were in vain – from this, it is gathered that the destiny the fairy foresaw had to do with Persinette’s pregnancy, which she attempted to prevent by locking her in the tower. The fairy then acts out her revenge (there is no direct reason why she wants this revenge, other than to ‘punish’ Persinette for having acted behind her back), which she carries out by cutting of Persinette’s hair before banishing her to a desolate seashore. The prince is then tricked by the fairy, who uses her magic to throw the prince from the tower, resulting in him turning blind from the fall. Some years pass before the prince, by chance, finds the seashore where Persinette lives with the twins she gave birth to in the meantime. The children find their father and recognise him as such at first sight. Persinette rushes to the scene and with tears of joy, she heals the prince’s sight. After one more attempt of revenge from the fairy, she suddenly sees remorse and magically transports Persinette and the rest to the prince’s kingdom where they live happily ever after.
During the sixty-four years passing between the tale of Petrosinella and the tale of Persinette a few things have changed, which are important in so far as hidden meanings in the tales. It is difficult to discuss hidden meanings in the Petrosinella version, because it is a version accumulated across any number of different oral tales. It is, however, easier to discuss potential hidden meanings when it comes to the French version of Persinette by Mme La Force.
When it comes to the changes and undertones of the tale of Persinette, some information of its author, Mme La Force, should be included. Born into an aristocratic family, Mme La Force was early accepted to the court of Louis XIV (for whom many other French fairy tale writers produced their tales), but quickly gained a scandalous reputation for being too friendly towards much younger men. After her attempted marriage to the young son of the president of parliament, she was sent to a convent by the king. It was during this time she wrote many of her fairy tales, including Persinette (Jack Zipes The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm). Taking into account that her “favourite plots involved crossed lovers, infidelity, and the power of love” (Jack Zipes The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm), it becomes easier to recognise her thematic style in the tale of Persinette. However, there is another aspect to take into consideration in regards to French fairy tales which is;
One issue of particular concern to women of the period was the common practice of arranged marriages, particularly among the upper classes. Women had no legal say in these arrangements, often conducted as business transactions between one aristocratic family and another. Daughters were used to cement alliances, to curry favor, and to settle debts. Sex was a husband’s legal right, and there was no possibility of divorce. Young girls could find themselves married off to men many years their senior or of vile temper and habits; disobedient daughters could be shut away in convents or locked up in mad–houses. Little wonder, then, that French fairy tales are filled with girls handed over to various wicked creatures by cruel or feckless parents, or locked up in enchanted towers where only true love can save them (Terri Windling, http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/rrRapunzel.html ).
Arguably, Mme La Force incorporated a part of her personal beliefs in regards to the matter of marriage. Given her own failed attempts at marriage, it is assumed she would write towards a happier end than her own. The dislike towards arranged marriages is evident in the notion of love at first sight, which eventually conquers the evil powers represented by the fairy. The fairy is then meant to represent the upper aristocratic classes, to which Mme La Force belonged for most of her life, which operated under such narrow and strict rules at court. Her belief in love and the freedom of choice in love is also evident in the happy ending for Persinette and the prince.
In continuation, it is entertaining to regard the slightly less-than-positive attitude towards sex in the tale.
I have already discussed the meaning of the ‘completion of the ceremony’; therefore I will continue with what happened following.
They [Persinette and the prince] saw each other every day, and in short time she became pregnant. Since she had no idea what this condition meant, she was upset. Although the prince knew, he did not want to explain it to her for fear of tormenting her (Jack Zipes The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm).
The attitude towards sex is evidently described as that of male desire; equally as it was the husband’s legal right to sex in any marriage as Winding discussed. Furthermore, due to Persinette’s lack of knowledge regarding her pregnancy, it is interpreted that only the male is permitted to have knowledge of sexual matters. He does not want to trouble Persinette for the ‘fear of tormenting her’; thereby indicating that her mind would neither understand what was happening or how to cope with the situation. Further, this indicates another male perspective believing the female to be fragile and in need of protection. Overall, this notion towards the female being of feeble actions, is much present in most fairy tales of the period, where many female characters are portrayed as passive maidens just waiting to be rescued (unless they are portrayed as wicked witches, which is another matter of discussion not in regards to this). Arguably, Mme La Force used the ending to compensate for the passive actions of Persinette by having her heal the prince with her tears. This form of ‘enchantment’ brings a certain amount of respect to the female character and also a purpose, opposed to just having to wait to be rescued; she can do some rescuing too.
Before the Grimms published their version of Rapunzel, there another version was already published in Germany by Friedrich Schulz in 1790. It is from this version Rapunzel henceforth became the recognised name for the tale. As Schulz was a travel writer, it can only be assumed that he borrowed a great deal from Mme La Force’s version of Persinette to compose his version of Rapunzel. However, there is a (limited) number of details in the writing that have been altered from Mme La Force’s version.
These include (but are not limited to);
- Instead of the wife being pregnant, she is described as “carrying something in her belly” (Jack Zipes The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm). This indicates a deviance in regards to the sexual matters of the tale. Furthermore, it relates to the institution of fairy tales and the fact that many fairy tales were polished and re-written in order to be more suitable for children. Arguably, the exclusion of sexual terminologies in the tale is an indicator that the tale has undergone a revision in such a manner.
- The fairy’s reason for locking up Rapunzel is in this version credited to a bad reading of the stars at Rapunzel’s birth. The fairy’s abilities are demeaned in regard to magic, though magic is still present in the tale, similarly to the tale of Persinette. Though Rapunzel’s fate in this case is foretold through astrology, as in Persinette, and not through the fairy’s perhaps otherworldly knowledge the fairy’s precautions are in vain in both versions when the prince enters the plot.
- The description of Rapunzel’s pregnancy is done without actually mentioning it; “But it was not long before her dresses no longer fit her. The prince realized that nothing good would come of this, but he did not want to say anything for the fear that she would become upset” (Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm). In this version it is up to the reader to interpret that Rapunzel is pregnant because her clothes no longer fit her. Arguably, a child would understand this hidden meaning and even more so if they are familiar with the older versions; this depends on the age of the child of course and his or her grasp of the birds and the bees. Either way the concept of a fairy tale prince and princess having children is not so uncommon that they would not recognise the signs.
Furthermore, it is also interpreted that the prince is reluctant to move forward to be a parent and leave the position of newlywed lovers. The mention that ‘nothing good could come of it’ could also be interpreted as his fear of being found out by the fairy.
- The prince is later portrayed in a more compassionate way; instead of the fairy throwing him from the tower by force of magic, he jumps from the tower stricken with grief, resulting in his blindness. From this the prince is arguably seen in a more valiant regard, and the fairy in a less evil regard; both benefitting characteristically from this version. It also supports how important the aspect of true love between characters became in the fairy tale genre.
Keeping these four alterations in mind, we know the tale of Rapunzel was not published again until the Grimms re-told the tale and by then, numerous other alterations occurred. Historians (more specifically Grimm historians) argue where the Grimms got their tales from, despite the brothers’ claim that they collected them from the people of Germany. Although, it has by now been established that the tales printed by the Grimms were not all (if any) collected from the people, it is more likely they were collected from the social class they belonged to, thereby meaning the upper, educated classes (Ruth Bottigheimer, Fairy Tales: A New History). Therefore, though the Grimms attributed their tales to a Germanic culture it was their ignorance that led them to make that mistake.
What the Grimms did not know at the point at which they were attributing folk sources to the stories the bourgeois Wild and Hassenpflug girls [who were the Grimm’s main sources for tales] were telling them was that these stories had long existed in Germany in print (Ruth Bottigheimer, Fairy Tales: A New History).
Their ignorance was a result of a strict home where books of this kind were not allowed. Therefore they had no knowledge of the previous prints of the very same fairy tales they were being told by the bourgeois upper class and took for granted as originals. Arguably, as both brothers had positions as librarians at one point or another in their lives, it seems unlikely they would not have come across these translated (from French or Italian) versions. Even if this came to pass, Wilhelm made it quite clear in the preface to their second edition of the tales that “since country folk hadn’t read Italian, French, or Oriental books, they could not have been privy to tales in those languages, and that the tales in the collection were therefore purely German and not borrowed from other cultures” (Ruth Bottigheimer, Fairy Tales: A New History). Though the first editions had contributing tellers, these were suddenly erased in the process of the second edition, where the tales were accounted as national German culture. This strong preference towards a national German culture derived from the French invasions at the time by Napoleon and it provides a bitter paradox that the Grimms’ attempt to create a national German culture based in fairy tales originated in France and Italy. This would be a reason for Wilhelm’s denial of their previous roots and future attribution to their solidification in German culture.
The fact that the Grimms during a period of approximately fifty years altered their tales themselves, indicates their personal attempt to make the tales more German, opposed to their potential multi-cultural background from various countries.
The collected fairy tales by the Grimms were first published in 1812-15 in two volumes with a total of 156 tales. This first edition “was not intended for children or a general audience” (Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm), which is why they are considered the closest literary versions of the originals. Following the first edition, Wilhelm was in charge of editing and adding tales to the collections and between the first edition in 1812 to the final edition in 1857 (which is continuously published today) it underwent seven revisions (and literary changes). Supposedly, the majority is familiar with the Grimms’ final version of Rapunzel and therefore it will not be discussed in details, however I will comment on the differences between the first version from 1812 and the final version in 1857 (which had also been appropriated for children and is the one distributed today).
At first glance there seems to be no apparent change in the story; there is only a change of words and inclusions of extra sentences to add depth to the story. The small changes reveal a great deal more than first meets the eye. Firstly the change in the way the woman’s pregnancy is described; in the 1812 edition there is little mention of it, except that the couple had long wished for a child and then suddenly they were in luck. In contrast, the 1857 edition has incorporated the religious aspects of the Good Lord granting them their wish. The alteration in the tale, in regards to religious terms, was something the Grimms were attentive to.
They [the Grimms] eliminated erotic and sexual elements that might be offensive to middle-class morality, added numerous Christian expressions and references, emphasized specific role models for male and female protagonists according to the dominant patriarchal code of that time (Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World).
Just as the French tales were primarily created at court for the King, and thereby appropriated for a certain audience, the Grimms’ Germanic interpretation of the tales were also altered to fit a specific audience; one fitted to a dominant patriarchal code. Based on the tale as the Grimms wrote it, this patriarchal code was connected, more so than previously visible, to Christianity and in relation thereof also the Church. As such, the behaviour (or opposite behaviour) of the characters in the tales were meant to function as instructions for children. In addition to being used in church, the Grimms’ collections were by the 1830s also “built into German elementary school curricula, with the result that by the end of nineteenth century, first-year pupils were memorizing the simplest tales and older pupils were explicating the longer and more complex ones” (Ruth Bottigheimer, Fairy Tales: A New History). This inclusion meant that had Grimms not already altered the tales it would by then have been necessary. With the third edition in 1837 and the next four editions up until 1857, it is what would be expected in the process of making the tales appropriate for children, which means eliminating any indications of sexual matters as a priority.
Aside from the changes in regard to sexual matters, the next change worth noticing is the transformation of the owner of the parsley garden. In 1812 this character had a lenient positive description as a fairy; despite that no-one dared enter the garden, the definition of a fairy does semantically have a closer leaning towards the positive than negative. Later, in the 1857 edition she has been re-written as a sorceress, feared by everyone. The fairy description was carried out with no means of attributives to her character, while the sorceress is made to appear evil from the very beginning. This alteration is done with little change in the rest of the tale; most part of the tale remains the same with the small exchange of words as seen here;
When the woman gave birth, the fairy/sorceress appeared, named the little girl Rapunzel, and took her away.
The method of Rapunzel’s handover is left neutral in either edition and there are no apparent changes in the story of her adolescent years or her life in the tower. It is not until the prince is introduced that changes are found in the text again.
In the 1812 edition the prince enters the scene and there is no description of how much time has elapsed since Rapunzel’s capture in the tower, thereby leaving the reader to assume as he/she pleases. One would think very little time has passed without any indication otherwise; perhaps this is why the 1857 edition has included an indication of a few years, thereby ensuring both the prince and Rapunzel would be of appropriate age in regards to the rest of the tale.
The manner in which he reaches Rapunzel in the tower remains the same and the sentence; Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! is left undisturbed. Arguably, the popular phrase could not be disturbed due to its coinage in regards to previous versions of the story. Thus follows the (in 1812 edition) very short description of single two lines how the couple soon liked each other and spent a great happy time together. However, in 1857, there seemed to be a requirement for a more cautious Rapunzel, who would not be persuaded as easily by the prince. This indicates another religious precaution, included for girls to learn from. Yet, despite the somewhat longer description of the prince’s advances she still agrees to marry him and run away with him. Once again the presence of love at first sight – or by look or sound – is included as an almost standard feature in many other tales. At this point, the most significant change takes place in the literary form. The revelation of the prince’s visits and how Rapunzel accidentally lets it slips.
In the 1812 edition Rapunzel’s comment is thus:
Frau Gothel, tell me why it is that my clothes are all too tight. They no longer fit me.
The indication here is that Rapunzel is with child. However, the 1857 edition sounds thus;
Frau Gothel, tell me why it is that you are more difficult to pull up than is the young prince, who will be arriving any moment now?
The slip of her tongue is far more innocent in 1857. The indication that Rapunzel should be with child was arguably not well-seen in 1857, in relation to some of the other more religious aspects that had been incorporated. The notion of children outside wedlock would not correspond positively in this regard and had to be re-written in a more fitting manner. Furthermore, the revision also makes it suitable for children and because fairy tales were used as means of education it seems a given that a fairy tale would not allow sex and thereby children outside of matrimony. Instead, the twins that Rapunzel still has in the 1857 edition are simply mentioned close to the end, as if they appeared out of nowhere. Arguably, the idea of leaving out the ‘reality’ of any form of sexual insinuations is meant to leave the tale clean and suitable for children. The original hidden sentiments added by the French aristocratic women, who openly told these tales to adults and therefore sexual included intentions for adult reasons, were weeded out and in a way gave the tale another level of meaning (or removed a level of meaning).
Furthermore, the 1857 ending presents the usual happy-ever-after conclusion to the tale, while the 1812 edition indirectly presents this, however without the sentence famous at the end of any happy fairy tale. Arguably, this indicates to the short unhappy predicament told in the French version; that a happy ending does not come as easily as it did in their final version – where it has been further appropriated for children, who are educated to believe in a happy ever after in positive matters.
Bearing all of the above in mind, with the literary versions examined thus far, it shows how the tale has undergone even further changes since its transcend into different media in order to suit contemporary audiences. The tale of Rapunzel is not necessarily the most popular of fairy tales to adapt for contemporary media (mostly films) compared to other tales, such as Snow White or Cinderella. Despite this fact there are still a limited number of well-appropriated adapted versions of the tale, which portray the tale in a modern and contemporary social point of view as well.
Arguably, the most prominent and best known version to date of Rapunzel in feature films, is the 2010 version by Disney; Tangled. In this version the plot of Rapunzel is re-worked by Disney to create a contemporary and updated version of the tale that would appeal to children (and potentially adults as well) across nations with their title character; Rapunzel. In order to bring something new to a new audience, which consists of people with limited knowledge of the original versions (children), as well as people with moderate knowledge of the originals (adults/parents), Disney incorporated a number of changes to the tale. The first change the audience notice is the narrator introducing the tale, something not used in the original Grimm version. Tangled makes use of a narrator, who is in fact a character from the film, the ruffian thief Flynn Rider, who tells the story of his meeting and following adventures with Rapunzel. In short, Rapunzel’s story is actually told second-hand, and the reason behind her name is excluded, which creates another, perhaps more valid reason for imprisoning Rapunzel in the tower.
In contrast to the Grimm version, which has no real reason for Rapunzel being locked in the tower (other than a wish to prevent her from growing up); Disney offers this reason at the beginning of the story in their introduction of the evil sorceress, Mother Gothel. This specific reason of supposedly protecting Rapunzel’s magic hair provides a plausible reason for keeping Rapunzel locked up, which in comparison was rather lacking in the original tale. The background information and Mother Gothel’s plans present the inclusion of magic, which is almost essential in any Disney feature film. The element of magic returns to the fairy tale and provides another layer of understanding. The magic that was removed by the Grimms because of their favour of the Church is re-introduced in the 21st century as an element of wonder and entertainment to the masses, and particular to children. Arguably, the presence of magic, which can be traced back to the original fairy tales, has always been of interest though subdued, at given periods of time in history because of various influences.
In continuation, Rapunzel’s magic hair is the reason for her imprisonment by Mother Gothel, who wants to keep this power to herself in order to stay young forever, which gives cause for kidnapping Rapunzel as a baby. Rapunzel is less victimised in the Disney version compared to the Grimms’; she is locked in the tower, waiting for an escape, but it is by her actions and not a prince that she is able to escape the tower. Disney’s Rapunzel character is more resourceful and strong minded, opposed to the naive and passive Rapunzel in the Grimms’ tale. In fact, there is no prince to rescue Rapunzel in this version; she must do her own rescuing (though she is later helped by the group of ruffians who take a liking to her). Instead, Rapunzel is the lost princess who, unknowingly, finds her way home in order to have her happy ending, which according to fairy tale ‘rules’ should end in marriage. However, this is only hinted to, as Rapunzel and Flynn tell they are engaged to be married, thereby hinting at the happily-ever-after-ending.
Empowering and active actions in female character(s) is something Disney has done well, not just with Rapunzel but in many other of their feature films based on a fairy tale (The Princess and the Frog to name one). Furthermore, it supports a social change in views on gender in contemporary media opposed to the time of the Grimms, where “Wilhelm took dialogue away from good female characters and gave it to men or to evil female characters, perhaps to illustrate his personal (and society’s) view that silence in women was a virtue” (Steven Swann Jones, The Fairy Tale – The Magic Mirror of the Imagination). This belief has been refuted by modern culture since, while creating equality of the sexes, which enables the otherwise victimised character Rapunzel to be more counter-active and take control of her own destiny, as seen in Disney’s version.
The alteration of characters was therefore an almost necessary change in the tale in order to create contemporary characters that would simultaneously appeal to audiences and come across in more ‘realistic’ settings. However, the ending of the fairy tale and the film is in accordance with the original as well as contemporary beliefs; the girl can save the day too. In the original tale, after Rapunzel heals the prince with her tears, he continues to save her and their children by taking them to his kingdom thereby granting all of them their happily-ever-after ending. Although Disney re-uses the saviour of the ‘prince’ with Rapunzel’s tears, it is her who takes him to her kingdom in order for them to have their happy ending. The act of saving is not limited to male characters, but transferred more dramatically to the female character as well, in order to show that females are not automatically as delicate as they were during the time the Grimms published their versions. Societies’ view on gender roles has been altered since the Grimms’, therefore it is only natural to see this displayed in a modern version of Rapunzel as well.
As said, the plot of Disney’s version of Rapunzel is only loosely based on the original, and if people were to see this version before reading the original, they would arguably be confused. Many people, even grown adults, still think of the Disney versions when they think of certain fairy tales.
To a certain extent, they know that most of their readers have been “Disneyfied”, that is, they have been subjected to the saccharine, sexist, and illusionary stereotypes of the Disney-culture industry (Jack Zipes, When Dreams Came True).
Arguably, Disney has polluted the original fairy tales by appropriating and adapting them to fit their family orientated ways. However, as Bottigheimer argues; literary fairy tales were in their own way a form of contamination of the original oral tales. Copying or writing down any fairy tale was an act of contamination and thereby also appropriation of the tale in question, which made them new in the eyes of fairy tale scholars. This is true in the sense that, as proven with the tale of Rapunzel, many alterations take place over time and a great deal of editing is also in practice when forwarding any fairy tale. It should therefore not come as a surprise that it happened when transferring Rapunzel to the big screen as well. This is not just the case with Rapunzel. It is possible to take any fairy tale inspired feature film by Disney and find multiple changes made, all a part of appropriating the tale for a specific audience, but also further to fit the ideology of Disney himself and his way of imagining fairy tales. It is further arguable that “his technical skills and ideological proclivities were so consummate that his signature has obfuscated the names of Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Collodi” (Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth – Myth as Fairy Tale). To a certain extent this is true and the originality of fairy tales tends to be obsolete once Disney pins its name to it. The original versions of the fairy tales are forgotten in favour of the Disney version, which persists due to its contemporary use of humour and entertaining characters. In the case of Rapunzel, Disney is not the only one who has attempted an adaptation of the tale, though they are arguably the best known (and most popular) version. What any adaptation of the tale includes, it is an updated version of what is considered important in contemporary society.
As I have now attempted to show a fairy tale can transcend borders and generation yet be able to remain true to its basic plot. However, this plot undergoes countless alterations in line with the changes of time and society in order for it to remain of interest to audiences. It shows that something intangible and oral transformed into several literary versions, each including elements of importance to their time. However many alterations were made for whatever reasons, they were all carried out with the purpose to adapt the fairy tale to contemporary times. This is further supported in the most recent appropriations of the fairy tale. I hope you found this very long story as interesting as I found it to write.