Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair.
I have to be honest, that line is pretty much the only thing I remember about this Grimm Fairytale. The rest of the story is lost to me. I blame my obsession over Snow White, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid for knowing very little of this tale. So, as the practice in GB, I decided to do a little bit of research on the tale.
Rapunzel is a German tale gathered and put together by the Brothers Grimm. The story talks of a couple living near an enchantress. In the peak of her pregnancy, the wife craved for radishes called Rapunzel. Every night the husband got two of these radishes from the enchantress’ garden. On the third night, he was caught and charged with theft by the enchantress. The man begs for mercy and so the enchantress strikes a bargain, in exchange for forgiveness they are to surrender their unborn child to the enchantress. Hence began the tale of the Damsel up the tower (for more on the original tale check here).
Like many other fractured fairy tales’ we’ve featured here, Falling for Rapunzel uses word play and humor to put across a fresh narrative to a beloved tale. Begin a story with “Once upon a bad hair day” and you know the story is indeed quite modern and has some ridiculous twist to it. Wilcox’s rendition of the Rapunzel tale can be divided into three parts (or themes if you prefer), namely: 1) Wrong Assumptions, 2) Miscommunication, and 3) Unexpected Love.
Wilcox’s story begins with a wrong assumption. Our prince as he rode across the vast landscape hears some noise coming from a tower. He ASSUMES there is a princess in need of help and saving and so he rides to the tower.
For above he heard a whine…he thought her crying a plea and sallied forth to set her free.
This wrong assumption leads us to the famous Rapunzel line, Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair. I love that in a few lines, the story sets the stage for the problems with stereotypes. After all, there is indeed a knight in shining armor complex that goes arm-in-arm with the damsel in distress stereotype. Here, Wilcox is able to subtly convey that while reminding us that not every female whine or cry is a plea to be set free.
Starting anything with the wrong assumption never results to good. Furthermore, towers are high up, shouting in open spaces disperses the sound. By the time the message reaches Rapunzel shouldn’t it be a bit garbled? Original fairy tale aside, science can tell you the chances of two people hearing each other in such a situation is near-impossible. Our prince finds himself more and more confused as he tries to get Rapunzel to let down her hair, while readers find themselves in the midst of the silliest and funniest exchange.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel throw down your hair.” She thought he said, your underwear.
“Rapunzel, do you have a rope” Rapunzel dropped a cantaloupe.
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your braid” Rapunzel pused down her maid.
From wrong assumptions to miscommunications, our prince fails to find a way up to Rapunzel’s tower. The secret to Wilcox’s humorous rendition is in the way the situation is grounded in reality. After all, isn’t true humor in the telling of real events?
If you’re wondering what happened to the maid, let me assure you that no maids were harmed in the story. She did fall though and lands on the prince. It didn’t matter if it was Rapunzel or the maid, they fell in love with each other. Our prince may not have gotten the heroine, but he left with someone he didn’t think he’d love. At this point, I think the wrong assumptions had some reward and I was happy that the ending wasn’t typical. I’m more the type who cheers for the second lead and I’m glad the maid got the prince.
Falling for Rapunzel defies a few hard-learned gender role stereotypes as well as the typical rules in marriage and love. Leah Wilcox, I believe, successfully created a balance between humor, rhyme, and reality. While simple in its telling and engaging in its rhythm, Falling for Rapunzel offers points for discussion that parents, teachers, and guardians can use as learning tools for children.
The artwork is also a wonderful source of discussion and discovery for the reader. Lydia Monks beautifully combines drawn images and actual pictures of trees and textiles to create a quirky artwork. Readers should give some attention to the rendering of the trees and fabrics. The trees shape are simple circles, but look closer and one notices pictures of various tree leaves creating the surface of the circled tree. Similarly, for fabrics, Monks used actual textures/fabrics as surfaces for curtains and clothes. Studying the pages further, one will notice the mixture of old and new in the story, from landscapes to cityscapes, towers to computers and blow dryers. Falling for Rapunzel is a lovely book to let kids search and name things. They might even find Little Red Riding Hood amongst some trees (hint hint).
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I recommend it to picture book aficionados. It’s refreshing to find a non-Cinderella fractured fairy tale and to find a story written in verse with enough humor and commentary to interest an adult.