Monday, April 2

Grimmoire 12: Rapunzel

Perhaps the only tale I'm aware of where the title character is named after a lettuce her mother was craving while pregnant. I knew a girl once whose family nickname for her was Pickles, I wonder if that was the same thing.

I realize these stories don't usually require, demand or hold up under scrutiny but there's a funny little incongruity at the beginning of this one. The husband and wife live in a small home with a small window that looked over an herb garden. The herb garden is surrounded by a high wall. I'm going to guess that the home was on a high hill in order to see out a small window over a high wall at the herb garden. How else to explain the wife being able to see those delish herbs?

And one herb in particular: Rampion. Also known in those parts of the world as Rapunzel. Or corn salad, or mache, or lamb's lettuce or any of around 40 other varieties of small-leaf lettuce.

So the wife is pregnant and she has a craving for a salad, not any old salad but a rampion salad. The nature of pregnancy cravings being what they are, and the understanding of what will happen if the husbands do not do everything humanly possible to satisfy those cravings, the husband slips over the wall to steal some rampion.

I like this little detail, because it sets up a very complex relationship. The herb garden belongs to a character referred to as Mother Gothel which, during Grimm's time, was a common term for a godmother. It isn't clear whether she's the godmother of either the husband or wife, or if she becomes the godmother of the child who will be Rapunzel, but the woman isn't referred to as a witch, nor is she a stranger. So why steal it? Was hubby so frantic, so desperate that he didn't think Mama G would notice? Was he just afraid of women in general? So many interesting questions!

Mother G catches hubby and says, sure, you can have the lettuce, but when the child turns 12 she's mine. Hubby, desperate and fearful, agrees to the terms. Just like that, he trades away his child at the age she would have been packed off for the factory to a women he fears in exchange for some lettuce. How does this guy live with himself for the next dozen years?

Baby is born, named after lettuce, grows up, turns 12, is handed over to Mother G and put in a high tower for no good reason for the rest of her days with nothing to do but grow her hair. Fairy tale logic, pretty standard stuff, and the story plods along the way most people recognize it. Wandering Prince sees Mama G call for Rapunzel to let down her hair, sees the beauty at the top, falls instantly in love (natch) and climbs his way up where they make plans to elope.

Now, if you learned this story the way I did as a child -- as a Fractured Fairy Tale from the Rocky and Bulwinkle Show -- then you know that the Prince and Rapunzel get away and everything's great until Rapunzel gets pregnant and has a craving for Mama G's rampion, thus continuing the cycle. Funny, but since I figured the story ended with the Prince rescuing Rapunzel there it seemed natural to poke fun at the happy ending.

What happy ending?

In this Grimm version the Prince and Rapunzel prove to be a matched set of numbskulls: Every time you come you must bring a skein of silk with you, and I will weave it into a ladder says Rapunzel. I can forgive Rapunzel for not having much of an education, but the Prince could have come up with a better idea. Why not bring a real rope? Why not build a ladder? Heck, the story says there's a hook outside the window that she uses to hitch her braid onto so that all comers can climb up the tower, why not a pair of scissors to hack off the hair and use it to climb down?

Because I suspect the Prince actually liked his little care-free conjugal visits. A woven ladder that needed to be 60 feet long made from silk... that could take years to produce at one skein a visit. They couldn't have been big because the Prince needed to haul them up with him. No, I believe the Price was scamming on Rapunzel with no real intention of getting her out of the tower.

Which is fine, because he doesn't. Mama G catches drift of what's happening and banishes Rapunzel to the farthest reaches of the Shwarzwald to wander the rest of her days. The Prince arrives and climbs up the tower to find Mama G then leaps in horror into the bushes below where the thorns poke out his eyes.

The blind Prince wanders many years until he stumbles upon Rapunzel who is toting a pair of twins. Ach! So Mama G had every reason to be furious, the Prince got Rapunzel knocked up. The Prince has paid for his philandering and kind-hearted Rapunzel, glad that the father of her children has come to his senses, weeps for joy, her tears landing on his afflicted orbs and returning his sight by magic!

Now we get the happy ending. The Prince and Rapunzel return to his kingdom where he assumes his royal duties and everyone is happy and no one questions where he's been all these years. It's wonderful to think that when you're royalty that you can vanish for years and your kingdom will remain in tact and primed for your return. Especially when you vanish without notice, not like some of those other silly kings and princes who dash off to fight in Crusades and at least send word every once in a while that they're coming home soon.

All because of a little lettuce.
Post a Comment