Rapunzel by Walter Crane

Rapunzel by Walter Crane

Hello dear listeners and readers, after an absence of nearly a year! Thank you for continuing to visit my website. I have returned to university and this summer I am preparing more stories, so instead of leaving you high and dry again, I will schedule them on alternate months.

Did you know that Rapunzel gave birth to twins? More than just a story of a young girl with long, long golden hair waiting for a prince to rescue her, this is a true love story, a coming-of-age story, a story of a child used as a bargaining chip in the days when ‘human rights’ were unheard of, and when women could not freely choose who they would marry. Featuring a maiden, a mother and a crone the story can also be seen as a women’s wisdom story, warning against trying to stop nature taking its normal course.

Rapunzel’s story has been watered down so much. Even the Grimms changed this version (1857) to suit prudish sensibilities from their 1812 edition, in which Rapunzel asks the witch why her clothes are getting so tight – an obvious allusion to her naïveté and her pregnancy.

As we know, the Grimms collected their tales from far and wide. In the earliest version of the tale (1634), Giambatista Basile’s heroine Petrosinella is more active and cunning in her plans to escape with her lover. In 1697 we have Charlotte Rose de la Force’s version Persinette who is raised in the tower by a fairy. This fairy angrily pursues the couple even after they are finally re-united and makes life very difficult for them. But when she sees how much they love each other, she relents and even takes them to the King’s castle.

There are other stories of parents giving up children, such as The Nixie in the Millpond, which I shall be reading soon, Rumplestiltskin and Beauty and the Beast. I hope you enjoy this old favourite.



The wife – is pregnant but desperately craving

The witch – or sorceress or ogress, she is barren of children but has a lush garden and herbal knowledge. She is a portrayal of the Terrible Mother archetype; bitter, withholding, or giving with strings attached.

The husband – is caught between the two women

A high wall – keeps people either in or out

Twilight – a numinous, threshold time between day and night

When she was twelve years old – age of puberty and the onset of menarche, she was shut away for fear of pregnancy

The tower – like an impenetrable fortress, “a man-made product of conscious, architectural endeavour” (Anthony Stevens: Ariadne’s Clue). A place of enclosed confinement – it could be a hospital bed, boarding-school or prison.

In the middle of a great wood – in Jungian psychology, the forest represents the unconscious. But Rapunzel has no access to the forest itself. Mother Gothel is trying to keep her from growing in consciousness, by keeping her ignorant and locked away.

In her loneliness – what would we do without all our multi-tasking gadgets?

Let down your hair – the irony of it! Poor Rapunzel can hardly let her hair down and party all alone in her tower!

A waste and desert place – open to the elements and wilderness, not enclosed and sheltered in her tower in the lush forest.

He took her to his kingdom – she was restored to society again. Rapunzel loses her parents and then gains another set of parents in the King and Queen.

Rapunzel’s joining with the Prince and both enduring much hardship before they are re-united, the couple is representative of the coming together of the masculine and feminine principles of the coniunctio, the sacred marriage – “the union of complementary opposites to form the Absolute” (Anthony Stevens: Ariadne’s Clue).

Twins – a boy and a girl – symbolize the “fundamental antimony characterising all archetypal phenomena” (Anthony Stevens: Ariadne’s Clue).

Reflection Questions

These questions are for your own personal reflections on the story. Perhaps you don’t relate to the whole story, but parts of it do resonate with aspects of your experience. Those are the parts you can work with. And if you find a question disturbing, do seek out a wise and trusted friend or therapist to talk it over with.

I would encourage you as you reflect on these questions to have your favourite creativity materials or a visual journal nearby. Be open to any images that may come to you and concretize your reflections in some sort of art-making.

There are many variations of the fairy tale, for example one from Malta, in which the girl stays with her mother until puberty. Still, she is separated from her mother in a dramatic way. In the Italian version Petrosinella, it is the wife who steals the rampion. Rampion is another name for rapunzel, a salad plant.

  • The wall separates two worlds, the magical and the mundane. The longing is what links Rapunzel in the garden and Rapunzel the child. What do you long for that is on the other side of the wall?

The wife is childless and longing in the real world - the sorceress is childless in the magical world and content until disturbed by the husband. Both end up wanting what the other has on the other side of the wall.

  • How do you envy other women? What do you want that they have? Do other women envy you? What do you have that they don’t?
  • Think about what is on each side of the wall – how is it different on each side – for the wife and for the sorceress? Put yourself, in your imagination, on each side of the wall in turn, what do you see, hear and feel?
  • Do you build high walls around you, and defensively protect your privacy/territory? Are people afraid to come near you even though you have something others want?
  • If you were ever pregnant what cravings did you have?
  • Have you ever acquired or been given something treasured only to have it taken away suddenly? What was your experience and how do you feel about it now?
  • “Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child under the sun”. How do you think she was beautiful? What were her qualities?
  • The old witch teaches Rapunzel all sorts of magic – what have you learned from the wise old women in your life?
  • Locked up at puberty… did you feel locked up when you were 12? Was your increasing maturity stifled? Did/do you feel like locking up your daughters now? How do we protect our daughters today?

The story portrays a process of development and transition in which there is always danger:

Pregnancy – the window was a peephole – no-one else could see into the walled enchanted garden from this vantage point. The woman thought she would die if she didn’t get some of the rampion.

Childhood – Rapunzel grew up beautiful and good despite the irresponsibility of her parents.

Puberty – Rapunzel was taken by the witch, but she sang and learned spells and magic.

Meets the prince – she’s fearful, but he is gentle and patient.

Exiled – pregnant in the desert, but she and her babes survive.

Separation – both in dire straits, but they find each other and survive.

  • What are the demands made of Rapunzel at each stage of her development, at each turning point in her life? Do you identify with any of them? What have been the demands made on you as you were growing up?
  • At each stage of the process there is change thrust upon Rapunzel. How do you adapt when new situations are presented to you?

Sybille Birkenhauser-Oeri says, “The heroic child is always in danger … because it embodies something new”.

What happens to Rapunzel before she is born?

Her mother pines for rampion.

Her father promises her to a witch.

Her mother eats from an enchanted garden.

She bears the consequences of her parents’ deeds.

  • What about you? Even before I was born…….
  • Rapunzel the plant and Rapunzel the girl, how are they the same? How are they different? What is their purpose? What is their task?
  • What is it like for Rapunzel in the tower? Take a few minutes to imagine. Describe her predicament, her life. Is this anything like your life? Do you see any parallels or contrasts?
  • What are the pros and cons of being shut up in a tower?
  • What keeps you trapped in a tower? Or do you see the tower as a kind of inner sanctuary where you can go when things gets tough?
  • When the prince asked Rapunzel to marry him she consented at once. Have there been times when you have made hasty decisions just to get out of a situation? Have they worked for you?
  • And yet her plans to get down take quite some time. What do you make of this? Would you have cut your own hair?
  • Self-betrayal by a slip-of-the-tongue – I wish I had kept my big mouth shut! How many times have you said that? Have you made mistakes that turned out well in the end despite struggles along the way?

The witch, on discovering the prince’s existence, says,” Oh you wicked child!”

Wicked for trying to free herself? She might have said “How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?” or “I’ve worked so hard to make you what you are and now you’ve ruined it all!”

  • Does this sound familiar? Have you got out from under someone’s smothering protection? Or is it about time you did?
  • Or do you protect yourself too much, not taking risks, always taking the tried and trusted path?
  • Rapunzel was exiled in the desert/wilderness. What does the image of desert conjure up for you? Have you spent time in the desert of exile? What form did it take? What happened for you there? What was it like? How did you come out of it?
  • What do you make of the imagery the witch uses of the cat and the caged song-bird?
  • After his encounter with the witch the prince wanders around blindly in his disillusionment (the honeymoon is definitely over!). What do you know of men in this situation?