Sunday, 15 August 2021
“Truly, there is magic in fairy tales. For it takes but a simply-uttered 'Once upon a time...' to allure and spellbind an audience.”
—Richelle E. Goodrich
The term “fairy tale” or “conte de fées” was first used by French writer Countess d’Aulnoy at the end of the seventeenth century. “Once upon a time” is even older and can be traced back to an English poem from 1380! Of course, short stories based on myths and folklore existed long before people started to call them fairy tales, and they continue to evolve as new writers reinvent the characters and their circumstances.
Last year I wrote a blog post about Beauty and the Beast retellings. It was the first time I’d used a fairy tale as the basis for my reading choices, and I really enjoyed both the research and the reading. With that in mind, I repeated the exercise this week with a different fairy tale. I chose Rapunzel, partly because I’ve always loved the film Tangled and partly because I was curious—it’s a less mainstream fairy tale and arguably more difficult to reimagine.
The earliest version of the story, Petrosinella, is from 1634. Persinette followed in 1698, and the Brothers Grimm published Rapunzel in 1812. The story begins with the theft of some special salad leaves from a witch’s garden to save the life of the main character’s mother. In fact, the names Petrosinella and Persinette came from the Italian and French words for parsley! Most people are familiar with what follows: the tall tower, the long hair, the handsome prince, the witch’s revenge, and the main character’s magical tears.
Once again, the research was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to exploring a new fairy tale in the future. I hope you find my choices interesting, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
** Writing update: Further to my previous post about villains, I’ve written prologues for both new books, and now I feel like I should apologise to my characters for what they’re about to face! **
What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? In this kingdom, only one fairy tale can end with happily ever after.
I love descriptions that begin with “What if…?”
I also like the idea of bringing two fairy tales together and exploring what happens to Rapunzel after she marries her prince. Then I read the prologue, and I was hooked. I can’t resist a sympathetic and complicated villain.
I was the girl with the long long hair, trapped in the tower. You have no doubt heard of me. As a young woman I was very famous for those tresses, even though I lived in the middle of the woods and had never been to court, not for a feast or a wedding or a matter of law.
Poets and troubadours sang of my beauty then.
It was sorcery, that hair. Sometimes now I wonder if things would have been different, had I been plain.
It is a hard thing, not being that girl any longer. Even as I sit here, I cannot help but turn toward the mirror and ask the question I have asked a thousand times before:
“Who is the fairest of them all?”
The mirror shifts. The glass moves back and forth, like water. And then my image disappears, until a voice, like a memory, or something from my bones and skin, gives me the same answer it always does now:
I turn back to the parchment in front of me and try to ignore the ache inside. The apple waits on the table next to me, gleaming with poison. All that’s left to do is write it down, everything that happened, so that there will still be some record in this world.
Gothel is a witch. Punished for the actions of her mother, her choice is simple: either she stands guard over Princess Rapunzel—or she dies.
This caught my eye because the story is told from Gothel’s POV, and she’s not the villain from the original story. Rapunzel’s father, the king, became a powerful sorcerer by stealing from Aethel, Gothel’s mother. Aethel took her revenge by cursing Rapunzel. Rapunzel can only be freed by a prince of noble heart and some special, heavily-guarded magical shears. Oh, and the prince also has to kill Gothel, the innocent witch forced to guard Rapunzel. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, what happens if Gothel and the prince fall for each other along the way? I can’t wait to find out... Here’s a short extract from the beginning of the book.
“My name is Prince Merek Duc’Line.”
“You’re the king’s son?”
My stomach knotted. A prince? Could he be the one? If he was, then I should’ve fought him off. I should’ve kept him as far away from the tower as possible. There was a foretelling that a prince of noble blood would free the princess and kill the witch. Kill me.
She never wanted to leave the tower. He never wanted to rule the country. But when war breaks out, this reckless prince and reclusive maiden are faced with overcoming their deepest fears in order to determine not only their own fate, but that of their entire country.
I was intrigued by a Rapunzel who doesn’t want to be rescued, and the Italian setting, and a prince with his own character development challenges. Plus the main character’s name is Nella, short for Petrosinella—just like the original version of the story 😀. Here’s a short extract of some dialogue between Nella and Prince Benedict about a third of the way through the book.
“And do you—that is, have you any betrothals currently?” she asked.
He laughed. “I do seem to go through them at an alarming rate, don’t I?”
“Well, you did when I was a child. I think there were five before I reached the age of twelve.”
“Oh, probably at least eight or nine.” He grinned. “No, not currently. I seem to have a bit of bad luck with that.”
Nella was horrified to find herself glad. Jealousy was a sign of attachment. Or worse. “Well, I wish you all the best in that, then.” She hated saying the words, and she hated that she hated it.
Benedict seemed not to notice. “Do you ever hope of getting married?”
He looked at her and grinned. “I suppose being tethered to a man for the rest of your life makes you shudder.”
“Until the rest of his life,” she corrected, not able to restrain a smirk.
My tale has been told again and again, and I’ve heard each one. Except for my hair, I barely recognize the pitiful renditions. Muddled versions, crafted to entertain laughing children… but the children wouldn’t have laughed if they’d known the real story. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t know the truth. Nobody did. My name is Rapunzel. I will tell you my story. I will tell you the truth.
The first person POV in the description works really well, and it sets the scene for a fresh take on the story with a strong protagonist. Anything could happen following an introduction like that!
I peered out my window, waiting for the right moment. There. The sun dropped below the horizon, casting the castle grounds into darkness.
I tied the corners of my blanket together into a knot then slung the makeshift sack over my shoulder. I scurried to the door. Looking back was not an option.
I had thirty minutes, maximum. That’s all I had between the setting of the sun and when the dragon would expect to see the candlelight flicker in my window, my daily assurance to him of my presence in the castle. If he didn’t see that glow from my tower…
Rapunzel is not your average teenager. For one thing, she has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is fifteen feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction.
I had to include a retelling with a contemporary setting, and Rapunzel Untangled is my choice. At the beginning of the story, Rapunzel is reluctantly accepting of her captivity because she’s been told she has an immunodeficiency. But she also has a computer with internet access, and one day she discovers social media. She connects with “Fab Fane Flannigan” from the local high school, and her perspective soon begins to shift. I’m interested to know Fane’s backstory in this version and his real name. Here’s a short extract from one of Rapunzel’s and Fane’s early conversations.
Rapunzel closed her eyes tightly, thinking, debating. Then, before she could change her mind, she typed:
There was nothing but her flashing cursor, then
Rapunzel? That’s your name?
You’re not kidding around?
Unusual. Rapunzel. Never heard of it. I like it.
Please don’t try to guess my last name.
Okay, you win. For now. Rapunzel.