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Literature / Rapunzel

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Rapunzel (with, as she is often depicted, golden hair)

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!

Once upon a time, a couple lived next door to a witch with a beautiful garden. The wife developed such a craving for the rapunzel (specified as rampion in some versions) in this garden that the husband snuck into the garden and stole some for her. The longing increased, and the husband tried to steal more, only to be caught by the witch, who demanded their unborn child as a consequence.

Sure as her word, the witch took the couple's daughter and called her Rapunzel. When she was twelve, the witch shut Rapunzel into a tall tower without doors. Whenever she wanted to enter, the witch would call, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair", and Rapunzel would lower her extremely long hair for the witch to climb.

One day, a prince overheard Rapunzel singing, and, having taken an interest in her situation, soon saw how the witch came and went. He repeated the witch's trick, Rapunzel dutifully let her hair down, and the two made plans to elope. One day, however, Rapunzel accidentally revealed the Prince's existence to the witch, who cut off the girl's hair and banished her to the desert. The witch then lay in wait for the Prince, and pushed him off the tower into a bed of thorns, which blinded him.

The unlucky couple wandered the wasteland for some time (during which Rapunzel bore either a single child or twins, according to some versions) before running into one another. Rapunzel immediately embraced him, weeping, and her tears fell on his eyes and healed them. He took her back to his kingdom, and they lived Happily Ever After.

The best known version of this story comes from The Brothers Grimm, probably based on Giambattista Basile's "Petrosinella/Parsley". Initially, Rapunzel betrayed the Prince's existence by remarking on how tight her dress was getting around the middle, but the Grimms decided that this was too raunchy and so in later versions, she instead remarked that the witch was much heavier to pull up than her Prince.

The story may be based on the legend of Rudaba as found in the The Shahnameh, as well as the tale of St. Barbara. Many of the older forms — such as "Snow-White-Fire-Red" — appear more closely related to a tale type called "The Girl Helps The Hero Flee" — such as "The White Dove". Another variant is "Prunella". Some researchers also consider this to be a remnant of some pre-Christian European sun goddess myth - compare for instance the stories of Saule's imprisonment in Baltic Mythology.

The Grimms' version can be found here, here, here and here. Andrew Lang's version of the tale can be read here and here. Giambattista Basile's "Petrosinella/Parsley" can be read here.

In 1988, Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics dedicated a whole episode to this tale.

A Disney Animated Canon version of this fairy tale was released in 2010 under the title Tangled, as a result of Executive Meddling figuring a non-gender specific title would bring more people in.

"Rapunzel" contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: The Witch is a Parental Substitute version in some retellings:
    • In Tangled she verbally abuses Rapunzel and constantly plays with her feelings, scares her into believing the world is horrible so she'll stay with her forever for her own purposes, preys on her self-esteem to make her vulnerable and completely reliant on her, etc.
    • In the anime version she keeps Rapunzel locked away pretty much from infancy rather than from her twelfth birthday, and when she finds out about the Prince... she forcibly cuts the girl's hair and beats her (which could've potentially made her miscarry the child she was already pregnant with) before throwing her out and then confronting the prince.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Very prone to it. Into the Woods expands on the relationship between Rapunzel and the Witch (as well as Rapunzel's mental state when it's all over...) There is also a graphic novel, Rapunzel's Revenge, set in the Old West where the title character escapes on her own, uses her hair as lassos, and sets out to overturn the wicked witch's empire.
    • Donna Jo Napoli's Zel delves into the psyche of the Witch, the Prince, and Rapunzel, including the effects of being locked in a tower and devoid of almost all human contact for months at a time.
    • Regina Doman's Rapunzel Let Down retells the story in a modern setting.
    • Once Upon a Time puts an interesting spin on the story: The "witch" is actually just a physical embodiment of Rapunzel's fear, created when she ate something called Nightroot, which is a cure for anxiety. Also, the prince who rescues her is Prince Charming from the story of Snow White. As he is already married, they do not become a couple.
    • Faerie Tale Theatre pads out the first half of the story, focusing on the parents. It's also implied that the witch hypnotized the mother into wanting the vegetables.
    • Rapunzel joins the cast of the Dark Parables in the seventh installment, where she is trapped in the long-forgotten Fictional Country of Floralia. Here, she is one of two princesses, each of whom has magic powers - Rapunzel is a Friend to All Living Things, with a magical singing voice and Swiss-Army Tears that can heal. Her little half-sister Belladonna, on the other hand, is an Enemy to All Living Things, whose lethal powers mean that only Rapunzel can touch her without danger. Mother Gothel is the younger princess's nursemaid, who takes advantage of her attachment to Rapunzel to enact an elaborate revenge plot on Floralia's patron goddess, endangering all of humanity in the process.
  • Adaptational Villainy: If the witch wasn't villainous enough for forcing a desperate man to give up his child after stealing her vegetables, some versions imply or outright state that the witch put a spell on Rapunzel's mother to make her crave her rampion. Modern adaptations tend to make the witch much more outright evil by playing up her emotional abuse towards Rapunzel.
  • Ambiguously Evil: It's not clear whether Mother Gothel can be truly called malevolent. There's no mention of her abusing, exploiting or even neglecting Rapunzel. She did lock her adoptive daughter into a tower, but it's implied this was done out of an overblown protective instinct, rather than possessiveness. It's also noteworthy that, in some versions, she doesn't actually do anything to the Prince. So, is she evil or not? Numerous retellings and adaptations try to answer this question, one way or another, with modern ones either giving her a sympathetic portrayal, or being far less charitable to her.
  • Baby as Payment: Rapunzel ends up in the tower because her father promised a witch his firstborn in exchange for herbs from her garden.
  • Babies Ever After: Almost all versions end with Rapunzel and the prince living happily ever after with their two children (even if Rapunzel's pregnancy was not mentioned earlier). In the anime they only have one son, who's actually the one who finds the Prince (not knowing he's his father) and takes him to Rapunzel's presence, leading to their reunion.
  • Beautiful Singing Voice: In the original fairytale, Rapunzel is noted as having a beautiful singing voice that attracts the prince who would quickly become her rescuer.
  • Bowdlerise: In the revised edition of The Brothers Grimm's story, Rapunzel (handling the Idiot Ball) asks the witch why she's so much heavier to bring up the tower than the prince. This was changed from the original version, determined to be unfriendly for children, in which Rapunzel innocently asked why her dress was getting so tight around the middle.
  • Damsel in Distress: The titular heroine, who is locked in a tower and in need of rescue. Interestingly, however, the prince does not actually save her — she only gets out of the tower when the witch banishes her. In the end, Rapunzel saves the prince by healing his eyes with her tears.
  • Death Glare: The witch is described as giving the prince a "wicked and venomous" look during their confrontation.
  • Defiled Forever: The original version, where Rapunzel gets pregnant and that's what tips off the witch. So Rapunzel is banished to a faraway desert.
  • Dumb Blonde: Rapunzel can come off as this in the revised Grimm version, where she carries an Idiot Ball in her moment of forgetfulness to ask the witch why she is heavier to bring up the side of the tower with her hair than the prince. Not so much in the original version, where she innocently wonders aloud why her clothes keep getting tighter, which makes her seem merely ignorant (understandable, considering she almost certainly never learned the birds and the bees) rather than outright scatterbrained.
  • Enter Stage Window: The only entrance and exit into Rapunzel's tower is a window, through which she uses her hair to bring people up and down.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Rapunzel's tower serves as her prison, doubling as this.
  • Evil Matriarch: Rapunzel calls the witch "Frau Gothel," which means "godmother," While it could be just a formality, she is a literal godmother in some early French and Italian variants of the story.
  • Eye Scream: The Prince is blinded near the end of the story, either by falling into thorn bushes or by the witch scratching his eyes out. Though in some versions, the witch puts a curse of blindness on him.
  • The Fair Folk: In early versions, the witch was a fairy. She sure acts like it!
  • Gilded Cage: Rapunzel's tower is often depicted as a very nice place to live.
  • Girl in the Tower: Possibly the girl in the tower.
  • Gratuitous Princess: Rapunzel is not a princess in the original tale, being the daughter of two peasants. More than one adaptation, including Tangled, alters some story details so she's of royal blood.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: The innocent, beautiful, pure, inaccessible maiden is blonde. Yup.
    • Tangled subverts it since Rapunzel is not a natural blonde, but a brunette like both of her parents. The magic in her hair is what makes her a blonde.
  • Handicapped Badass: After he's blinded, the Prince still searches for Rapunzel on foot.
  • Happily Ever After: After suffering at the hands of the witch, Rapunzel and the prince return to his kingdom in happiness (with their twin children in the original version).
  • Harp of Femininity: Rapunzel has one in her tower in some versions.
  • The Hedge of Thorns: In many versions, there's one at the base of the tower and the Prince is blinded as he falls on it.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Some variations give Rapunzel self-esteem issues, making her believe she's ugly.
  • Idiot Ball: The Brothers Grimm gave Rapunzel this in their Bowdlerised version when they have her, unprompted, mention the Prince to the witch. The first edition at least makes sense — Rapunzel wonders aloud why her clothing no longer fits. Unsurprisingly, considering how the girl lived her life, she didn't know she was pregnant. The Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation removes the Idiot Ball by giving Rapunzel a pet parrot who mimics the prince one day when the Witch comes to visit.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Mother Gothel, of course.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Needless to say, human hair probably can't grow that long, certainly not while remaining healthy, shiny and beautiful. Since she's living with a witch, A Wizard Did It could come into play — suggesting that the witch enchanted the hair. In Tangled it's justified because the hair is a result of magic. Subverted in Barbie as Rapunzel where the hair is only floor-length - which is possible in real life, depending on the person's genes - and the maintenance is believable because she's only locked in the tower for one day.
  • Informed Ability: The witch never actually does any magic in either of the original Grimm tellings. Retellings and adaptations, however, often let her show off her talents.
  • I Will Find You: The Prince does not stop looking for Rapunzel despite having being blinded. If some version are believed (i.e., Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics), the guy looks for his beloved for several years.
  • Justified Criminal: Modern people often don't understand why Rapunzel's father would steal from a witch and then give up their child as payment, but in preindustrial cultures, pregnancy cravings were taken quite seriously. It's likely that Rapunzel's father literally thought his wife and unborn child might die without rampion.
  • Karma Houdini: In most versions, it isn't mentioned what happens to the witch after she banishes Rapunzel.
    • It is often common in retellings to have her be stuck in the tower. The earliest known variant, Petrosinella, avoids this by having her get eaten by a wolf.
  • The Kindnapper: Some interpretations of the witch.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Some versions of the witch.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In some versions and adaptations, the witch ends up trapped in the very same tower she imprisoned Rapunzel in. For bonus points, this sometimes happens as a result of her causing the Prince's fall.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Her parents had long wanted and never had a child. Apparently the witch also wanted a child. And in some versions, Rapunzel — who evidently didn't inherit her parents' fertility problems — inconveniently becomes pregnant.
  • Leonine Contract: The witch is furious to find Rapunzel's father stealing rampion from her garden, and when he explains that his wife is pregnant and craving it, she lets him have as much as he wants—if he gives up their future child. Grimm's version explicitly states that "in his distress of mind the man promised everything." In other versions, the witch threatens to kill HIM if he doesn't give up their child, which would have left his wife pregnant and widowed, which is not a good situation.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Something Gothel and the prince keep asking Rapunzel to do; Freud had a field day with the metaphorical implications of this request.
  • Loose Lips: In some versions, Rapunzel gives away the Prince's visits when she asks the witch why she's so much heavier/slower than him.
  • Love at First Note: The prince for Rapunzel, as he first hears her songs and then sees her.
  • Love at First Sight: Rapunzel for the prince, in return.
  • Lured into a Trap: After the witch cuts off Rapunzel's hair and banishes her, she lets down the shorn locks when the Prince, unaware of what happened, calls to Rapunzel. Though what happens next depends on the version, her intentions for him are clearly not good.
  • Miss Conception: In the first edition of the Grimm tales, the sorceress gets wind of the prince's visits when Rapunzel wonders why her dress is getting tighter around the middle. Obviously, it does not occur to Rapunzel (because of her extremely sheltered life) that she could be pregnant. This version of events was sanitized from the second edition onward, where Rapunzel simply blabs out that the prince visits her in a moment of thoughtlessness.
  • My Beloved Smother: Some takes on the witch make her into an overprotective parental figure.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: There have been versions where Rapunzel knows full well why her belly is growing larger, and takes measures to hide the fact that she's with child from the witch.
  • Obliviously Beautiful: In many retellings and adaptations, Rapunzel doesn't know how attractive she is. Considering her very sheltered upbringing (she'd never seen a man until the Prince climbed her tower, after all), it's no surprise.
  • Plot Hole: If the window is the only the entry to the tower and climbing Rapunzel's hair is the only way to get up there, how did the witch get Rapunzel in the tower in the first place? And if the witch has another way in, why doesn't she use that instead of undergoing such an arduous task? Various adaptations have answered this in various ways:
    • In Tangled, Mother Gothel has a secret entrance of which Rapunzel is unaware.
    • In the Once Upon a Time episode "The Tower", Rapunzel climbed into the tower willingly and was then held prisoner by the witch, who was really a manifestation of her greatest fears. Later in Season 7, a different telling of the Rapunzel story has Mother Gothel build the tower around Rapunzel with magic.
  • Pregnant Badass: Rapunzel, in the versions where she bears the Prince's kid/kids. Living alone in the desert isn't easy at the best of times, especially for a pregnant young woman who has no survival skills and has been isolated from the world by her Parental Substitute. She not only survives the childbirth, but manages to raise at least one kid in such an unfriendly environment.
  • Prince Charming: Rapunzel's love interest.
  • Race Lift: Once Upon a Time gives Rapunzel one (and her parents by extension) where she is played by mixed race actress Alexandra Metz. What's more is that the script specifically called for a black actress to play the character.
  • Rags to Royalty: Rapunzel came from a commoner family, but later became a princess.
  • Rapid Hair Growth: In some versions of the story, Rapunzel's hair miraculously grows back to its original length (or maybe even longer) after the Prince touches it during their reunion.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Experiments have determined that human hair actually is strong enough to support an adult human's weight (even blonde hair, which is weaker than darker hair), as long as it's anchored to something first so that it's not pulling directly on the scalp. All early versions of the tale mention that Rapunzel ties her hair to a hook in the wall before letting someone climb it; this is seen in Tangled as well.
  • Sadistic Choice: The father would not have thought lightly about stealing to soothe his wife's cravings, or giving up his long-wanted child as restitution.
  • Saying Too Much: In some tellings of the story, Rapunzel accidentally reveals that she's been having a visitor when she asks the witch why it's so much harder to bring her up to the tower than the Prince.
  • Secret Relationship: Rapunzel and her Prince, of course.
  • Shaking Her Hair Loose: Some versions the story say that Rapunzel's long golden hair is braided or tied up 90% of the time, and it's only untied when Mother Gothel or the prince climb up it.
    • Tangled parodies it in the trailers, with Flynn doing the traditional request... and getting a face full of Rapunzel's very heavy hair.
  • Shear Menace: In some versions of the story, the Witch attacks the Prince with the same pair of scissors she used to cut off Rapunzel's hair.
  • Sky Cell: Rapunzel's tower is one without a door.
  • Swiss-Army Tears: Rapunzel's tears unblind the Prince.
    • In the Dark Parables adaptation, one of the Multiple Endings has Rapunzel using her tears to save the life of her betrothed, Prince Ross, after he falls victim to her half-sister's death magic.
  • Teen Pregnancy: In the first edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales, Rapunzel gets knocked up by the Prince while heavily implied to not be out of her teenage years yet, and gives birth to two sons (in some versions a boy and a girl instead) after her banishment.
    • In the anime, Rapunzel gets pregnant at sixteen, though she only has one son in a deviation from the original story.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: It's implied that Rapunzel is a skilled weaver, since most versions have her ask the Prince to bring her skeins of silk that she'll use to make a ladder to escape the tower with.
  • Thirsty Desert: Gothel sends Rapunzel here after finding out about the Prince's visits.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Done to Rapunzel by the witch.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: In some versions, Rapunzel gives birth to a boy and a girl.
  • Wacky Cravings: Played for Drama to kick off the plot, as Rapunzel's mother's craving for an herb is what starts the entire plot.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In most versions of the story, the witch vanishes completely from the story after blinding the prince and sending Rapunzel elsewhere. Where did she go? What happened to her? She just seems to go away, scot-free. Unless one takes the view that the cut hair fell away from the tower before she could descend, leaving her trapped in there to die alone.
    • Rapunzel's parents never appear again after giving up their newborn daughter to the witch, and Rapunzel herself never finds out about them. Some adaptations (Tangled, Barbie as Rapunzel) negate this and have her reunite with them in the end.
  • Wicked Witch: In earlier versions, a fairy.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Rapunzel.