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(6/28/00 9:17:31 am)
Rapunzel Discussion
Hello all,

I have finished packing all of my books. Well, there are about 10 that are not packed since I am currently reading them. Still, I am going through severe withdrawal already. Ten books is nothing to this librarian-at-heart.

Once I get settled in California, I am going to start revamping my site and adding the information and annotations I have been avoiding. To start my notes and keep my thinking going, would anyone like to have some small discussions about the popular tales on my site?

I thought we could start with Rapunzel. Some sample thoughts would be exceptional articles, books, etc. on Rapunzel. I am also interested in personal reactions to the tale. Which interpretations of the tale work for you and which ones are simply outrageous. I am trying to avoid presenting only the Bettelheim interpretations on my site. I am going to work at carefully acknowledging which school of thought different interpretations come from. Anything will keep me happy!

So I will begin. Why has Rapunzel remained one of the most popular tales? It was one of my favorites as a child. I had the long hair obsession for many years. The version I grew up with mentioned the twin children being born to Rapunzel, but I never noticed it as a child. I remember rereading it in my late teens and feeling quite a jolt when I realized when I had missed that element for so long. Did anyone else discover the children in the story later in life?

Has anyone read Donna Jo Napoli's "Zel?" It is one of her finest books and the one which reignited my interest in the tale. The story develops the characters of Rapunzel, the witch, and the prince to gritty depths.

(6/29/00 8:57:56 am)

A dark and powerful re-telling that comes to mind is Tanith Lee's in *Red As Blood,* though I haven't looked at it for a while. Yes, I, too grew up with the twins, but didn't pay them much mind as a kid. Curious, what stays with you.


(6/29/00 8:41:47 pm)
Re: Rapunzel Discussion

I love the Rapunzel tale and I think it always has had a powerful impact on me because of my own hair. My mother always had long hair as did I until I cut it off as an adolescent trying to rebel against my parents. I grew it long again and cut it short when I divorced. I went through this cycle a third time after I delivered my own twins. (Kind of an odd coincidence don't you think?) My hair is now almost back down to my waist and I notice the way people treat it as if it were a talisman. Even strangers will come up to comment and touch it. I've also noticed that men treat it as if it were its own entity -- a subject I explored in my own treatment of the tale. Rapunzel is all women. She is trapped within a cocoon of hair. It is her cloak, yet it is also her chains. It shields her from the world as surely as the high tower keeps her above the earth, yet at the same time it traps her. I have talked to a few hairdressers and they say that many women will cut their hair after a bad breakup, which says many powerful things to me. I remember having my hair cut to my chin and dyed a shocking shade of red after my own divorce. I remember how light-hearted and free I felt. I was walking among the clouds. I find it interesting that tresses are called locks, because they can be. Hair holds power in it. Men find it seductive. Children love to wrap it in their fingers. And the elderly seem to find memories caught in long silken strands. It's amazing really. So many little time...

Thanks for leading with this story.


(6/30/00 5:19:26 am)
My own long hair
I had long hair once I was old enough to take care of it myself starting in about third grade. My mother insisted that mine was kept short until then and I couldn't wait to grow it. More than once I was mistaken for a boy with my short, short hair. It was very troubling to me as a six-year-old.

I kept my hair long until halfway through college. It was a talisman and I always found it interesting how an entire conversation could revolve around me about whether or not I should cut my hair, including friends and/or strangers. Men were adamantly against cutting it and women were usually split down the middle.

I do remember people wanting to touch it or play with it. I had the same kind of experiences you described, Carrie. My hair is chin length now and garners little interest from the general population.

I haven't read the Tanith Lee story in a while. I am going to have to read it again once I unpack that book again.

Do you think the hair obsession is Rapunzel's primary reason for being so popular? I doubt it but it certainly is one of the main ones.

Registered User
(6/30/00 2:12:45 pm)
luscious locks
Carrie and Heidi,

As a long-haired lass, I can confirm what you say- people play with my hair too, get upset at the suggestion that I cut it. There's nothing lovelier than having someone run their fingers through your hair.
Hair is etheral, enigmatic. It's tangible- a man incurs minimal risk of being slapped- but it slips out of his grasp- hair is the femme fatale incarnate, distilled essence (You can shed all over other people's floors!). Also, it's the only body part you can really transform completely without resorting to surgery- so hair is imbided with a very particular resonance- it's a corporeal signature.
I think of Rapunzel's hair as being a little bit like an ever shape-shifting uroboros- a quintessential feminine symbol which may be stretched out to serve a prince's ends, but will snap back into its habitual ring again without the slightest warning.


(7/2/00 5:19:40 am)
sexual pelt
Traditionally in Europe a woman's hair has always been the symbol of her vainity and pride, "the crowning glory". And yet, I think it suggests in the narratives her beastial and sexual nature. Rapunzel imprisoned in her tower is prevented from undergoing a rite of passage, the transformation from adolescent into adult woman. Inbodied in that ritual transformation is the maturation of her sexuality, which is also being denied. The hair, like a living creature, as an extension of herself is freed from the tower and brings the man to her. Look at the two opposing images--the "phallic tower" intended to restrict her sexuality, and her hair, which escapes the tower and brings the possibility of sexual activity to her.

Women's hair has a great deal of sexual resonance. The more sexually restrictive and patriarchial the society, the more a women's hair is hidden. Muslim women use dipilatories every where on their body except their head to remove the beastial (and sexual) stigma of hair. Hair is considered provacative and girls and women cover their heads and only their husbands (among males) are permitted to see it.

Even in this day and age of every kind of female hair cut imaginable, we still relate to women's hair as a signifier of their sexual identity--sometimes even of their availabilty. We may tolerate baldness in men (in fact its become rather chic and sexy) but we still regard it with suspicion in women--as a display of hostility, or as an object of pity.

on another note....does anyone remember The Goops and the book of manners for good Victorians? It's a very quirky thing--most of the Goops are bald, but there is one interesting passage on the moral value of combing one's hair...and it features a Goop with long, long,long tresses. it was always my favorite because my hair stubbornly refused to grow into such fantastic waves.

Unregistered User
(7/5/00 8:37:54 am)
Rapunzel--Good Girl Goes Bad?
Hi. This is my first posting ever to this group!

I had never really thought much on the link between Rapunzel's hair and her sexuality. But after reading the rest of the discussion, it seems a very good (and sexy) point...all that prince's pawing up and down her golden hair.

It brings to mind a ballad (damned if I can remember the name of it...I'll keep thinking) where a man kidnaps a girl (kind of like Pretty Polly) and when she resists having sex with him he strangles her with her long, long braids. I think we're supposed to assume he, gulp, has his way with her after that. Another version of that ballad has her braids strangling *him*. Go figure. Either way, her hair either acts or is used as a punishing agent for expressed sexuality--on the woman's part or the mans. And doesn't Lamia's hair have some kind of life of it's own? Hmm.

When I think of Rapunzel, I am usually most interested in the imprisonment by and enforced virtue of one woman upon another (witch/Rapunzel). Which has a rather interesting implication touched on by Midori when she mentioned the more gynophobic a culture, the more women's hair is bound. I'm not sure I'll be expressing this many ways woman are at once the subjects/victims of gender bias and repression in many cultures, as well as the agents/victimizers. Part of the reason FGM (female circumcision) has been so hard to discourage is that mothers have it performed on their daughters. A good girl is a circumcised girl. In Rapunzel’s case, a good girl is a confined girl. And, if she proves she’s not a good girl, then she should be stripped of her femininity and cast out.

Poor Rapunzel. (By the way, one of my favorite versions of this tale is by Robin McKinley in The Knot in the Grain—the witch is a feminist benefactor rather than an agent of the patriarchy.)

I have long blond hair and no plans to cut it...(I'm not *always* a good girl).

Registered User
(7/5/00 4:09:17 pm)
Pelleas and Melisande
Hello Meagan!

Now, what about Pelleas and Melisande, which is a poetic drama by Maurice Maeterlinck (set to music by Debussy)? When Melisande lets down her hair, Pelleas wraps it around his body, kissing and stroking the succulent locks until both lovers reach a passionate climax. Melisande's hair is the medium through which the lovers touch, a surrogate for Melisande's body. In Pelleas' embrace, the hair is not just a trope of femininity but femininity itself, a distilled essence. He conjures his lover out of it in a kind of erotic voodoo. There is no distinction between Melisande's body and her hair- her husband Golaud is just as enraged as he would be if Pelleas had fondled his wife's flesh.
Maeterlinck also wrote a version of Bluebeard's egg called "Ariane et Barbe-bleue", which may be relevant to Katy's query about her daughter's name. In Maeterlinck's play, Ariane is Bluebeard's wife. She discovers Bluebeard's previous wives in the forbidden chamber in their state of suspended animation, but they don't want to be rescued- they prefer the certainty of torture to the unknown terrors of the outside world.


Unregistered User
(7/6/00 5:13:10 am)
Hey, welcome Meagan!

Maria Warner has some very interesting things to say about the character of the "old woman " or the witch in folk tales in her wonderful book "From the Beast Blonde". (if she got a royalty for everytime her book was mentioned on this board she'd retire to a villa in Tuscany and invite us all..then again maybe she already has the villa....) I find her ideas fascinating about the woman who once out of the marriage bonds is potentially dangerous because she is beyond the usual social restrictions. Though she exists in the margins, where she is quite vulnerable, she is also correspondingly dangerous. She speaks her mind, mettles, makes trouble, and provides a wicked foil. She also gets burned, thrown into barrels with spikes or forced to dance with hot shoes...not an easy price for being out there.

But I am not always sure I agree with Warner's conclusions as far as the function of the character in the narratives. The role of the dangerous character, the one who imprisons or impedes the protagonists rite of passage is gender neutral. Fathers, (Donkeyskin, Armless Maiden) giants (Molly Whuppie) evil scorcerers (lots in South African tales) and really evil husbands (Bluebeard and Robberbridegroom) function in the same way as do their destructive female counterparts in the hags, Baba yaga, the witch of Rapunzel and nasty ogress mother in laws. I think the narratives use these characters because they have emotional resonance and speak to the underlying tensions in the community of the audience--the tension between fathers and daughters, between unknown brides and their "arranged marriage" partners, between daughters and their mother in laws, between the young fertile woman entering into married life, and the older menopausal woman who is outside of that life (and therefore also outside the arena of life being created for the protagonist). Without a huge amount of damage to the integrity of the tale, Rapunzel's witch could be a restraining father, isolating his daughter. (hello Prospero...sorry its this Shakespeare theme this summer for me!)

Though I do agree with you about the odd role that women sometimes play in their own victimization--especially in acts like FGC. And it is so difficult to change those deeply ingrained attitudes. I attended an African Studies conference years ago and this subject was discussed in a large forum with women from all over Africa--it created a terrible uproar between those African women who supported it (mostly West African) and those North African and Egyptian women who did not...these were all highly educated women trying to make a political statement about their societies and the role of women. The argument settled on the preservation of cultural integrity (believing in FGC as a cultural marker for African women) over the mistrusted attitudes of western feminism which was synonomous to western colonialist ideas (and to some African women, full of alienation, women abandoned by men and in general not fulfilling their potential as women, but trying to behave as men). For those African women who opposed it, they had a hard road to prove that one could be against FGC and still be an African woman, still be respectful of the cultures from which they came, still be members of a faith community. It was a very difficult and painful discussion to watch.

Registered User
(7/10/00 3:01:39 pm)
Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair...
Ok, so I'm corny!

But I'm back and I've been musing (and twirling my hair) about this topic during my trip and reading all the new responses. Here goes:

1) Does anyone know when in history Lady Godiva took her famous ride? Was it before or after the tale of Rapunzel? Does anyone know when the images of her (as stated in one tale, she wore braids, but in much art her hair is loose) changed?

2) In the obsession over hair, many fairy tale princesses are fair haired, with perhaps the exception of Snow White. Therefore, many men have sought out fair haired beauties to be their "princesses." When did this heavy concentration on the coloring become established? Prior to WWII?

3) Samson and Delilah- a reversal of the hair wars, where his hair is most prized, for it contains his strength. Also, if I remember correctly, long hair is of great importance in some cultural circles as well (the enforced cutting of hair of Native American children going to the mission schools comes to mind)

4) Has anyone read Zel? I read The Knot in the Grain- excellent book! (Also just finished Spindle's end- will post soon!)

5) Another few bonus songs, from your wonderful friend, Miss KC, and yes, it's again from Into the Woods:


Cinderella's Prince (CP):
Do I abuse her, or show her disdain?
Why does she run from me?
If I pursue her, how shall I regain
The heart she has won from me?
Agony! Beyond power of speech,
When the one thing you want
Is the only thing out of your reach.
Rapunzel's Prince (RP):
High in her tower, she sits by the hour,
Maintaining her hair.
Blithe and becoming, and frequently humming
A lighthearted air.. A-a-a-a-a-a-ah..
Agony! Far more painful than yours!
When you know she would go with you,
If there only were doors!
Agony! Oh the torture they teach!
What's as intriguing--
Or half so fatiguing--
As what's out of reach?
Am I not sensitive, clever, well-mannered, considerate,
Passionate, charming, as kind as I'm handsome,
And heir to the throne?!
You are everything maidens could wish for.
The why no?
Do I know?
The girl must be mad!
You know nothing of madness..
..Till you're climbing her hair, and you see her
Up there, as you're nearing her,
All the while hearing her 'A-a-a-a-a-a-ah.'
Both: Agony!
CP: Misery!
RP: Woe!
Both: Though it's different for each.
CP: Always ten steps behind--
RP: Always ten feet below--
Both: and she's just out of reach.
Agony, that can cut like a knife!
I must have her to wife.

**13.Stay With Me

Witch: What did I clearly say?
Children must listen.
Rapunzel: No, no, please!
Witch: What were you not to do?
Children must see--
Rapunzel: No!
Witch: And learn.
Why could you not obey?
Children should listen.
What have I been to you?
What would you have me be?
Handsome like a Prince?
Ah, but I am old.
I am ugly.
I embarrass you.
Rapunzel: No!
Witch: You are ashamed of me.
Rapunzel: No!
Witch: You are ashamed.
You don't understand.
Rapunzel: It was lonely atop that tower.
Witch: I was not company enough?
Rapunzel: I am no longer a child; I wish to see the world!
Witch: Don't you know what's out there in the world?
Someone has to shield you from the world.
Stay with me.
Princes wait there in the world, it's true.
Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.
Stay at home.
I am home.
Who out there could love you more than I?
What out there that I cannot supply?
Stay with me.
Stay with me,
The world is dark and wild.
Stay a child, while you can be a child.
With me.


Witch: This is the world I meant.
Couldn't you listen?
Couldn't you stay content,
Safe behind walls
As I could not..
Now you know what's out there in the world.
No one can prepare you for the world.
Even I..
How could I, who loved you as you were,
How could I have shielded you from her,
Or them?
No matter what you say,
Children won't listen.
No matter what you know,
Children refuse to learn.
Guide them along the way,
Still, they won't listen.
Children can only grow
From something you love,
To something you lose!

Unregistered User
(7/10/00 11:35:19 pm)
some Native traditions in the US
...we've been taught that the only time one cuts one's hair is when we're in mourning, that it is a sign of our sadness and loss. I know this is specifically of the Choctaw, but I know that other tribes, including Lakota and some California and Nevada tribes practice this custom also. I'm not sure if this was a custom that originated from tribe to tribe or if we all adopted it as Indian cultures became more "pan-Indian" in the latter part of the 20th century. Our son just turned four and we haven't cut his hair (some people would kill for those long, curly black locks, I know!) and my own hasn't been cut since my father died ten years ago. Again, I'm not sure if this is a traditional habit or a more modern one...Would be an interesting research project for someone...

Midori, that interpretation of hair in Rapunzel was amazing. I had never really explored exactly what the Rapunzel's locks meant, and I have been struggling with a Rapunzel-like story for quite some time and having no luck with it because I hadn't explored the theme any further. I had supposed the hair had something to do with her power, but sexual power had never crossed my mind (amazingly enough!). And again, she has to go out into the wilderness to save the prince after her hair is shorn, and yet without her hair she is still ha the healing power needed to heal the husband. What are some of the other variations of the tale (did I miss this also)among other cultures?

Cheers all,

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