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Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair down!

Updated on November 22, 2014
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Tolovaj is a small publishing house specializing in literature for children. The theory of fairytales is one of our passions.

Picture of Rapunzel by Anne Anderson
Picture of Rapunzel by Anne Anderson | Source

Rapunzel or Tangled? - Search for the real Rapunzel, the story behind a fairy tale

Rapunzel is a classic fairy tale with astonishing history. This generation of children will know her for sure by another name: Tangled. Tangled is another superb production of Disney Company, but unfortunately in animated version many important details with powerful messages are lost.

If we want to use Rapunzel in its best edition, we should probably read one from the collection of brothers Grimm. But even them published several versions of Rapunzel and this is the place where we can ask ourselves:

Who wrote the first Rapunzel? Did she have children or not? Are the characters and story of Rapunzel based on real people and documented events?

Will you help me in my investigation? Shall we start a quest for the first girl who 'lets her hair down'?

(This illustration is work of Anne Anderson, all images in this lens are Public Domain.)

Did you know?

When Tangled came into cinemas in November 2010, it was officially the most expensive animated movie ever.

The estimated budget of Rapunzel was 260 million dollars.

The movie earned abound 600 million dollars in first year after release.

Image of rapunzel, the herb

Vignette presenting rapunzel
Vignette presenting rapunzel

Why Tangled, not Rapunzel?

- This fairy tale is now popular thanks to Disney, so we have to start here.

- We don't know why Disney changed the title, but some people believe Rapunzel sounds too 'girlish'.

- Tangled is based on Grimm's Rapunzel, so the quest after real Rapunzel should move to Germany.

Rapunzel by Otto Ubbelohde
Rapunzel by Otto Ubbelohde

Short summary of Rapunzel

We'll look at Grimm's fairy tale Rapunzel first

The story starts with a pregnant wife desperately craving for rapunzel (although it is not explicitly known what kind of herb it is, we have a reason this is a sort of salad in English called rampion) growing in the neighbor's garden.

The problem is this neighbor is a witch and when a husband of pregnant lady tries to steal from her garden in the middle of the night she forced him to make a deal. He can take what he wants if he promises his child to her when the baby is born. So she gets a child, beautiful girl with golden hair and call her Rapunzel.

The witch raises her on her own and when the girl is twelve years old, she puts her in a tower without doors. The girl needs food and drink but the witch can bring both to her only if she lets her long hair down the window. This way witch climbs up and down and on one occasion a prince hunting near the tower heard her:

"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair down!"

So he starts visiting Rapunzel by nights until she gives away her secret visitor to the witch. Both are punished: prince becomes blind and Rapunzel is taken into wilderness. After some time they found each other, he gets his sight back and happy ending follows...

Grimm's Rapunzel was based on stories from France and Italy

The presentation of tower with Rapunzel in theme park
The presentation of tower with Rapunzel in theme park

Giambattista Basile published a story titled Petrosinella in his Pentamerone. Petrosinella is latin name for parsley, herb with supposedly magic powers. The name also carries important symbolic meaning, because 'petra' is latin for 'rock', what connects the titled character of the story with the tower she was locked in.

Her jailer wasn't a witch, it was an ogress and it was eaten by a wolf who came to help Petrosinella after using some magic.

Pretty good relation with Grimm's version, but we have found some documents stating Jacob and Wilhelm included their Rapunzel after hearing Friedrich Schulz's translation of Persinette (French for parsley). This fairy tale was written by Charlotte Rose de Caumont de la Force and she is our first suspect in the search for real Rapunzel.

Her Persinette was locked too, but she was kept by a fairy, not an ogress.

Brothers Grimm included Schultz's Rapunzel in their first edition without knowing its literary origins. They believed it came from oral folk tradition but someone probably told them the story he (or she) heard (or read) from Schultz's story.

We must note Grimms didn't feel the witch (they opted for a witch instead of an ogress or a fairy) should be punished in the end because in their opinion she didn't do anything wrong. She did her part of the deal (provided the herb) and she was entitled to the child.

All right. So can we believe Persinette was based on real story of Charlotte Rose de la Force? Shall we move our investigation to the France?

Louis XIV portrait
Louis XIV portrait

Suspect: Charlotte Rose de Caumont de la Force

Madame de la Force was of noble origin. She was very liberal minded. Although she was raised as protestant she converted to catholic religion because in her time all noblemen were rewarded with sort of pension from the king if they did that.

Being relatively rich she didn't have to deal with worries of everyday life, so she could concentrate on literature and poetry. And before we forget: her love life was pretty advanced for 17th century. Among other affairs she secretly married much younger man but his and her family achieved cancellation of this marriage.

Although the king (in the picture on the right) was de la Force's friend, the scandal was to big and he offered her she can keep her rent and live comfortable life, if she withdraw in a convent and there she wrote many works with Persinette being the most popular of all.

Madame de la Force put into a fairy tale about Persinette some important elements related to her own life experience.

First of all she was guarded with a fairy. Her prison was nice, full of light and fairy was probably allusion of Louis XIV. Second, it has happy ending. The couple in love suffered a lot but fairy (angry because of their improper behavior) finally forgave them and in the end they all live happily ever after. And third, parsley was most popular herb growing in convent's garden.

Parsley wasn't very common in 17th century and it was connected with magic powers. Charlotte Rose de la Force on several occasion wrote how much joy she experienced when she was eating it.

Sounds like an obsessed pregnant lady from the beginning of Grimm's fairy tale, right?

Objection!

Fact No. 1: Persinette was written about one hundred years after Petrosinella.

Fact No. 2: Madame de la Force surely knew the stories from Pentamerone.

Conclusion: De la Force's life has many similarities with Rapunzel but she can't be the model for Rapunzel. We should go to Italy!

What do we know about Basile's version of Rapunzel?

Original author of Rapunzel
Original author of Rapunzel

Witness: Giovanni Battista Basile (aka Giambattista Basile)

Basile was poet, writer and fairy tale collector from 16 century. His work on the field of fairy tales wasn't very known for several reasons:

- Being courtier and soldier he was very engaged in other areas. His collection of fairy tales was published posthumously and under pseudonym.

- The book of fairy tales (and don't forget, they were not appropriate for kids by today's standards) now known as Pentamerone, was written in Neapolitan dialect and wasn't translated to other languages more than hundred years (in German 1846, in English 1848 and in Italian only in 1925!).

- Despite the fact Grimms praised Pentamerone as first national collection of fairy tales and folk fables, it is hard to say they really were national, because they were full of foreign words (Arabic, Greek, Persian, Spanish, Turkish...), even the frame of the story, resembling more known Decamerone by Bocaccio, is very similar to Arabian Nights, there are many characters of Oriental origin in tales...

Illustration from Pentamerone, The Story of the Stories, by George Cruikshank (published in 1848) - Note: Petrosinella (most influential source for Rapunzel) is

Images from three tales from Pentamerone, scenes from Petrosinella are in the first line
Images from three tales from Pentamerone, scenes from Petrosinella are in the first line

In top illustrations we see Petrosinella's (Rapunzel's) mother with an ogress and Petrosinella with her signature long hair with a prince.

What Grimms said about Basile's resources?

Brothers Grimm on banknote
Brothers Grimm on banknote

Brothers Grimm were romantic nationalists, so they were trying to find roots for the fairy tales in their collections. Sometimes they really found them and sometimes they only thought they found them.

And sometimes they rewrote a tale a bit so it better fit into their model.

We know they included first version of Rapunzel (where she was pregnant) without knowing the work of Basile. We also know in later versions (where they already knew about Petrosinella), Rapunzel don't have children anymore (like Petrosinella), but this change could be a result of making fairy tales more appropriate for children (they changed most of other fairy tales too).

We know Grimms praised Basile's Pentamerone as a great collection of fairy tales who supposed to be 'the echoes of ancient European myths'.

But can we find a myth with similarities to Petrosinella (aka Rapunzel)? On what source shall we put our money?

Facts

- Basile was living in Crete for several years.

- He was in contact with a lot of people from all parts of the world, especially from Orient.

- Basile was great fan of Hindu poetry and other literary works from East.

We should continue the investigation somewhere in the East!

Basile as a man of the letters was surely aware of old Persian myth with a character very similar to Rapunzel.

Suspect: Rudaba (aka Rudabeh aka Roodabeh)

Image of Rudaba, possible role model for Rapunzel
Image of Rudaba, possible role model for Rapunzel

Rudaba is a female mythological character from Persian epic Shahnameh. This epic was written between 977 and 1010 (yes, more than thirty years of work!) by famous Persian poet Hakim Abu'l-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi, more known as simply Ferdowsi. Shahnameh is most influential literary work in Persian history and it can be compared to Bible in Western world.

Rudaba is a beautiful princes from Kabul, her name can be translated as 'She, who came from the river water' or 'Shining child' depending on what translation we depend. In both cases her name was associated with her astonishing beauty, what includes hair, curves, lips, eyes... The description is very poetic and it is obvious this kind of beauty will sooner or later cause troubles.

So her father did everything to seclude her from everybody outside of the closest family. She lived in a beautiful castle, she had everything, but she really was in prison.

The situation starts complicating when gossip about her beauty reached Zal...

Who is Zal?

Zal was another hero from the same myth! - Note: her long hair will serve as ladder just like Rapunzel's to her lover's!

Zal, Rudaba's lover
Zal, Rudaba's lover

Zal was a son of a great warrior Sam and grandson of Nariman, another ancient Persian hero from Shahnameh. Sam was powerful king but when his son was born with white hair this was considered as a bad omen and the baby, named Zal (Zaall means albino in Persian) was left upon high mountain.

Zal was saved and raised by a mythological creature Simurgh, a beast slightly similar to the Phoenix (also known as Fire Bird). When Zal grew up, Simurgh gave him some magical feathers and told him to burn one if he gets into trouble.

Everything looked fine for some time, Zal's father took his son back, they became friends, they were rich and healthy... Then Zal heard about Rudaba and her amazing beauty. He wanted to see her and he had fallen in love.

They decided to get married, but their families disapproved marriage (they belonged to different religions). After consultations with astrologers who predicted the birth of great hero from their relationship Zal's and Rudaba' father finally gave up.

Her pregnancy almost killed her and the baby who was extremely large. But luckily Zal remembered Simurgh, burned his magic feather and got instructions how to save his wife and newborn - he supposedly made first caesarean section in history!

Rudaba gives birth to Rostam - Remember: in some versions of a fairy tale Rapunzel becomes a mother too!

Birth of Rostam
Birth of Rostam

Similarities between Ruddaba and Persinette (inspired by Petrosinella)

- Beautiful girl isolated from outside world.

- Long hair used as a ladder.

- Parents (custodians) opposing the marriage, but finally approving it.

- Help of magic creature.

- Many troubles for the couple and happy ending.

All right, this myth has some similarities with both tales, but is it based on the real person?

Suspect: Saint Barbara - Was the character of Rudaba made after Santa Barbara?

Portrait of Saint Brabara, inspiration of Rudaba
Portrait of Saint Brabara, inspiration of Rudaba

In our quest after real Rapunzel we have to travel back into third century, although oldest documents mention her name only in seventh century.

Her name was Barbara (word comes from Greek for 'foreign' - remember: barbaric!). She was a daughter of a wealthy merchant Dioscorus and lived in the area of today's Turkey (not far from Persia). When she had grown up her father locked her into a tower to isolate her from bad influence of the outside world (especially boys).

The girl secretly converted to Christian religion which was banned. When her father found out, he turned her to authorities who tortured her to give up on her religion but she persisted and finally she was convicted to death sentence. Her own father had cut her head off!

From the moment her father found out about her conversion to her death several miracles occurred:

- She was transported through the wall of the tower to the forest.

- Her wounds made with torture were healed right away.

- When they tried to burn her with torches the flame went away.

- Very soon after her father killed her, he was killed by lightning.

- Her tomb became the place where more miracles occurred in next years.

She became a patron of artillerymen, miners, gunsmiths and all folks dealing with fire and explosives. She is protectress against lightnings, fire and violent storms.

Lack of documentation caused her name being erased from the list of the saints by Catholic Church in 1969, but she is still extremely popular saint especially in Orthodox Church and Anglican Communion. Saint Barbara's day, December 4th is celebrated in many organisations, mostly military and mining and among others Barbara is patron of American and Italian Navy.

Saint Barbara by Robert Campin
Saint Barbara by Robert Campin

Similarities between St. Barbara and several versions of Rapunzel

Authoritative, over protective and arrogant parent. (All versions.)

Girl locked into a tower to protect her from the outside world. (All versions.)

She had long hair! (Rapunzel's most distinctive feature which is also found in all versions.)

She rejected the marriage her father arranged for her. (Rudaba had the same problem with Zal and Madame de la force with Charles Briou.)

Escape with a help of miracles. (Magical animal helpers in Petrosinella, magic feather saving life of Rudaba.)

Connection with fire. (Fire bird in Rudaba, magic feather helps to save her life.)

Love wins despite the many obstacles. (This stands for most fairy tales...)

So can we say, we have finally found the true Rapunzel? The girl who didn't want to listen the authority and used her own mind to make her own decisions?

Let's be honest. We don't have a proof Saint Barbara even existed. But we know something else for sure...

Every single girl from past, present or future can be a role model for Rapunzel!

The perfect model for Rapunzel!

Rapunzel by Johnny Gruelle
Rapunzel by Johnny Gruelle | Source

Which character was real Rapunzel in your opinion?

See results
Philipp Grot Johann: Raapunzel
Philipp Grot Johann: Raapunzel

The pains of growing up

Every kid in the world will sooner or later experience same situations:

1. Parents who can't protect him.

2. Parents who can't let him (her) go despite the fact he (she) is a grown up.

3. Fight with parents.

Many fairy tales deal with at least one of these situation and we can find all three situations in Rapunzel in all variations. Sometimes a parent is replaced with a witch or ogress or mythological creature and sometimes the final fight with parents is not very intense. But we can find it in every single story presented above.

But the ultimate truth can be find in a sentence with double meaning:

1. Give me a ladder, help me to come up and help you.

2. Loose your inhibitions and take risk. You are grown up now!

This sentence is of course:

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair down!

Edward Henry Wehnert: image of the witch from Rapunzel
Edward Henry Wehnert: image of the witch from Rapunzel
Vignette of Rapunzel with her children by Walter Crane
Vignette of Rapunzel with her children by Walter Crane | Source

Which do you prefer? Tangled or Rapunzel? - Or Madame de la Force, Rudaba or Saint Barbara?

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    • getstuffed profile image

      getstuffed 4 years ago

      rapunzel

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I loved Tangled and I love your lens. Blessed!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @getstuffed: Me too:)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you very much:)

    • rawwwwwws lm profile image

      rawwwwwws lm 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, reminds me of Tangled and Rapunzel.. I really cannot pick between both because Rapunzel is a classic and seeing Tangeled as well it's more pixar..

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I go with Rapunzel because I always wondered how her life was after she let down her golden hair and must have heard Mom read it to us at least 50 times. You certainly did your research here and I can tell you had fun, wonderfully done!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @rawwwwwws lm: :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Thank you very much, it really was a fun journey.

    • Oikouros profile image

      Oikouros 4 years ago

      What a beautiful lens... and they are all beautiful stories, though I don't think every young person goes through that with parents. :) I see my role as a mom being to work myself out of a job. I look forward to the day when my children look me in the eye and say "mom, I've got this now," and i raise them to have the courage to do so! These stories though are great reminders to us as parents that we CANNOT lock our children in a tower to "protect" them! thank you for some beautiful stories!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Oikouros: Sure, not every child has so intense relation with his parents, but there are always some tensions when child grows up and everybody has to adapt to the new situation.

      I guess these stories are not only stories about growing up from kid to adult, they are also talking about how parent should never stop learning and adapting. Maybe one day he becomes a great grandparent!

      Thanks for your visit and comment:)

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 4 years ago

      If I had to pick, I would go with Rapunzel. Interesting lens and I can see you have done a lot of work.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @jolou: Thank you!

    • goo2eyes lm profile image

      goo2eyes lm 4 years ago

      the real grimm story is much better but tangled is funnier.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @goo2eyes lm: I haven't seen Tangled, but I knowing how Disney makes the movies, I believe you:)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You are a master narrator and I love your work! :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: :))

    • profile image

      BeyondRoses 4 years ago

      Without a doubt, Rapunzel. I remember the fairy tale from childhood, and saw an enchanting movie version at my son's when he had it on for my granddaughter.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @BeyondRoses: I prefer Rapunzel too:)

    • profile image

      sailor_man 4 years ago

      as interesting read

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @sailor_man: Really? Thanks!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @ladyyummy: :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Your grasp of the history of what I always thought was a simple fairy tale is amazing. Great lens!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: That was my intention. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Elastara 4 years ago

      I prefer Rapunzel.

      When I was a child, I was amazed by its fairy tale.

      The fascinating long-haired maiden.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Elastara: She really is fascinating.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Returning with a fresh dusting...

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: I appreciate it!

    • profile image

      infoprogirl 4 years ago

      I like them both actually but my favorite is Rapunzel.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @infoprogirl: She is really something!

    • Felicitas profile image

      Felicitas 4 years ago

      I prefer Rapunzel. To me, it sounds more magical and romantic. But, maybe that's just because it's the name I remember from childhood.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Felicitas: She certainly brings memories back:)

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      I like Rapunzel. Truthfully, I've never heard of Tangled

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kabbalah lm: Well, Tangled is Rapunzel in Disneyland:)

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed-superb-enjoyed

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @siobhanryan: Thanks!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Had to return to pin another brilliant lens of yours.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      Pinning again to another board.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      The kids are on winter break, so we must watch Tangled again. I'm such a Disney fan.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Good to have so many breaks:)

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