Fairy Tales 4: Rapunzel.

The girl with the long, golden hair.

In this look at how stories from the fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm might have drawn inspiration from The Bible, I am considering the girl with the long, golden hair, Rapunzel, or as she is called in the original tale the brothers translated, Rampion. I did not find in this story, as I had in others, a parallel narrative with a single Bible story, what I did find, was that parts of the plot might have connections and contrasts that could be inferred from a number of separate bible passages. Additionally with this tale, there seems to be a loose connection to William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest.

If you are not familiar with the story of Rapunzel (or Rampion), you can read a synopsis here and the full text here.

Rapunzel’s tale begins even before she is born. Although the author does not say that Rapunzel’s mother is pregnant at the beginning of the tale, it seems to be a reasonable assumption. If this were so, then it might have been a pregnancy craving which caused her to want to eat the rampion which, unfortunately, was growing in the garden of an enchantress. Rapunzel’s mother persuades her husband to climb into the witch’s garden, to steal some. Could this be a metaphor, for humankind’s fall from grace right at the start of the Bible?

The woman did not actually tempt her husband, as Eve did to Adam, but she did persuade him to steal the rampion (forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge?) for her. Was he just weak willed or did she use emotional blackmail; ‘you’d do it if you love me’. Whichever way it happened, like Adam and Eve they must both share some of the blame.

When the witch caught the man stealing, she demanded the couple’s first child from them in exchange for as much rampion as they wanted to take. Because the man was afraid of the witch, he agreed; the child was duly handed over after the birth and named Rapunzel.

The witch looked after the girl well but when she got to age 12, locked her in a tower in the woods (a gilded cage?). Here we find the parallel with Shakespear’s play, The Tempest, where we can imagine Prospero, Shakespeare’s magician, as the witch in our story and Prospero’s daughter, a child brought up in innocence by isolation from the world, like Rapunzel in her tower.

This next connection might be somewhat tenuous but, I can see Moses in Rapunzel. Like Rapunzel, he was taken from his family whilst a baby. Then, by being raised to manhood in Pharoe’s court, Moses was brought up far away from the harsh realities of the world outside, albeit that Moses was to come to know those realities later, all to well.

As the tale goes on when Rapunzel has matured to a young woman, she meets a prince, who whilst out riding in the forrest, happened upon the tower in which she is captive. He watches and waits by the tower, which has no door, until he sees the witch call upon Rapunzel to let down her hair, so she could climb up. Later, after the witch has gone, he copies her and so meets Rapunzel. As tends to happen in fairy tales, the girl and the prince fall in love and she agrees to marry him.

The witch, who we now know is called Frau Gothel, finds out about rapunzel’s clandestine meeting with the prince, by a slip of the tongue by Rapunzel herself. In her anger, Frau Gothel cuts off Rapunzel’s tresses, takes her out into the wilderness “where she suffered greatly” and abandons her there and then. Using the hair which she had cut off, Frau Gothel tricks the prince into the tower again, to extract her revenge on him too. The prince survives the witch’s retribution but, whilst making his escape, is blinded, leaving him stumbling about in the forrest for years. Now both Rapunzel and the prince are in a wilderness. Rapunzel, in the desert physically. They are also both in a metaphorical and emotional wilderness and spend years wandering, lost and separated, before they find each other again.

When they eventually meet again it is for them like coming home, to ‘the promised land’. But it was more than that, together they were healed and I say healed deliberately because the princes blindness was cured, like Jesus giving sight back to the blind, not healed. The healing was in their joyful reunion and might have been so even without the restoration of the prince’s sight. And then of course, like all good fairy tales, they lived happily ever after.

Others in this series:

Prequel
Fairy Tales
Fairy Tales 2: 
Fairy Tales 3: 

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