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I liked this book a whole lot, it's thoughtful, complex and has well drawn characters. I wrote in a recent post that within the Rapunzel story was a retelling dying to get out here about a narcissistic overprotective over entitled adoptive parent, and this is pretty much it. It tells the story of a woman (who is just known as "Mother") who was barren and became bitter with it and would do anything to have a child including sell her soul. She is so desperate for this child and so selfish that she doesn't care about the grief and anguish she has caused to the child's mother:

the crying woman would have other children. Of course she would. she was a breeder; one look told you that. but for the running woman, the escaping woman, the child was unique

It's a really interesting critique of how being infertile in a world that says women are broken if they can't or don't have children affects women. After all this woman is extremely talented in all sorts of ways, she's musical, she's a talented seamstress and embroiderer, she has a knack with other peoples children and yet she feels broken, unfinished if she can't have her own. It also explores how some women feel so entitled to a child, any child, that they ignore the grief of the women the child comes from. When Mother discovers Zel is pregnant it is this more than the knowledge of the prince or the fact zel has kept something from her that causes her to banish Zel, her jealousy that Zel is able to have so easily something that she yearned for so long leaves her furious.

This story is also a beautiful study in mother daughter ambivalence. The narcissistic obsessive love of the mother turns itself into something abusive and controlling, convinces itself that locking Zel up in the tower is "for her own good".

Mother is desperate to keep Zel by her side easily and although she convinces herself that she wants zel to want the same out of her own free will, out of love, she also has high bargaining chips that she knows are more likely to keep Zel by her side:

I work hard too keep my arms from becoming iron like my teeth. As much as i would want to i must not shackle Zel to me. I love her. That love must be returned freely. I cannot bear anything less.And I have a ready means of persuasion p61

Zel loves her mother, deeply, as a child would if their mother was the only person they had ever really known but mixed in that love is increasing resentment and fear at the constrictions Mother places on Zels life:

Then stay with me Mother. Oh stay
I must search for the enemy
"Someday you will tire of looking for this enemy. You seem near exhaustion when you come"
"I will never tire of it Zel. I will protect you forever."
The words chill Zel more than the fall winds, more than anything else mother could have said.

Zel knows that keeping her mother happy is vitally important and in a way she wants to but she is also angry so she resorts to passive aggressive defiance:

Zels only reliable company is mother. the one slim daily hour with mother is zels best treasure. She must be obedient and good, so mother will come without fail. She calms herself...Zel feels the tension in mothers hands on her hair, Mother is always tense when zel talks of the goose. Other things make Mother Tense, also. Zel can't resist exercising her power to make mother anxious. She is almost giddy as she speaks.

Napoli has a really coherent understanding of an adolescent in mental distress. After zell has been locked up for a good amount of time her sanity starts to fracture

Zel shakes her head harder and harder...Each time her ears hit the floor they ring. Her Chest rises in pain...Pain is lovely. It stands out from a vast sea of monotony

Zel would take that sharp stone and dig trenches up the lengths of both arms, She would fill her room with blood. She would do many things. But for Mother, dear Mother

But she does not stand a second too long in the light. The suns seduction has to be planned against. The sun tries to make her believe in colours

These passages along with Zells repetitive, obsessive thought patterns and her hallucination of friendly animals depict excellently the inner workings of a trapped, emotionally abused and virtually abandoned adolescent.

One of the things I especially liked was that Napoli explained things that in the original story don't make a whole lot of sense. It never made sense to me why Rapunzel's father would agree to give his unborn child away so easily. In this retelling Mother makes thorns grow up around him that cut into his flesh and threaten him with blindness until he agrees.

I have to say though I didn't really like the prince, he seemed as obsessive and controlling as Mother, he also seemed like a scary stalker. But I suppose there is only so much you can do with fairy tale princes,

Something I didn't think about while reading the book but that strikes me now is how well the settings are described, how real and easily imaginable they are. i don't have a big imagination for places but I could see these all vividly, almost smell and feel them.

cross posted to [ profile] other_tales
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The matriarch in the Rapunzel stories is almost always described as a "wicked Enchantress" or witch and is often depicted visually as being a classic witch/hag figure

(this image is by Kay Nielsen)

(from favorite Fables)

(from Read to me: Fairy Tales)

(from fairy tales)

But actually she is a lot less wicked than many fairy tale matriarchs. While yes she does take the baby, (and there's a retelling dying to get out here about a narcissistic overprotective over entitled adoptive parent,) the witch isn't evil, she isn't wicked. In some tellings she is less likable than others and in The Annotated Brothers Grim Maria Tartar explains that: Much turns on the character of the maternal figure in the tale. But even so even at her most wicked she locks Rapunzel up in the tower to protect her, rather than punish her and she almost always does it when Rapunzel turns 12, so on the cusp of adolescence to protect her from those who may take advantage of that adolescence.

And in almost all the tellings of the story when she demands the child as payment, she says something like: I will take care of it like a mother and it will not want for anything. So unlike other fairy tale fiends she does not want to damage her through greed or spite or malice. I'm not suggesting that the way Rapunzel was treated was good but I think it’s a whole lot more complicated and has a whole lot to say about mother daughter relationships under patriarchy than just the witch being "bad".

Marina Warner also suggests that she keeps Rapunzel captive not out of wickedness but out of the need for a woman alone to be looked after in her old age:

[many retellings assume] the possessiveness of a perverted mother love between witch and captive in the Rapunzel story; a more historically based view would see that the old woman's desire for the baby girl corresponds to material needs for helping hands at home

I think Rapunzel's witch is a knitting together of Grandma and the witch She tries to resist the patriarchy or at least tries to keep Rapunzel away from patriarchal harm but she also acquiesces by needing Rapunzel in the first place, understandably, because historically older woman alone did not have a very good survival rate.Then she finally capitulates completely by blaming Rapunzel for her encounters with the prince even though she never told Rapunzel that such encounters were possible or what their consequences could be.


Dec. 18th, 2009 05:39 pm
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I really love stop motion animation which is why I posted the previous entry but I really don't like that version of the story at all. I hate that it skims over the reason rapunzel was in the tower, In all the versions I've known the story starts before Rapunzel was born with her mother and father, I think taking them out of the story takes away some really important elements.

its the only version of the story where the witch plaits rapunzel's hair by magic

I really don't like the fact that the witch blinded the prince by means of a magic spell. Usually he has his eyes pricked by thorns which is symbolic of both penetration and castration, which actually makes a whole lot more sense of the story


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October 2010

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