Let Your Hair Down

As a child, I remember the story of Rapunzel long before Disney tangled it into an animated movie. I distinctly remember asking about rampion and why anyone would eat it. When I discovered it was a leafy green with an edible root similar to parsnips, I could not see how anyone would crave it so much to base a whole story on it, let alone name the  main character after it .Rapunzel – Grimms’ Fairy Tales

Rampion, grown primarily in Europe has some legendary baggage. There is an Italian tradition that the possession of a rampion excites quarrels among children. In an old Calabrian tale, a maiden, uprooting a rampion in a field, discovers a staircase that leads to a palace far down in the depths of the earth.https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/r/rampio03.html


The Rapunzel story I learned as a child has a few versions older than the Grimm’s brother’s tale. Catalogued as folklore type 310, these similar tales are known as The Maiden in the Tower in the ATU system.
In southern Italy, Giambattista Basile collected European folktales in the late 16th and early 17th century. In his collection is Petrosinella, a 1634 Maiden in the Tower tale. His collections include the oldest recorded forms of many well-known European tales.

 Steven Swann Jones, The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of Imagination, Twayne Publishers, New York, 1995, ISBN0-8057-0950-9, p38.

The French followed with their own Maiden in the Tower story in 1698. Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force wrote Persinette. Both her tale and Basile’s tale has the young heroine named for parsley rather than rampion. Mademoiselle de La Force is featured as a main character in Kate Forsyth‘s Bitter Greens; a fairy-tale retelling of the Rapunzel tale.

I have read these three accounts and allow me to point out some of the key differences in three tales: Basile (1634), de La Force (1698), and Grimm (1812).

  1. Italy (1634)
  2. Villain ogress
  3. Promise with… pregnant woman who is hungry for parsley
  4. Name baby Petrosinella (parsely)
  5. Prince Seduces her
  6. Discovery of the prince’s visit. Neighbor tells of the romance
  7. Punishment Magic acorns kills ogress
  8. Ending Happy ever after escape
  1. France (1698)
  2. Villain fairy takes child
  3. Promise with… husband looking to please his wife
  4. Name baby Persinette (parsely)
  5. Prince Marries her in the tower
  6. Discovery of the prince’s visit. She is pregnant
  7. Punishment Prince is thrown into thistles and blinded, Persinette banished. 
  8. Ending Prince wanders until he finds her, tears restore his sight, live together with their twins, boy and girl.
  1. German (1812)
  2. Villain witch 
  3. Promise with… husband looking to please his wife
  4. Name baby Rapunzel (rampion)
  5. Prince Wants her to be his queen.
  6. Discovery of the prince’s visit. Rapunzel accidentally mentions the prince’s visit.
  7. Punishment Prince is thrown into thistles and blinded, Rapunzel sent to wilderness. 
  8. Ending Prince wanders until he finds her, tears restore his sight, live together with their twins, boy and girl.

Note that although we think of Rapunzel as a German tale since the Grimm’s brothers included it in their collection of tales, neither of  the authors of the tales are German. In fact there is no evidence of a Germanic oral version of the story, despite the Grimm’s brother’s believing they were recording a German tale. Getty, Laura J (1997). “Maidens and their guardians: Reinterpreting the Rapunzel tale”. Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. 30: 37–52 – via JSTOR.

I suppose Disney calling their version of the story, Tangled, is fitting. Other than following the maiden in the tower motif, most of the story strays significantly from the early tales. Rapunzel was not royal and it was her humble beginnings that had her parents make the deal to trade her for simple foods like salad in the first place. Her rescuer was not an outlaw but a prince and there is no dark-side blinding or banishing of the main characters in Disney.
The story does seem to continue to evolve however. There is a 2014 young adult novel by Marrisa Meyer called Cress. The story is loosely based on the fairy tale of “Rapunzel“, similar to its predecessors Cinder and Scarlet which were loosely based on “Cinderella” and “Little Red Riding Hood” respectively. This is the third book in her Luna series.  Cress – Marissa Meyer

Hope this fairytale unraveling did not leave you tangled at all. Next week, it will be time to share another recipe.

2 thoughts on “Let Your Hair Down

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