The History of Rapunzel | Fairy Tales with Jen


Hi everyone, my name is Jen Campbell. I’m
an author, I make videos about books on this channel and I also talk about the
history of fairy tales. It’s a topic that I love very much,
in fact I give talks on this topic at universities and book festivals around
the UK and I have a whole series of videos on this channel where I dissect
particular tales, looking at the stories behind the story that we think
we know and then the true history that may have inspired that story in the
first place. I have videos dissecting Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty
Hansel and Gretel, Snow White …lots; I’ll leave them in the description box down
below. Today we’re going to be talking about Rapunzel. I’m able to make these
videos due to the kind support from people over on Patreon, so if you enjoy
my videos, specifically these ones, the disfigment videos, my podcast etc which
are the ones that take some most time to make, it would mean so much if you
consider supporting me on Patreon. I want to keep all of this content free but I
massively appreciate any support from Patreon which allows me to be able to
make this content freely available for everybody. So as I said today we’re going
to be talking about Rapunzel. Before we delve into the history, let’s look at the
Grimm version of the tale, specifically the 1812 edition which is available in
English in this book here translated by Jack Zipes, which was published a few
years ago. As I mentioned in previous fairytale videos, the Grimms were great
revisionists and it was the later edition, specifically the one published
in 1858, that got translated into English which was slightly less gruesome than the
1812/1815 versions, so let’s look at the original — I’m going to use air quotes — Grimm
tale and then we’ll go back further than that and see where this tale came from.
Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who longed for a child but
couldn’t have one. They tried for many years until one day, miraculously, the
woman fell pregnant but when she was pregnant she longed for the Rapunzel
flower, which grew in a fairy’s garden right behind their house. She began to
wither away because she wasn’t eating the thing that she most desired and so
her husband, worried for her health, hopped over the fence, went into the
fairy’s garden and started stealing all of the Rapunzel flowers. He kept on doing
this every night until one day the fairy found him and she said “excuse me what
are you doing in my garden stealing all of my things?” and the man said “I’m very
sorry but my wife really needs them she’s pregnant, you see, and she’s craving them”. So the fairy said “that’s all right, you can keep doing that but I am going
to steal your baby.” The man wasn’t sure that this was actually going to happen
but sure enough the fairy appeared when the child was born and stole it away. The
fairy brought the child up in her own house but when Rapunzel became 12 she
turned into a very beautiful young girl so the fairy decided to look her up in a
tower …because that’s apparently what you do with beautiful girls. This tower
had no stairs and only a very small window and every day the fairy would go
there and shout out “Rapunzel!” (because she named her after that flower) “Rapunzel,
Rapunzel, let down your hair!” So Rapunzel would let down her hair, the fairy would
climb to the top, and then one day a prince rode by and saw this happening
so when the fairy went away the prince came back and repeated the same phrase
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” and she did and the prince climbed up it. The
two of them fell in love and started spending a lot of time together and
shock! horror! Rapunzel became pregnant. The fairy was a furious Rapunzel gave
birth to twins and the fairy cut off Rapunzel’s hair and banished her to a
distant part of the kingdom, then when the Prince came back and shouted
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” the fairy let down the hair, the Prince
climbed up it, met the fairy and the fairy said how dare you get my adoptive
/ kidnap daughter pregnant, you will never see her again and, upset, the Prince
threw himself from the tower. He suffered a few broken bones but was okay apart
from the fact that he fell on some thorns, the thorns pricked his eyes and
he became blind, so he wandered off in search of the woman that he loved and
eventually he heard her singing and when she found him she cried on his eyes,
which ended up healing his eyes, he was able to see and they lived happily ever after.
There are many different motifs tied up in the idea of Rapunzel, the main one
being the maid in in the tower, but we have this idea of
“femininity” I always end up using all of the air quotes when I do this fairy tale
videos, but the idea of societal “femininity” and how that is locked up in
the locks of women’s hair. I’ve spoken about this quite a lot because I have
alopecia so feel quite a close connection with it but I also talked
about it in my history of the Little Mermaid video because, in that, the Little
Mermaid’s sisters give up their hair as the air quotes “ultimate sacrifice” to try
and save their sister, so I’ll link my alopecia videos down below and The
Little Mermaid a video, too. It’s often the case with fairy tales that we can trace
them back to Greek mythology; we can do that with Beauty and the Beast, with
Sleeping Beauty, with Snow White; it’s difficult to do that with Rapunzel,
though there are many myths where women are locked up in confined spaces such as
Danae, who if I remember correctly is looked in an underground copper
compartment but I think the earliest version of Rapunzel with the
recognizable letting down of the hair is from a long epic Persian poem in the
900s called Shahnameh, where a woman lets down her tresses so that her
lover Zal can climb up to the top, did you like that that motion? After that we
can find lots of different instances of these tales in different cultures and
I’ve spoken about how this is how fairy tales were transported; we didn’t write
them down until much later, it’s those versions all written down and
collected that we have but before that they were told orally, so there are lots
of different tales of Rapunzel and I could go on for days telling you about
all of them but I’ve chosen some of my favorites to tell you about today. So as
I said there are lots of different versions of Rapunzel in lots of
different languages but there are loads in Italian and that’s probably because
Giambattista Basile wrote an Italian version of Rapunzel before it was called
Rapunzel in 1634 called Petrosinella and in that the mother didn’t crave the
Rapunzel flower, she craved parsley which is somehow less romantic and it wasn’t a
fairy’s garden either it was an ogre’s. Petrosinella is then locked up in a
tower and the ogre comes visit her and she actually ends up rescuing
herself by overhearing about these magical acorns that she then steals and
uses as a means of escape. There’s another Italian version of the tale
called Prunella in which is the Rapunzel figure is the one who steals the
flowers in the first place so it feels a little more justified that she’s the one
that gets punished, and in this she’s locked up in a witch’s garden and is
forced to do all of these horrible tasks but then the witch’s son falls in love
with her and tries to help her out by doing the tasks for her, but she doesn’t
trust him because he’s the son of a witch and it’s only later when he saves
her life that they end up running away together and living happily ever after. The final Italian version I’m going to mention before moving on to other
languages is one called The Fair Angiola, in which seven women all neighbours
continually steal fruit from a witch’s garden and they feed her donkey, so that
the donkey won’t tell on them, but then the witch notices that all of her fruit
is disappearing so she hides in a hole and one of the women, thinking that her
one of her ears is a fruit, tries to pick it and then the witch jumps up, they
all run away apart from one of them who was captured and the witch says to her
“you must give me your child when she is seven years old.” As I mentioned before
the numbers seven and three are really important in fairy tales, so this young
girl is called Angiola, and when she is seven the witch comes back to claim her
and she says to Angiola “tell your mum to remember her promise” so Angiola goes to
her mum and says “there is a lady outside who says that you’ve made a promise to
her” and the mother says “no” because she doesn’t want her daughter to go and she
says next time you see the woman just pretend that you haven’t passed on that
message, and that happens three times — again the repetition is important
because it meant that people could remember things more clearly if they
were repeated — so the witch approaches the young girl three times, three times the young
girl says “I didn’t pass on that message I’m terribly sorry” so the witch gets
pretty pissed off so she eats one of her fingers, you know, just for… reasons,
and then the young girl, Angiola, runs back to her mother and she says “the withc cut off my finger!” and her mother says “okay, well, she might eat the rest of you, so you
should probably go to her now.” So the witch locks her up in a tower. Angela is
cared for by the witch, though, that witch loves
like her own daughter and climbs up her hair every day to visit
her. One day a Prince hears what is happening so copies what the witch is doing, climbs
up to the top, they fall in love, they decide they’re going to run away together
but to stop the furniture in the room telling the witch where they’ve gone —
because apparently animals and furniture all talk in this story — Angiola decides to
feed the furniture in order to stop them telling on her. But she forgets the feed
of the broom. Never forget to feed the broom! So she steals [sorry, Jean is laughing over there], so they leave
having taken three balls of magical yarn it doesn’t say how they escape from the
tower that she’s been locked in, maybe they use the yarn to let themselves down…
I really I don’t know but anyway they take that particular yarn with them
and then when the witch returns to the tower looking for Angiola the broom,
having not been fed and being very hungry and angry — hangry, in fact — tells
the witch where they’ve gone. I should also say that Angiola had a lovely little dog
who ran away with her,too, so the which runs after Angiola and the prince and Angiola
uses these three balls of yarn and throws them behind her one by one to try
and help them escape. The first ball of yarn turned into a mountain of soap and
nearly stopped the witch getting past but she was still able to get over it.
The second ball of yarn turned into a mountain of sharp nails and nearly
stopped the witch getting over it but she was able to get through it in the
end. The third ball of yarn turned into a mighty river that just kept on and on
expanding and the witch couldn’t get past it but in a fit of fury
she said Angiola I curse you and I turn your face into that of a dog. So Angiola’s face is turned into that of a dog and the prince says “I can’t take you
home to marry you now because you have the face of a dog, my father would never
allow it!” so if he puts her in a cottage in the
woods and goes to visit her. She’s very sad about it and then their pet dog
decides to run all the way home to the witch and uses its persuasive doggish powers
to persuade the witch to turn Angiola’s face back into her own face and
eventually the witch agrees and she forgives Angiola, and the prince
Angiola marry and live happily ever after. Let’s move on to a French one
which is recorded by Madame D’Aulnoy who’s one of my favorite folklorists and
a lot of her work hasn’t been translated into English which I find so very
frustrating. She was a total badass, possibly a spy, I don’t know if that’s
true but I’m going to believe it because it sounds great. This is a version of
Rapunzel that just kind of runs away with itself in the same way that
Giambattista Basile’s version of Hansel and Gretel started out as the Hansel and
Gretel we know and then turned into an epic adventure where Gretel becomes a
pirate and if you want to find out about that I will link it down below. So this
is her version which is called The White Cat and begins as a Rapunzel story and
then just turns into something else entirely.
So a king and a queen ruled over six kingdoms and the Queen loved exploring
so she would often go out with her group of women who would assist her and
she would go traveling all around the world, and then one day she found a
kingdom that had a castle in it, and that castle glowed red out of the forest and
on the bricks of this castle were illustrated all the fairy tales that she
had ever heard in her life, and in the grounds of the castle there was lots of
fruit and she so wanted to eat it but she couldn’t get in. Then a fairy
appeared and said “would you like to eat some of this fruit?” and she said “I would
really love to because I feel like I’m going to die if I can’t eat some of that
fruit” and the fairy said “well, that’s okay but you must give me your child if
you eat this fruit” and she said “yeah, okay, I’m really hungry” so she eats the
fruit. Apparently it’s delicious. She goes back
to her kingdom, she forgets about that happening, she has a baby, the fairy comes
to collect the baby and the king and queen say “no, you can’t have our child” so
the fairy gets her dragon to kill everyone in their kingdom… where have I
heard that before? Oh, yeah. So then when that happens the king and queen hand over their child and the fairy takes it
away. She locks the girl in the tower and the girl grows up becomes a
beautiful maiden, lets down her hair, all of that stuff that we’re very familiar
with. Then one day a prince comes along and falls in love with this girl at the
top of the tower, so he climbs up to the top of the tower
and then the princess says “I would like to run away with you”
so they make a plan to run away together but then the fairy hears about it and
when they try to run away together the dragon eats the prince, which is not, you
know… I mean, it’s just a bit extreme. The the princess is very
upset and the fairy says “as punishment, I’m turning you into a cat!” I was going
to say do you know where this is going? but actually the fairy tale is
called The White Cat, so maybe you did. So this is kind mash up between Rapunzel and Beauty and the Beast, so the fairy turns this
Rapunzel type character into a cat and she says “you will be the most beautiful
white cat but the only way that you can turn back into being a princess is if a
prince, who looks exactly like the one I just had my dragon murder, falls in love
with you.” Neanwhile in a distant Kingdom a king is confused because he’s
trying to work out which of his three sons he should leave his kingdom to, which is
quite biblical and all that, and he says “I can’t decide who I should leave my
kingdom to, so I’m going to set the three of you a task: you must go away and bring me
back the cutest, smallest dog I can live in retirement with,” which seems a
really very strange request but, you know, fine… so the three sons go off
looking for the teeny tiniest cutest dog in all of the land. The youngest son
comes across this castle which glows red in the middle of the forest and on every
brick is the image of every fairy tale he’s ever read. He knocks on the door, it
opens and there are lots of torches held by disembodied hands and he walks
through this castle which is full of cats that are playing music and singing
and dancing and then he goes into a banquet hall where there’s a beautiful
white cat and she says “why don’t you sit down and have some food with me?” so he
does and she notices that he looks quite like the Prince that she used to love.
She drugs him, makes him forget that he’s supposed to be on this epic quest and
they have a great year together; they hang out, they go hunting,
he rides a horse, she rides on a monkey, as you do, and then when it gets to near
the end of the year she makes him remember and says “isn’t there
something that you were supposed to be getting?” and he says “my goodness, yes,
I’m supposed to be finding the teeny tiniest cutest dog on all the land to
take back to my father!” and she says “don’t worry, here here’s an acorn, take
this back to your father.” So he does. The other two sons have brought back, I
imagine, lovely chihuahuas and he has this acorn which he presents to his dad when
his dad opens it inside it is the tiniest dog you’ve ever seen in your life
and the father says “well, this is very nice but I’ve thought of another task
that you could do. I need some beautiful silk in my retirement. Go away and find
the thinnest loveliest thread that you possibly can!” The three of them go away,
the youngest goes back to the castle, to the cat, spends another year with her, she
presents him with a walnut which he takes back to the king, when he opens it
it is the thinnest thread you could possibly imagine that he’s able to
thread through the eye of a needle six times, he says: “okay, well
that’s great, I have my dog and I have my silk but I’m going to set a third task. I
say that whoever gets the most beautiful bride in the next year will inherit my
kingdom.” So off they go, he goes back to the cat’s and he says “I don’t know what
to do” and she says “trust me: cut off my head!” so he does and he cuts off her head
and she turns into a beautiful maiden and he takes her back to her father and
he says “wow, she’s really quite something” and she says “actually, that’s fine, I’m
not here to take your kingdom. I already have six kingdoms of my own that I’ve
inherited from my parents, so actually I’m going to gift you a kingdom, I’m going to
gift each of your two sons a kingdom and then we’re going to rule over the other
three kingdoms. I don’t want to come over and steal all of your stuff,”
and the father says “well, that’s really great” and they live happily ever after
though forgetting that the father has not actually solved the problem that he was
trying to solve in the first place but, you know, she’s no longer a cat… the
end. There’s also an Egyptian version of the tale called Louliyaa, Daughter of Morgan,
in which the idea of the maiden in the tower is a curse which is bestowed on
people, so there are parents who really want a child and can’t
have one and they make a promise to the local community saying if they have a
son they’ll call him Yosef and they will build three wells, one filled with honey,
one with butter and one with rose water but then they forget and their
community starts to starve, so they quickly build these wells, everyone comes
and takes what they need and then an old woman comes when the wells are empty
and she manages to scrape just enough off the sides but as she turns to go
Yosef, the young boy, gets in her way accidentally and makes her drop
everything she’s worked hard to get out of the well
so she says “I curse you with Louliyya, Daughter of Morgan!” Now, Yosef doesn’t
know what this means. He asks everyone, his parents cry saying they don’t want to
tell him but it turns out it means he’s been cursed with going on this quest to
find this beautiful woman locked in a tower and no one has ever returned
successfully from this quest. However he decides to accept the quest
and go on it and on his way he meets four ogres and because he’s polite to
the ogres, which no one has ever been before, they help him and he manages to
get to the tower and marry the woman locked up in it which i think is quite
cool: kindness, always be kind! Along with The White Cat, which i think is one of my
favorite versions of Rapunzel because it’s so endless and ridiculous, another
favorite of mine is a Russian fairy tale called Golden Hair which is about a
woman with golden hair but not only is her hair golden like the Sun it is
actually made of gold, and I kind of love how literal that is. A hunter called Aylip
goes to a lake where he sees a beautiful woman sitting and this woman proposes to
him — she proposes to him! And he says “I would love to marry you, let’s go!”, and
she says “I can’t move because my hair weighs so much”… she literally cannot
move. The reason that her hair is made of gold is because she is the daughter of
Poloz the Great Snake who’s in Siberian folklore and he rules over and controls
all of the gold in the land. So Aylip goes to help her; he picks up
her hair which is really heavy so she can stand up and they try and
make their escape but then suddenly her father appears in
rage, cuts off Golden Hair’s hair, which is very difficult to say and drags her
underground, which i think makes the tale a little bit like Persephone. Golden Hair’s
nanny then tells Aylip that he should come back in 3 years time (again we have
the number three). She said that if he comes back and she remembers him and
still wants to leave with him maybe that will mean that their love
will be so powerful that they’ll be able to escape. So this happens several times
but each time the father appears and each time Aylip keeps on coming back.
Meanwhile on his travels Aylip discovers this great lake and he hears tell that
Poloz the Great Snake cannot go underneath it; he has no control under this lake. I
like to think because this is a lake that’s made of silver and that clashes
with his gold… I don’t know, that’s just something I’ve created in my head, it’s
not in the story but let’s go with it, so then the final time he goes to rescue
her he manages to get her away and then the two of them live under this,
let’s say silver, lake very happily for the rest of their lives. Before we go
let’s quickly look at the real history of Rapunzel. There was Saint Barbara who
existed in the 3rd century. Some say it’s questionable whether or
not the things that happened to her did happen, which is why she’s been removed
from the Roman Calendar but she’s still classed as a saint, and as with anything
I’m sure that a woman called Barbara did exist and that some of these things
happened to her, they’ve just become embellished over time, turned into legend and
then became fairy tale. Barbara was locked up in a tower by her father who
was trying to protect her because she was a very beautiful woman and
apparently that meant that you had to be locked up. He was a pagan, she secretly
converted to Christianity which was not OK in his books. He didn’t know about
this, went off on business and when he was away she saw that he had requested
that a personal bathhouse be built with two windows, but she
secretly requested that they actually add a third window and turn it into a
private bath house with three windows to represent the Holy Trinity, and when her
father saw this he said “girl, you must have converted to Christianity, that’s
not okay!” and she said yes and she ran away. He chased her, she prayed very hard
and a opening on a hill appeared and she was able to dart inside it in
but a shepherd betrayed her and told her father where she was and then he was
turned to stone and his flock of sheep was turned into locusts — this is the bit
that I’m not sure actually happened — then her father found his daughter,
dragged her home, tortured her and beheaded her. But in the meantime
miracles were occurring this bath house that she had created because she’d
created this a magical Christian space. So that is why she was made a saint. So
there we go that’s a bit of real-life history with regard to Rapunzel
alongside some of the versions of Rapunzel that I really, really love that
led up to the Grimm’s version and then the versions that we happen to know
today. If you enjoyed this video please do consider supporting me on
Patreon. Patrons supporting me mean that I am able to create these history of
fairy tale videos along with all of the other videos and podcasts on my channel.
I want to make sure that all of the content I create on here is free but as
you can imagine it takes a lot of time to research and make these, so any
support that you can offer is very much appreciated. There are also other things
over on Patreon such as behind-the-scenes writing stuff, writing
prompts, a book club, text analysis postcards so go and have a look, I’m
going to leave you and I will be back very soon with another video. Lots of bookish love. Bye! x

42 thoughts on “The History of Rapunzel | Fairy Tales with Jen

  1. I hope you like the latest episode in my Fairy Tales with Jen series! If you enjoy these videos and would like to help support them, it would mean a lot if you would consider supporting me on Patreon: www.patreon.com/jenvcampbell. x

  2. Oh, you know, a tiny dog, some super silk, and a bride sprung from the body of a decapitated cat.
    Happy Retirement! ๐ŸŽ‰โœจ๐Ÿ‘‘

  3. I've heard about Saint Barbara somewhere, I vaguely think it was from a Dutch history series or something. Can't be sure.
    But I absolutely adore this series, thank you so much for making it. And of course thanks to the Patreons for helping to get these videos made ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Thanks so much Jen this video was so wonderful . I could listen to you for days you are so eloquent and an enchanting story teller . xx

  5. What a great video!๐Ÿ˜Š But I'm more impressed by Jean and her willpower not to laugh because I was laughing at the ridiculous turns of events all along.๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

  6. Great job Jen! These videos are so interesting and I appreciate all of the research and time you put into them. ๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“–

  7. It doesn't really seem that the king wanted to retire, but with three sons you need to be careful of patricide, dethroning and stuff, you know. Best to keep them busy. Truly a happy ending for him when everyone got a kingdom in the end. Thanks for another great video, Jen!

  8. Hi Jen! I love all your videos but as a former folklore student and now folklore nerd, I love these ones the most. How do you do your research/find all the different versions around the world? Do you use the Aarne Thompson index? Would love to go to one of your talks about fairy tales some day! =)

  9. The way you narrate things is so fascinating! Children must a d o r e you!
    Great video! Rapunzel was never one of my favourite fairytales but now the white cat version is probably one of my favourite things in the world! <3

  10. The White cat version is my favorite probably because it is crazy ๐Ÿ˜
    Love your fairytale videos, you are a great story teller

  11. I didnโ€™t know the version of Rapunzel in the musical Into The Woods was so accurate to the original Grimm fairy tale, though I suppose I should have guessed given that the whole point of the show is to retell the original tales in all their dark glory. Also I love all these different versions! Great video

  12. Great video, Jen! I love your fairy tales series. What I think is really interesting is that the German word "Rapunzel" is not really a term for a kind of flower, but a kind of lettuce (corn salad is the English name, or so Google tells me). I wonder if whoever translated the tale into English either felt the need to romanticise this, or simply wasn't aware that it's not a flower. I assume the latter may be the case, because it isn't a very common word for that kind of lettuce, which has many names in different German-speaking areas, and I believe calling it Rapunzel might have been even less common at the time.

  13. Have you read Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth? Based around the Pentamerone version and the version/life of Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Also, have you ever noticed the Rapunzel ending to Jane Eyre?

    Great to meet you in Bradford last week!

  14. Since i was a child i loved the tale of the white cat so much! It was so interesting to hear it's history! Thank you for these videos i love them so much!

  15. I'm Egyptian, and it's my first time to hear the Egyptian version of Rapunzel! ๐Ÿ˜€
    Thanks a lot for the interesting entertaining video.

  16. Wow….the first version you narrate is so similar to Disney's Tangled!!:) Probably it was the inspiration..
    Anyways loved the video and I was wondering if you could do an episode on The Snow Queen…I am really fascinated by the fairytale:)))

  17. Please do the following fairy tales for future episodes:

    The Frog Prince
    The Twelve Dancing Princesses
    Rumpelstiltskin
    Little Red Riding Hood
    Beauty and the Beast (Part 2)
    Mother Holle
    East of the Sun and West of the Moon
    The Six Swans
    Bearskin
    The Blue Light
    The Emperor's New Clothes
    All-Kinds-of-Fur (Allerleirauh)
    The Girl Without Hands
    The Himphamp
    Jack and the Beanstalk
    Melusina (Mรฉlusine, Melusine)
    The Mermaid Wife
    Puss in Boots
    The Robber Bridegroom
    Love Like Salt
    The Snow Maiden
    The Swan Maidens

  18. This was so insightful as always. Super late in watching this but really enjoyed it. I only knew the Grimm's version but without the twins. ๐Ÿ™‚

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