Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fairy Tales: Rapunzel

The tale of Rapunzel can be traced back to 1634 where it was recorded in the popular Arabic fiction The Thousand and One Nights.  It was called Petrosinella.   In 1697, the story found its way into European literature as Persinette and evolved through various oral and written retellings into The Grimms’ Rapunzel.  The story has no doubt increased in popularity with Disney’s recent movie Tangled.  Multiple authors have retold this story in both picture book and chapter book forms, often adding modern elements or more in depth character development.  Visit the valuable and comprehensive site SurLaLune for more information about the history and various versions of this fairy tale.  After reading several books, there are three that stand out to me as favorites. 

Rapunzel (by Sarah Gibb) 2011 
This version is my favorite by far!  I love the soft medieval inspired pictures that vary from two –pages glorious spreads to smaller decorative elements around the text.  The colors shift from dark and harsh to soft and vibrant to reflect the action and internal feelings of the characters.  The narrative stays true to the Grimms’ version, but there are some important differences that set it apart for me.  First, the time the prince and Rapunzel spend together is innocent.  They talk, laugh, and have tea.   Next, the animals (who are Rapunzel’s companions) help both of them while wandering in the forest which gives a semi-plausible explanation on how they survive and eventually find each other.  Finally, it goes into some detail about what occurs after they meet again, including what happens to the witch.  There is a real sense that these two people are partners and friends as well as “happily ever after” lovers.  I was truly delighted by Gibb’s retelling.   It has all the charm and excitement of the original without the sexual overtones.   The illustrations are a wonderful compliment to the text.   I would love a copy for my personal library.  

Rapunzel (Paul O. Zelinsky) 1997 
Zelinsky’s picture book has been a favorite of mine for a while.  I love the stunning Italian Renaissance paintings he uses to illustrate the text.   He captures beautifully the tone and mood of the narrative and the characters.  Each picture is intricately detailed to look like a vibrant snapshot.  He follows the Grimm’s story more faithfully in the climax and conclusion.  The witch finds out about the prince’s visits because she notices that Rapunzel is pregnant.  While there is no mention of romps around the tower, they apparently occurred though.   The prince eventually finds her taking care of their twins.  They live “a long life, happy and content” back in his kingdom.  Extensive notes chronicling the historic development of fairy tale are summarized in the back.  For parents and educators who want to stay true to the Grimm’s version and don’t mind a “PG” rating, Zelinsky’s book is magnificent. 

Rapunzel (Rachel Isadora) 2008 
I chose this version for its more concise text and non-traditional illustrations.   The story is whittled down to its most basic elements.   As a result, it is an ideal version for younger listeners or beginning readers.   Like Zelinsky, the pregnancy and twins are part of the narrative.  The vivid, eye-catching pictures are a combination of oil paints with a collage of print and palette paper accents.   Isadora places the characters and action into an African setting.  The villain looks like a tribal witch doctor; the characters have dark hair and skin.  The dominate rich, neutral colors are a beautiful contrast with dashes of brighter ones.   The pictures are the most child-pleasing and multi-cultural of the selections. 


  1. Thanks for sharing these! I love to read a variety of versions of the same fairytale- each has so much to offer. I have read a ton of Cinderella stories- but none of the Rapunzel books. I am excited to check them out!


  2. I'm definitely a fan of different versions of fairy tales-- but I had no idea Rapunzel stretched back that far!


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