It seems a few of us are watching Disney’s version of the Rapunzel story, Tangled, and one of my birthy friends chuckled about the Queen’s life being saved by herbs. Well, it’s not quite as simple as Disney makes the story out to be. Having loved the Rapunzel story as a kid and teen, I leapt at the chance to put a midwifery spin on the very old Grimm Fairy Tale. I’ll share it with you, too.
Once upon a time, there was an old couple who ached to have a baby, but the woman couldn’t keep a pregnancy and despaired of ever having a child. When she miraculously got pregnant, she wanted to do everything in her power to keep the pregnancy growing so she could have the much-desired baby.
Now, this was the olden days where, in many places (if not most), pregnancy was a challenge even with those that had money and means. For the poor, pregnancy all too often meant death, so all sorts of Old Wives’ Tales and superstitions came about and one of the most common was that when a pregnant woman craved something, she was to be indulged, no matter the cost. It wasn’t unheard of for complete strangers to give a wandering pregnant woman their best meat or a glass of cherished wine; anything to help the baby inside come to fruition. In some cultures, it was even okay to steal food if the pregnant woman testified it was for her, no charges brought against the offender.
It’s in this setting that the older pregnant woman began having cravings, specifically, cravings for the rapunzel plant, a very leafy green, spinach-like plant. Her cravings, unmet, made her very ill. Was she anemic? Did she need the iron in the rapunzel plant?
The distraught husband tried to find his wife’s desire, but no one could grow any in their gardens, nor knew where to find it. But, there was that farm next door and that amazing gardener, Gothel… and lo and behold, she had the rapunzel plants growing like weeds just over the fence from the old couple. When the pregnant woman spied it, she begged her husband to please get her the leaves. Gothel was a total bitch, er… witch… and the husband despaired, knowing the crotchety gardener wouldn’t ever share anything, even for a pregnant woman.
Therefore, the husband knew what he had to do. He had to sneak over the fence and grab the rapunzel leaves for his wife. Dangerous? You bet, but if he didn’t, the baby… and mother… were surely going to die.
When there was no moon, the old man snuck across the fence and grabbed a few leaves for his wife. Upon eating even those few, she grew much stronger. (Ah, it was anemia!) But, any time she didn’t have rapunzel leaves at a meal, she grew weak again, so her man had to keep sneaking over the fence for his wife and child. He did great… until the full moon.
As he crossed the fence on that fateful night, Gothel grabbed him and demanded to know why he was stealing from her precious garden. When he explained the dire need of the rapunzel leaves for his wife, Gothel seemed to soften a bit. Wondering why he didn’t just go ask in the first place, the husband let his guard down as the witch cheerily said he could have all he wanted. She would put it in baskets for him so he wouldn’t have to sneak at night anymore. He was so relieved!
Then, Gothel struck her bargain.
Yes, the woman would be able to save herself and her child with the plant, but the baby would have to be given to Gothel in exchange. Certainly, because the baby was a nebulous unknown and his wife was a living, breathing being to him, the husband/father-to-be thought for merely a moment before agreeing to the deal. He probably should have consulted with his wife, but she was busy gestating and eating salad.
True to her word, Gothel supplied the couple with copious baskets of rapunzel and the wife was ecstatic, thinking the neighbor wasn’t a crazy old loon like they’d thought she was. Scared, her husband neglected to explain why so much lettuce was being foisted over the fence.
(We can imagine) The baby’s birth was awesome! The midwife was extremely educated and had tons of experience, had a long line of three generations alive and well before she came to the old woman’s bedside to help the baby be born. The elderly primip, pumped up to the gills with iron and love, was the picture of health during labor and didn’t even tear a tiny bit when the beautiful baby girl was born.
As the mom reached down to pull her new baby to her breast, Gothel appeared and demanded payment for all that rapunzel. Horrified, the mother screamed… the new father begged Gothel to reconsider… he now saw his daughter as real, not so ethereal anymore. Gothel, the bitch that she was, snatched the newborn away from the midwife and took her back to her farm.
I can imagine the mom had a helacious case of postpartum depression over this and probably demanded a divorce, but we never hear from them again in the story, so I’m kind of at a loss as to find a happy ending for them.
Gothel, on the other hand, loved being a mother. She doted on the baby, then toddler, then child, flaunting her in the garden, within clear eyesight of her parents. Year after year passed and the baby, now named Rapunzel (after the plant that kept her alive, of course), was the most beautiful girl in the entire world and she had amazingly gorgeous blonde hair that grew and grew and grew.
Rapunzel had another talent besides growing hair; she could sing like a bird! All day and night, the child sang so beautifully, all who heard her marveled at its beauty.
Knowing that Rapunzel would one day want to leave her, Gothel couldn’t abide by that and built a tower with no doors and one window, building it around Rapunzel when she was 12 years old. Menarche. (What did the tower represent? A phallus, surely. So it seems Gothel’s goal was to seclude Rapunzel from all phalluses except for the one she built for her child.)
Rapunzel had amazingly long hair, so when Gothel came to her each day, she would cry up to the girl:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.”
And the girl would first toss her hair up onto a hook and then let it down to the ground far below. Gothel would wrap the hair like a sling, step into it and Rapunzel would hike her up, bringing her into the only entrance into the tower.
Stuck inside the tower, Rapunzel’s main entertainment was her own singing. She sang all the time, the animals enthralled with the beautiful melodies.
Then, when she was 16-years old, singing her heart out, a Prince road near and heard the amazing songs. He sat near the tower, imagining the beautiful girl whose voice moved him to tears. Each day, he came to listen to Rapunzel sing, not seeing a way into the tower to witness her performances.
One day, however, he got there early enough and watched as Gothel called out,
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.”
Rapunzel’s hair fell to the ground and the old woman was lifted into the tower. “Aha!” thought the Prince. He now knew how to get in to see the singing beauty.
He watched for a number of days and saw that Gothel only came in the morning and left before dark, so one night, right after the sun set, the Prince went to the tower and cried out,
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair!”
On cue, the hair unfolded down to the ground. The Prince followed what Gothel had done and was soon aloft, getting closer to the woman he surely loved.
After Rapunzel got over the initial shock of having company, she quickly fell in love with the Prince, singing for him as often as he asked her.
During his nightly visits, they also began having sex as their hormones were a’raging, both being 16 and all. The planned Rapunzel’s escape and each night, the Prince would bring a swath of silk for his love to braid into a ladder for her to flee from her captor. Rapunzel was very careful to hide the silken rope so Gothel would not see it. However, instead of finding it, during one absent-minded day, Rapunzel asked the witch, “Why is it you weigh so much more than the Prince when he comes at night?” Oh, no! She gave away her secret!
The crazy-with-anger Gothel tied up Rapunzel until that night when the Prince came. The witch used the flowing hair to lift the Prince and when he made it just inside the window, the witch immediately, with great force, threw him back out, his landing face-first into the thorny bushes below, blinding him, thereby forbidding his ever seeing his beloved Rapunzel again.
The young girl wasn’t out of the woods herself. The witch was livid, so banished Rapunzel into the wilderness. What the old woman didn’t know was Rapunzel was already pregnant, with twins, and as she wandered, her belly grew and grew. Still singing, she gave birth to her babies (an unassisted birth, apparently) and wandered in the deserted land with her son and daughter.
When the Prince was blinded, he could no longer find his way home, so he, too, wandered all over the land, unable to find anyone to help him. Then, one day, he heard his precious Rapunzel’s singing voice and followed it from whence it came.
When they were reunited, it was a glorious day! The Prince felt his lover up and marveled that he had two children. Rapunzel was so sorry she’d put the Prince into the situation where he was blinded that, embracing him, she cried sad tears of intense love and begging for forgiveness. As the tears fell into the Prince’s eyes, they were so pure, his eyesight was restored.
The Prince could then find his way home and the Kingdom rejoiced their Prince had come home… and with a wife and kids to boot.
And they lived happily ever after, especially knowing that Gothel, stuck in the tower without Rapunzel’s hair, was going to die a lonely and miserable death.