The ‘happily ever after’ ending of Rapunzel must have seemed a long time coming Rapunzel. In each version of the tale, the story begins with the poor child being traded away for a plant before she is even born (sometimes a type of lettuce known as rapunzel, as in Grimm’s version, other times parsley, as in Giambattista Basile’s earlier edition), and then being named after it as a permanent reminder of her parent’s transgressions. As the tale develops, Rapunzel’s dalliance with the prince is discovered by her captor by various means: in Basile’s version the ogress is informed of his visits by a neighbouring gossip; Grimms’ 1812 edition (recounted here) it is Rapunzel’s asking why her clothes no longer fit her, and by the 1857 version this had been edited to her asking the witch why she was so much heavier than the prince. In whatever case, the meetings are discovered. The ending to the tale differs greatly between Basile’s and the Grimms’ versions: a daring escape and chase is made in Basile’s story, until at last the ogress is eaten by a wolf; but both editions of Grimms’ tale leads down a torturous road for the lovers until they are finally free from their torments.
There was once a man and a woman who had long in vain wished for a child. At length, the woman hoped that God would soon grant their desire, and so it was.
These people had a little window at the back of their house from which a splendid garden could be seen, filled with the most beautiful flowers and herbs. The garden, however, was surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to a witch who had great power and was dreaded by all the world.
One day, the woman was standing by the window, looking down into the garden, when she saw a bed planted with the most beautiful rapunzel [lettuce], and it looked so fresh and green that she longed for it, and had the greatest desire to eat some. This desire increased every day, and she knew that she could not get any of it, she quite pined away, and looked pale and miserable. Then her husband was alarmed, and asked, “What ails you, dear wife?”
“Ah,” she replied, “if I cannot get some of the rapunzel, which is in the garden behind our house, to eat, I shall die.”
The man, who loved her, though, Sooner than let my wife die, bring her some of the rapunzel myself. Let it cost me what it will.
In the twilight of evening, he clambered down over the wall into the garden of the enchantress, hastily clutched a handful of rapunzel, and took it to his wife. She at once made herself a salad of it, and it with much relish. She liked it so much – so very much – that the following day she longed for it three times as much as before. If he was to have any rest, her husband was to once again descend into the garden. In the gloom of evening, therefore, he let himself down again; but when he had clambered down he was terribly afraid for he saw the witch standing before him.
“How can you dare,” she said with an angry look, “to descend into my garden and steal my rapunzel like a thief? You will suffer for it.”
“Ah,” answered the man,” let mercy take the place of justice – I only determined to do it out of necessity. My wife saw your rapunzel from the window, and felt such a longing for it that she would have died if she had not got some to eat.”
Then the witch allowed her anger to be softened, and said to him, “If the case be as you say, I will allow you to take away with you as much rapunzel as you will. I only make one condition: you must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world; it shall be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother.”
The man in his terror consented to everything. When the woman was brought to bed, the witch appeared at once, gave the child the name of Rapunzel, and took it away with her.
Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child beneath the sun. When she was twelve years old, the witch shut her into a tower, hidden deep in a forest, which had neither stairs nor door, but at the top was a little window. When the enchantress wanted to go in, she placed herself beneath the window and cried:
Let down your hair!”
Rapunzel had magnificent long hair, fine as spun gold, and she heard the voice of the witch, she unfastened her braided tresses, would them round one of the hooks of the window above, and then the hair fell twenty ells (thirty feet) down, and the enchantress climbed up by it.
After a year or two, it came to pass that the king’s son rode through the forest and went by the tower. Then he heard a song, which was so charming that he stood still and listened. This was Rapunzel, who in her solitude passed her time in letting her sweet voice resound. The prince wanted to climb up to her, and looked for the door of the tower, but none was to be found. He rode home, but the singing had so deeply touched his heart that every day her went out into the forest and listened to it. Once when he was thus standing behind a tree, he saw that a witch came there, and he heard how she cried:
Let down your hair!”
Then Rapunzel let down the braids of her hair, and the enchantress climbed up to her.
If that is the ladder by which one climbs, I will for once try my fortune, he thought.
The next day, when it began to grow dark, he went to the tower and cried:
Let down your hair!”
Immediately the hair fell down the prince climbed up.
At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man, such as her eyes had never yet beheld, came to her. But the prince began to talk to her quite like a friend, and told her that his heart had been so stirred that it let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her. Then Rapunzel lost her fear, and when he asked her if she would take him for her husband, and she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought, He will love me more than old Mother Gothel does, and she said yes, and laid her hand in his.
She said, “I will willingly go away with you, but I do not know how to get down. Bring with you a skein of silk every time you come, and I will weave a ladder with it, and when that is ready I will descend and you will take me on your horse.”
They agreed that until that time he come to her every evening, for the witch came by day.
The witch remarked nothing of this until once Rapunzel said to her, “Tell me, Mother Gothel, why it is that my dress is tighter, and my waist is getting bigger.”
“Ah! You godless child!” Cried the witch. “What do I hear you say? I thought I had separated you from all the world, and yet you have deceived me!”
In her anger she clutched Rapunzel’s beautiful tresses. Warpped them twice round her left hand, seized a pair of scissors with her right, and snip, snap!, they were cut off, and the lovely braids fell to the floor. And she was so pitiless that she took poor Rapunzel into a desert where she had to live in great grief and misery alone.
On the same day that she cast Rapunzel out, however, the witch in the evening fastened the cut braids of hair off the hook of the window, and when the prince came and cried,
Let down your hair!”
She let the braids fall to the ground.
The prince ascended, but he did not find his dearest Rapunzel above, but the witch, who gazed at him with wicked and venomous looks.
“Aha!” She cried mockingly. “You would fetch your dearest, but the beautiful bird sits no longer singing in the nest; the cat has got it, and will scratch out your eyes as well. Rapunzel is lost to you; you will never her see her.”
The prince was beside himself with pain, and in his despair he leapt down from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell pierced his eyes. Then he wandered quite bling about the forest, ate nothing but roots and berries, and did nothing but lament and weep over the loss of his beloved Rapunzel. Thus he roamed about in misery for some years, and at length came to the desert where Rapunzel, with the twins to which had given birth – a boy and a girl – lived in wretchedness. He heard a voice, and it seemed so familiar to him that he went towards it, and when he approached, Rapunzel knew him and fell on his neck and wept. Two her tears wetted his eyes and they grew clear again, and he could see with them as before. He led her to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented.
To learn more about the origins of fairy tales, visit the From Rags to Witches: the grim tale of children's stories exhibition in the Weston Gallery, D H Lawrence Pavilion, Lakeside Arts.
Written by Harriet Clark.