The Rapunzel story is a fairy tale recorded by the German academic The Brothers Grimm. It was published in 1812 in their anthology of Children’s and Household Tales stories. However, the Grimm Brothers did not develop the story idea themselves. Several other versions of the story were in circulation by the time the Grimm Brothers were writing: versions recorded and adapted by many other writers.
The Rapunzel story
Once upon a time, there lived a man and his wife. The wife was pregnant with their first child and, like many women when they’re expecting a baby, was finding it very difficult to eat. As a result, she grew skinny and tired, and her husband worried about her.
They lived in a house next door to a witch. The witch had a beautiful garden and, in this garden, grew some delicious-looking lettuces. These lettuces looked so delicious that, despite her illness, the wife said she would like to eat one.
One night, desperate for his wife to get better, the man sneaked into the witch’s garden. He stole some lettuce and made it into a salad for his wife. His wife ate it all, then asked for more. The man was delighted that his wife felt able to eat at last. But he knew returning to the witch’s garden would be very dangerous. She was very, very powerful. Nevertheless, he loved his wife more than anything, so, determined to make her better, he went back to the witch’s garden at nightfall.
He climbed over the wall, found another lettuce to steal, and was just about to climb back when he heard a shout of anger.
‘Thief!’ shouted the witch. The man begged her for mercy. He explained that his wife was unwell and expecting a baby.
‘Your lettuces are so delicious,’ he said. ‘They’re the only thing she can eat.’
The witch considered this. ‘You can have the lettuce,’ she said. ‘But, in return, you must give me the baby.’
The man and his wife did not want to give their child away. So, in one version of the story, they try to flee and escape the witch, running far away to a place where they think she won’t be able to find them. But, sure enough, the witch appears on the day of the little girl’s birth. Ready, waiting to claim her prize.
In every version of the story, the witch takes the baby and raises her as her daughter. She named her ‘Rapunzel,’ after the plant the woman craved.
When Rapunzel was twelve, the witch locked her in a tower in the middle of a forest. As Rapunzel grew, so did her hair. It was so long that her beautiful tresses reached the floor when she leaned out the window. Whenever the witch visited, she’d call, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! That I might climb thy golden stair.’’ Rapunzel then threw her hair down, and the witch climbed up.
Rapunzel and the witch lived like this for many years.
One day, a handsome prince happened to be in the forest. He heard a beautiful voice singing. He followed the voice and found the tower. As he watched and listened, she heard the witch call out to Rapunzel. He saw the hair fall and the witch climb up.
The prince waited for the witch to leave before calling out to Rapunzel himself. He climbed up, met Rapunzel, and began to visit her every day. They soon fell in love. The prince asks Rapunzel to marry him, and she says she will.
Together, they hatched a plan for her escape. The prince visited her every night, bringing a scrap of silk. They planned that Rapunzel would gradually weave the pieces of silk together into a ladder. However, before she could finish, Rapunzel gave the game away. One day, as she helped the witch over the window ledge, she said, ‘You know, you’re much heavier than the prince.’
The witch flew into a terrible rage. She cut off all of Rapunzel’s hair and threw her out of the tower. Rapunzel was left to wander around in the dangerous forest alone. Then, the witch gathered the hair and waited for the prince.
That night, the Prince turned up, as usual. When he called, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!’ the witch lowered the braids she’d cut from Rapunzel’s head. When the prince reached the top, the witch let go of the hair and let him fall to the ground.
The prince landed in sharp thorns. They scratched his eyes and left him blind. He wandered for a long time in the forest alone. In some versions of the story, this goes on for years. But then, finally, he heard something.
It was Rapunzel’s song that had first led him to the tower. He followed her voice, and they found each other. Rapunzel cried with happiness. When her tears touched his eyes, he discovered he could see again.
Rapunzel and the prince returned to his kingdom and lived happily ever after.
In some variations of the story, Rapunzel is with two children, twins – a boy and a girl. The twins are the Prince’s children.
The different versions of the Rapunzel story
As is the case with many fairy tales and traditional stories, it isn’t easy to pinpoint categorically who was responsible for creating the Rapunzel original story. However, it is somewhat easier to decipher who was the first to record and publish the Rapunzel story, as the Brothers Grimm published their version in 1812.
It’s thought that the Grimm Brothers (Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm) based their version of the story on Frederick Schulz’s 1970 story Rapunzel. In this version of the story, the witch is a fairy and is portrayed as a generally more benevolent figure than in the version famous today. In addition, she wants to protect Rapunzel from the world by keeping her safe in the tower rather than deliberately incarcerating her against her will.
But even Schulz was working on another story. His version translated Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force’s story Persinette, published in 1698. De la Force was a French novelist and poet. Her version was based on Petrosinella by Italian writer and story collector Giambattista Basile.
In Petrosinella, the witch is an ogress. The plant the mother craves so much is parsley, and the ogress chooses to call the little girl Parsley. Though much of the story is very similar to the story told by the Brothers Grimm, the ogre teaches Rapunzel ‘ magical arts’ while she keeps her a prisoner in the tower. As a result, Rapunzel can defeat the witch herself. As she escapes from the building (using a handy rope ladder), she throws three magic acorns (stolen from the ogress’s secret stash) behind her to delay the ogress as she chases them through the forest.
The first acorn turns into a dog. The ogress feeds the dog a loaf of bread and continues chasing them. The second acorn turns into a lion, but the ogress feeds the lion a nonessential from a nearby field. She then uses the nonessential skin as a coat, which turns out to be folly. The last acorn turns into a wolf. The wolf eats the nonessential skin and the ogress right up.
Ogress defeated, Rapunzel and the prince are free. So they leave and get married in the prince’s kingdom, where they live happily ever as you’d imagine.
As you can determine, it is tough for anyone to be sure when it comes to exactly who created the Rapunzel original story. Today, there appears to be one version of the Rapunzel story that most will be familiar with. What is clear is that each author and each version of the story contributed to the much-loved tale that is shared in modern times.