Gender-Flipped Tales: Rapunzo


Once upon a time there lived a woman and her husband who were very unhappy because they had no children. These good people had a little window at the back of their house, which looked into the most lovely garden, full of all manner of beautiful flowers and vegetables; but the garden was surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to enter it, for it belonged to a warlock of great power, who was feared by the whole world.

One day the man stood at the window overlooking the garden, and saw there a bed full of the finest rampion: the leaves looked so fresh and green that he longed to eat them. The desire grew day by day, and just because he knew he couldn’t possibly get any, he pined away and became quite pale and wretched. Then his wife grew alarmed and said:

“What ails you, dear husband?”

“Oh,” he answered, “if I don’t get some rampion to eat out of the garden behind the house, I know I shall die.”

The woman, who loved him dearly, thought to herself, “Come! rather than let your husband die you shall fetch him some rampion, no matter the cost.” So at dusk she climbed over the wall into the warlock’s garden, and, hastily gathering a handful of rampion leaves, she returned with them to her husband. He made them into a salad, which tasted so good that his longing for the forbidden food was greater than ever. If he were to know any peace of mind, there was nothing for it but that his wife should climb over the garden wall again, and fetch him some more. So at dusk over she got, but when she reached the other side she drew back in terror, for there, standing before her, was the old warlock.

“How dare you,” he said, with a wrathful glance, “climb into my garden and steal my rampion like a common thief? You shall suffer for your foolhardiness.”

“Oh!” she implored, “pardon my presumption; necessity alone drove me to the deed. My husband saw your rampion from his window, and conceived such a desire for it that he would certainly have died if his wish had not been gratified.” Then the Warlock’s anger was a little appeased, and he said:

“If it’s as you say, you may take as much rampion away with you as you like, but on one condition only — that you give me the child you will shortly bring into the world. All shall go well with it, and I will look after it like a father.”

The woman in her terror agreed to everything he asked, and as soon as the child was born the Warlock appeared, and having given it the name of Rapunzo, which is the same as rampion, he carried it off with him.

Rapunzo was the most beautiful child under the sun. When he was twelve years old the Warlock shut him up in a tower, in the middle of a great wood, and the tower had neither stairs nor doors, only high up at the very top a small window. When the old Warlock wanted to get in he stood underneath and called out:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair,”

for Rapunzo had wonderful long hair, and it was as fine as spun gold. Whenever he heard the Warlock’s voice he unloosed his plaits, and let his hair fall down out of the window about twenty yards below, and the old Warlock climbed up by it.

After they had lived like this for a few years, it happened one day that a Princess was riding through the wood and passed by the tower. As she drew near it she heard someone singing so sweetly that she stood still spell-bound, and listened. It was Rapunzo in his loneliness trying to while away the time by letting his sweet voice ring out into the wood. The Princess longed to see the owner of the voice, but she sought in vain for a door in the tower. She rode home, but she was so haunted by the song she had heard that she returned every day to the wood and listened. One day, when she was standing thus behind a tree, she saw the old Warlock approach and heard him call out:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair.”

Then Rapunzo let down his plaits, and the Warlock climbed up by them.

Rapunzel Waits“So that’s the staircase, is it?” said the Princess. “Then I too will climb it and try my luck.”

So on the following day, at dusk, she went to the foot of the tower and cried:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair,”

and as soon as he had let it down the Princess climbed up.

At first Rapunzo was terribly frightened when a woman came in, for he had never seen one before; but the Princess spoke to him so kindly, and told him at once that her heart had been so touched by his singing, that she felt she should know no peace of mind till she had seen him. Very soon Rapunzo forgot his fear, and when she asked him to marry her he consented at once. “For,” he thought, “she is young and handsome, and I’ll certainly be happier with her than with the old Warlock.” So he put his hand in hers and said:

“Yes, I will gladly go with you, only how am I to get down out of the tower? Every time you come to see me you must bring a skein of silk with you, and I will make a ladder of them, and when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse.”

They arranged that till the ladder was ready, she was to come to him every evening, because the old man was with him during the day. The old Warlock, of course, knew nothing of what was going on, till one day Rapunzo, not thinking of what he was about, turned to the Warlock and said:

“How is it, good father, that you are so much harder to pull up than the young Princess? She is always with me in a moment.”

“Oh! you wicked child,” cried the Warlock. “What is this I hear? I thought I had hidden you safely from the whole world, and in spite of it you have managed to deceive me.”

In his wrath he seized Rapunzo’s beautiful hair, wound it round and round his left hand, and then grasping a pair of scissors in his right, snip snap, off it came, and the beautiful plaits lay on the ground. And, worse than this, he was so hard-hearted that he took Rapunzo to a lonely desert place, and there left him to live in loneliness and misery.

But on the evening of the day in which he had driven poor Rapunzo away, the Warlock fastened the plaits on to a hook in the window, and when the Princess came and called out:

“Rapunzo, Rapunzo,
Let down your golden hair,”

he let them down, and the Princess climbed up as usual, but instead of her beloved Rapunzo she found the old Warlock, who fixed his evil, glittering eyes on her, and cried mockingly:

“Ah, ah! you thought to find your lord love, but the pretty bird has flown and its song is dumb; the cat caught it, and will scratch out your eyes too. Rapunzo is lost to you for ever — you will never see him more.”

RapunzelThe Princess was beside herself with grief, and in her despair she jumped right down from the tower, and, though she escaped with her life, the thorns among which she fell pierced her eyes out. Then she wandered, blind and miserable, through the wood, eating nothing but roots and berries, and weeping and lamenting the loss of her handsome husband. So she wandered about for some years, as wretched and unhappy as she could well be, and at last she came to the desert place where Rapunzo was living. Of a sudden she heard a voice which seemed strangely familiar to her. She walked eagerly in the direction of the sound, and when she was quite close, Rapunzo recognised her and fell on her neck and wept. But two of his tears touched her eyes, and in a moment they became quite clear again, and she saw as well as she had ever done. Then she led him to her kingdom, where they were received and welcomed with great joy, and they lived happily ever after.

by The Brothers Grimm (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)


I knew this story wouldn’t flip incredibly smoothly, even though I used a version without the twins at the end. The long hair doesn’t really present too much of problem (men can have long hair as easily as women, it’s just far less common). What was odd was that the hair was in plaits. Men’s hair is rarely described as being plaited so it really just felt odd, despite the fact that if a man did have hair that long he’d have to plait it, just as a woman would, for practical reasons.

The only other real issue was with the parents at the beginning. It works fine to have the wife fetch the rampion for the husband, but the conversation about the child being born took a little more tweaking than I usually like. I couldn’t very well have the husband giving birth to Rapunzo, so the conversation had to change from “your wife” to “you”, which feels like it’s fundamentally changing something about the bargain being struck. It’s still both parents giving it up, but suddenly it changes who is deciding to do so, and that has broader implications (especially once you look out at cultural attitudes and such). Not only is it the woman making the decision for both of them, but we have just been reminded that it is her who will bring the child into the world. What are all the implications of that interchange and how do they affect the beginning of the story? I really couldn’t tell you, but I think it’s pretty interesting (it certainly made me think more about the implications of the original, which is part of the point of this exercise in the first place).

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