Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rapunzel Wrap Up

Rapunzel Wrap Up

Okay, I need to write this before I get so caught up in NaNo that it falls completely by the wayside.

So. Rapunzel. Let’s go through the checklist point by point and see how the month’s novels stack up.

Explanation for the parents’ behavior. Specifically: Why was the husband so afraid of the witch? Why was the wife so insistent on that particular vegetable? Why did the father agree to hand over his child, and why didn’t the wife object really at all? And what happened to them after the witch took their child away?

Of the four novels, each had a different approach to the parents. Golden made the mother hard-hearted and shallow while finding a way to introduce the father in a different capacity. The mother agreed because she didn’t care, and the father had no say in the matter. And we’re told, once Rapunzel went with Melisande, the mother died, and the father followed.

In Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair, the parents were under an enchantment. The witch here is thoroughly evil, and she stole Rapunzel away forcefully, using magic in a deceitful way to get what she wanted. The didn’t object because they weren’t themselves, and in the end, Rapunzel is returned to them.

In Rapunzel’s Revenge, we have a similar situation. Mother Gothel is entirely cold-hearted, and she needed an heir, so she waited for one of her desperate workers to steal food and used it as an excuse to take their daughter. It was a forceful move that the parents had no say in. And again, Rapunzel is reunited with her mother in the end.

And finally, Zel. We honestly barely get a picture of Zel’s parents, but really, that’s okay because of the way the novel is structured. They aren’t relevant. As far as we know, they went on to have plenty more children. Although we are told that the father promised Zel away because it was that or his life.

Of the four, I think I like Golden’s treatment the best, if only because I like that the father at least remains present. I also like that sympathetic side of the witch and how she was willing to let him be a part of his daughter’s life in some capacity.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood with Mother Gothel. What was her childhood like? What was her relationship with Mother Gothel like?

It’s interesting to me to see how Mother Gothel is treated in these novels. One paints her as the picture of all evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (The One with All the Hair). Another paints her as an evil, manipulative woman hidden under a veneer of cold aloofness (Rapunzel’s Revenge). Still another portrays her as mildly sympathetic, genuinely loving her adopted daughter, but still doing evil in the name of protection (Zel). And one alone paints her as genuinely sympathetic, as much a victim as Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s father (Golden).

I bring this up because how the novels treat Gothel directly influences Rapunzel’s childhood. I think I like the glimpse we get from Golden and Zel best, and again, it’s because I like that mix of villainy and a loving household that we don’t get from the others. I think the story is so much more powerful if that relationship is complicated and a little gray.

Explain the unexplained elements. How did Rapunzel’s hair grow long enough to hoist a full grown woman up a presumably tall tower, and how was Rapunzel able to stand having her head used as a ladder? Why did her tears heal the prince’s eyes? Could her tears heal other things? Has she always had this ability?            

For the hair, we’ve got ‘enchantment’ as the reason pretty much across the board, which is the reason that, when you think about it, really makes sense. As for how it affected her, in Golden and The One With All the Hair, Rue and Rapunzel couldn’t feel it, in Rapunzel’s Revenge, I don’t think anyone actually climbs the hair, but in Zel, we’re really given insight into what it would be like to suddenly have this weight literally on your shoulders, and how much it hurts to have a full person’s weight hanging from your head, and I appreciate that more than the others.

As for the tears, honestly, they weren’t used in half our novels (Golden, Rapunzel’s Revenge), and in Zel, the explanation is meh. But I really did like what The One with All the Hair did. This novel probably younged the story down more than any other, but they handled that element very well. I loved the “blindness” being like mine, and that she cured it by having his spare glasses. Honestly, though, my vote for this element goes to Tangled, which isn’t even technically in the running.

Wrap up the loose ends. There are a lot of them here. What happened to Rapunzel’s parents? What happened to Mother Gothel? Did the prince live in the wilderness with Rapunzel, or did he return to his kingdom to rule? What about the kids, folks? What about the kids? Oh, yeah, along with this – keep the pregnancy in or find a better way for Mother Gothel to discover Rapunzel’s secret.

With this one, I’m gonna talk about grit. This is a gritty story in its original incarnation. And that’s why I was a tad bit disappointed with this aspect of most of the adaptations. Rather than tackle the grit, most authors chose to work around it. And though they did better than the Grimm brothers, I have to hand this one to Napoli, because she went there. And she did it well.

So here’s where we stand. There was no novel this month that made me want to tear my hair out. I enjoyed all of them, which is rare. But my favorite has to be:

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli – Strongly recommended. I think she had the best handle on the story overall, and it felt like the original rather than a version of it with a gimmick.

Golden by Cameron Dokey – Strongly recommended. Yes, a gimmick, but one that worked really well, and this is my favorite Mother Gothel of the bunch.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale – Recommended. This graphic novel is just a lot of fun, even if it does stray from the story a decent amount.

Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair by Wendy Mass – Recommended. It’s cute and it’s fluffy, but the way she worked it for a younger audience works, and it’s a fun read.

November’s fairy tale is nothing at all – I’m taking a month’s hiatus for National Novel Writing Month. So, see you in December with The Snow Queen!

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

Target Audience: Teen
Summary: High in the mountains, Zel lives with her mother, who insists they have all they need, for they have each other. Zel’s life is peaceful and protected – until a chance encounter changes everything. When she meets a beautiful young prince at the market one day, she is profoundly moved by new emotions. But Zel’s mother sees the future unfolding – and she will do the unspeakable to prevent Zel from leaving her.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, if you don’t know by now how I feel about multiple perspective narration, then hello! I say hello because you must be new. So, hello, and welcome! For those returning, however, let’s say it all together: I have a love/hate relationship with multiple perspectives.

However, Donna Jo Napoli wins me over on the device almost every time, and Zel is no exception. Zel was the first adaptation of Rapunzel I ever read, and among the first of the fairy tale adaptations I encountered in my life. And thank goodness for that, because it I’d read a poorer novel, my obsession with these novels might never have come to pass.

Yeah, just kidding, it still totally would have, but suffice it to say, this novel holds a special place in my heart. Let me tell you why.

This narrative is split between three perspectives – Rapunzel (called Zel), Count Konrad (our prince figure), and Mother, whose portion alone is written in first person. This is a bit of an odd choice, even for multiple perspectives – two of the three are third person omniscient while the last is first person limited? Well, yeah, but you know what? It works. It works really well. Because Mother has powers most people don’t. The deal here is that, long ago, Mother Gothel made a deal with the devil, selling her soul in exchange for a way with plants and a chance to get what nature and God had failed to grant her – a child. So Mother is different than the other characters here, set apart, and this difference in her narration really helps to highlight her. But it is also interesting to me that we’re meant to connect the most with the supposed “villain.” But more on that later.

Anyway, at the novel’s start, Zel knows nothing of her origins. Mother has raised her, and is the only mother Zel has ever known. They live alone on the mountainside, growing everything they need to survive, only venturing in to town twice a year. And while Zel cherishes those days and the chance to go be among people, she also loves her little mountain home and the life she shares with Mother.

But we open on a market day, and Zel is overflowing with excitement. For her thirteenth birthday is in only four days, and she knows that Mother will be buying gifts at market, pens and paper and ink and things they cannot grow or make for themselves.

But something different happens on this trip – Mother leaves Zel on her own for the first time. She needs to go get the things for Zel’s birthday surprises, and so Zel stays on her own by the blacksmith. She even helps the smith calm and shoe a skittish horse. The horse’s name is Meta, and she belongs to Count Konrad, a youth two years older than Zel who is snobbish and entitled but becomes quite taken with Zel because she does not defer to him, is not frightened of him, and offers him peasant bread to eat. He offers her anything she wants in exchange for her help with his horse, but she says she doesn’t want anything. He presses her, and she finally asks for a fertilized goose egg.

See, outside Zel’s alm, there’s this goose. And this goose sits on a nest of rocks because she lost her eggs. So she sits on these rocks day after day after day, and Zel decides to get her a fertilized egg so she’ll finally have a chick to raise. Konrad runs off to fulfill her offer, but then Mother comes back, so Zel makes arrangements for the smith to keep the egg until she can collect it at the end of the day.

When Mother finds out Zel is waiting for a gift, she kinda freaks out a little. Apparently, she has this thing with Zel accepting gifts, mainly that she just flat out isn’t allowed to. The reason, as we discover much later, is that part of Mother’s deal with the devil is that Zel must reach womanhood unconnected to anyone except Mother, so that she, too, can be offered the choice that Mother made – her soul in exchange for a powerful gift. So Mother’s fear is that any gift Zel’s accepts will forge a connection, but as this egg is more for the goose than for Zel, Mother decides to allow it.

Meanwhile, Konrad is out looking for a goose egg and having very little luck because it’s the middle of summer, and he’s kinda pissed. Because this was supposed to be easy – get a gift, discharge his debt, never think of the silly peasant girl so unlike her fellows again. And then she goes and asks for something his money won’t automatically get him. Finally, he manages to secure the egg, only to find that the girl is gone when he goes to deliver it, which is even more infuriating because he doesn’t get to see her reaction to receiving the egg, which he was counting on as payment for his trouble.

I love that this connection is forged so early in the story, and I love that Konrad as we see him here is not the Prince Charming we usually expect from these stories. Instead, he’s kind of a self-entitled jerk. And quickly becoming obsessed with this strange girl from the market place, whose name he does not know.

Zel collects her egg, as well as the small, round-leafed lettuce she loves but Mother won’t grow, and the two of them head home. Zel replaces the largest rock with her fertilized egg, and all seems rosy and happy.

Until the next morning, when Zel discovers that the goose has rolled the egg away and won’t accept it, no matter what Zel does. Zel is distraught, and Mother is, too, because she needs Zel to see that a child can be accepted by someone not its mother. She becomes more distraught when Zel tells her about the youth she met in the market, and then speaks of the far-off eventual marriage that she feels will one day take place.

Mother panics. Fearful that she is losing her child, frightened that Zel’s choice will not be to make the deal Mother made, thereby dooming Mother, Mother acts in rash desperation. She tells Zel that she is in danger, that there are those who would harm her, hurt her, see her killed. Mother tells Zel that she is taking her someplace where she will be safe.

And off they leave on a frightening, harrowing, nerve-wracking journey. And at the end of it, Zel is locked away in a tower without any answers for who is hunting her or where this danger is coming from, and Mother is gone.

What I love about this section is how real and tangible Zel’s terror at this imagined danger is. We really do see just how much she trusts Mother, and Napoli does a fantastic job of putting us in Zel’s shoes – being left alone in that tower, watching her mother be taken away by the plants who carried them there, wondering if she’ll doom herself if she dares to make a sound.

Mother returns every day, with food and paper and ink, but she can stay for only an hour, and then she must leave, to go out into the world and hunt the danger that threatens Zel. Zel is terribly lonely, constantly fearful, and living only a shadow of the life she once knew with no explanation as to why. This part of the novel is heart-wrenching and masterfully done.

And two years pass. We see them pass through Konrad, who has become obsessed with Zel. He thinks of nothing else, won’t consent to marry, questions everyone in the market, trying desperately to find out more about her. If she hadn’t left so suddenly, he wouldn’t be so preoccupied with her, but their brief meeting showed her as a girl unlike any other, and she has taken hold of Konrad’s mind, much to his parents’ dismay.

He passes two years in this almost mindless state, each day wandering out into the mountains, trying to find this girl, driven by memories of her he can’t dispel. And at the end of it, yeah. He’s not entirely sane.

But that’s okay, because we soon learn that Rapunzel isn’t either, and this is where I really fall in love with this adaptation.

Rapunzel has been trapped in a tower for two years. She interacts with another human for one hour a day. That’s it. The rest of the time, she is completely isolated. She has paper and ink, but no other distractions. She lives in constant terror of some unidentified and nameless enemy. Her hair has grown to impossible lengths and Mother now uses it to reach the tower, which, combined with the weight of all that hair, causes Zel nearly constant pain.

I think, under those circumstances, you’d go a bit crazy, too.

And it is made clear to us that Zel is not quite right anymore – her friends are a squirrel, a pigeon, the moon, a sharp stone, and a colony of ants that she led to her tower window by smashing fruit against the outside wall. Her mood shifts on the turn of a dime, and it’s no wonder. She goes about naked except for the hour that Mother comes, and she hurts herself purposefully because feeling anything reassures her that she’s still real and alive. This part of the novel is honestly a little scary, and I’m glad. Because this is the realistic part of Rapunzel’s reality that’s been missing from most other adaptations.

Rapunzel hides this madness from Mother as best she can, but one day, it all comes spilling out, and Mother is terrified at what has become of her daughter, and heart-broken because she knows it is her doing. But she justifies and justifies and justifies.

And then Konrad finds the tower. Konrad, who has been searching for Zel for two years, going out of his mind with the memory of her. He finds the tower, and Zel, who is convinced that he does not truly exist, speaks freely and openly to him. And he watches Mother climb to Zel and decides to do the same.

Like Konrad, Zel has been haunted by the memory of the youth she met so long ago, and out of love and madness and spite and anger, she and Konrad consummate their love, which makes this the first adaptation to defy the Grimm brothers and put that in.

And Mother, more frightened and paranoid than ever, finally reveals to Zel the truth – that there is no enemy, that the danger was abstract and Zel now faces a choice. Zel does not take this news well, and rightly so. She reveals that Konrad has been in the tower almost out of spite, and I love it. It’s not a thoughtless comment; it’s very purposeful. It’s made in anger, in madness, in revenge almost. Furious that Zel has ruined herself for the deal, Mother cuts Zel’s hair and pulls all her power to sends Zel away through her web of plants until she reaches the place where the plants run out.

As soon as she has sent Zel away, Mother regrets the action, for she has no more strength to bring her back. Zel is lost to her forever. In her reckless fury and paranoia, many times over, she has lost what she loved most. And then comes Konrad.

Mother has spent the novel hating this boy, this young man who stole her daughter from her. But here at the end, weak and almost spent, she sees the truth – she lost her daughter all on her own, and this man is more like her than she realized, for he too loves Zel. In his anger, he moves to attack Mother. In automatic defense, she whips Zel’s braids at him and knocks him out of the tower. In one final moment of clarity, Mother uses the very last of her magic to grow brambles around the tower to catch Konrad and save his life.

This, to me, is brilliant – not a hateful act of murder, but an act of mercy, a sacrifice to save his life. The blindness was a small price to pay for that. And here, Mother moves from a limited to an omniscient narrator. Her death releases her, allowing her to follow Zel and Konrad to the end of their story.

Blind and alone, Konrad wanders, drawn on and on by a force he doesn’t understand, but he has nothing to lose, so he follows it. Meanwhile, Zel lives by the coast, raising her daughters and reveling in life. She still has moments of madness, but she works through them. She loves her daughters and never holds them captive, and then one day, into her village, comes Konrad. He hears her as she talks to the girls, and he knows who it is, and when the tears she’s held back for two years fall, they cure his blindness.

I feel like I’ve not done justice to this book with my summary, both because I’m rushing to get this posted before the end of the month and because this is a beautifully complex novel. Trust me; it’s worth the read. Let’s hit the checklist.

Explanation for the parents’ behavior? I didn’t really get into it, but yes. The husband is a coward, the wife is a nag, and the husband promises his unborn child away because Mother threatens his life if he doesn’t. As in, brambles will kill him on the spot unless he says yes.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood? We enter the story when Rapunzel is twelve, and the story we know is told through a flashback more than halfway in. But the little we get gives a really good picture on what the childhood was like. So, half a check.

Explain the unexplained? Magical hair – grown by Mother so she wouldn’t expend her limited energy growing a tree every day. Magical tears – uh . . . I mean, kinda? This could have used a little more, to be honest. So one check of two.

Wrap up the loose ends? Beautifully. And I love that this adaptation didn’t shy away from the gritty stuff. Rapunzel is mad, there is sex, this is a mature adaptation of this story, and I appreciate that because this is a pretty mature fairy tale, and Napoli captured that really well.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guest Post: Tangled with Matthew

Hey all. Cassie here. Personal stuff is still going on -- my grandpa passed away, and his funeral is tomorrow, and today was full of prep for that and time spent with family. I appreciate your patience while things are a bit off kilter. I've finished Zel, but the review isn't quite done, but because you deserve something on a Friday, here's a guest post from Matthew!
Disney’s Tangled

or “How Disney Should Have Done Sleeping Beauty
The sad fact of the matter is that faerie tales don’t always make sense. As Cassie has pointed many times in her “<insert faerie tale here> according to Cassie” segments, things are often confusing, characters are often under- or undeveloped, and questions often go answered. That’s why the distinction between a “retelling” of a faerie tale and an “adaptation” of a faerie tale is so important. Retellings usually just tell the faerie tale again, maybe with a historical backdrop or a twist on a character, but pretty much the straight up faerie tale. Adaptations, on the other hand, seek to tell the classic faerie tale story in the context of another story in order to make sense of it.
Six of the seven faerie tale Disney movies are retellings. Love them or hate them, most of Disney’s faerie tale movies do stick pretty closely to the stories they’re telling. They make changes and so on, but Disney’s Cinderella is still telling the classic story of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast is telling Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid--albeit with a different ending--is telling The Little Mermaid.
Tangled, on the other hand, is an adaptation of the Rapunzel story. It is not, strictly speaking, Rapunzel. It’s telling a different story, and the elements of that story makes sense of many of the aspects of the original story that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, though in all fairness, Rapunzel doesn’t have nearly as many issues as some of the other faerie tales in this series.
So exactly what story is Tangled trying to tell? Let’s take a look, shall we?
The story opens with the love interest, Flynn Rider, saying this is the story of how he died. (Insert End-of-Doctor-Who-Series-2 joke here. [Um . . . This is the story of how I died . . . starts Rose at the beginning of the Season 2 finale, which is just what Flynn says here . . . not a very funny joke, Matthew. -- CG]) He then introduces us both to our main villain and what will become our central plot device: the flower that, when sung to, will heal any injury or illness and restore youth to whoever it touches. The evil villain, Gothel, uses this flower to stay eternally young.
Okay, so she hasn’t really done anything evil, yet. I mean, she knows about this thing and doesn’t share it, and that’s pretty selfish, but not, strictly speaking, evil. But as a rule, anyone seeking to live forever is not usually a good guy. So fast forward several generations, and the Queen is giving birth. But the Queen is very ill and in danger of dying and losing the baby, so the King, having heard about this magical healing flower, sends his various guards to search for the flower. They find it, cut it, and use it to heal the queen. But because it was cut, it loses its healing power . . . or rather, the power transfers to something else. (Remember this. It will become important later.) That something is the newborn baby’s golden hair.
(It should probably be noted at this point that the newborn’s name as Rapunzel. I mean, obviously, you know this, but really think about it for a minute. In the original story, Rapunzel is named for the leaf that her mother craved so much that her father stole it from Gothel’s garden, thus precipitating the story. However, this particular backstory doesn’t exist in the movie, so . . . why on earth would they name her Rapunzel? It’s never explained, just as it’s never explained why “Cinderella” is named “Cinderella.”)
Anyway, Gothel realizes that the powers have been transferred to Rapunzel’s hair, and plans to take a clipping of said hair to use for her continued youthening sessions. This, however, doesn’t work, as the hair loses its power and turns brown the moment it’s cut away from Rapunzel. If Gothel wants to continue to use the healing power of Rapunzel’s hair, she’s going to have to take Rapunzel. Which she does.
The kingdom searches for the lost princess, but Gothel has hidden her away in a secluded tower. So every year, on her birthday, the kingdom launches hundreds and hundreds of floating lanterns into the sky, in the hopes that Rapunzel will see them and return home.
So, at this point in the story, a number of things are different, but a number of things have also been explained. First of all, Rapunzel’s parents aren’t the horrible people they are in the original story, because the father doesn’t make any kind of deal with Gothel about trading away his firstborn and whatnot. Second, we find out why Gothel wants to keep Rapunzel for herself and why she wants to keep her locked up. And third, we learn more about the magical nature of Rapunzel’s hair. Specifically, we get an answer to the question of why Rapunzel didn’t simply cut off her hair and use it to climb down from the tower. Her hair has magic, and she doesn’t want to lose that. [Also, it probably never occurred to her, since she didn't think of running away until Mother Gothel pushed her too far. --CG]
So, fast forward roughly eighteen years. Rapunzel, as the king and queen hoped, has in fact seen the floating lanterns every year on her birthday. She wants to learn their significance, and of course, Mother Gothel won’t let her out of the tower. But she’s hoping that this year, on her eighteenth birthday, she’ll get her chance.
As she sings her opening song, “When Will My Life Begin?”, we see that Rapunzel has grown into a reasonably resourceful young woman, all things considered. She can bake and paint and do all sorts of other domestic things, and she’s developed mad Indiana Jones skills with her uber-long hair. Mother Gothel, of course, visits her each day with the whole “Rapunzel, let down your hair” bit, and we get a nice little glimpse into her character through the song “Mother Knows Best.” And it’s pretty clear that Gothel is pretty much evil. I mean, she acts like the concerned and overly condescending mother, but she pretty much only wants Rapunzel for the healing power her hair offers. This becomes increasingly clearer as the movie progresses, but I thought it was pretty obvious at the beginning.
So, Gothel says no, and Rapunzel backs down, accustomed to her ways. Meanwhile, we get a proper introduction to Flynn Rider, a thief who is currently working on a heist with the Stabbington brothers. (Sigh . . . really, Disney?) What are they stealing? The princess’s royal tiara, which is kept under heavy guard in a large room . . . with a circle of guards, who are all facing out from it . . . directly under a skylight. Um . . . who thought this was a good idea? Flynn steals it easily, though he does manage to alert the guards. But this proves not to be a problem, because this kingdom has the worst guards ever.
Flynn gives the Stabbington brothers the slip and takes the tiara away to . . . I don’t know, sell and buy himself a completely inconspicuous island, I’m sure. He does not, however, escape the keen nose of Maximus, the bloodhound horse who could probably just act as the entirety of the kingdom’s security, as he’s the only creature who actually knows what the flying flip he’s doing. (Also, he kicks ass. Like, a lot. Seriously.) After an amusing enough chase scene, Flynn manages to escape the horse through a curtain of vines, which coincidentally is also the hiding place for Rapunzel’s tower. He decides it’ll make a decent enough hiding place, climbs the tower wall through the power of sheer awesomeness, I guess, and arrives inside . . . only to be knocked unconscious by Rapunzel’s weapon of choice: a frying pan.
So Flynn, then, is a vastly different character from his book counterpart, and also from the typical love interests in Disney movies. He’s not a prince, he's a thief, and he doesn’t have a whole lot of good qualities in the beginning. He’s a liar and, as mentioned, a thief. Sure, he’s handsome and charming, but he mostly uses these assets to lie and steal. He finds Rapunzel, not because he’s intrigued by her beautiful voice and odd living situation, but because he needed to hide from the cops. And, therefore, he’s already considerably more interesting.
Rapunzel, painstakingly hiding both the tiara and the unconscious Flynn, decides that she can use the situation to convince her mother that she should be allowed to leave the tower and go see the floating lanterns. But before she even has a chance to broach this, Gothel loses her cool and proclaims that she’ll never let Rapunzel leave the tower, thus showing her true colors. Rapunzel, then, does some pretty quick thinking and convinces her mother to go away on a three day trip to get her a certain special kind of paint. Once she’s left, Rapunzel ties Flynn up, and uses the tiara as leverage against him, so that he’ll take her to the castle to see the floating lanterns, and maybe solve the mystery of her birthday. Flynn, rather begrudgingly, agrees to this arrangement, and Rapunzel leaves the tower.
It’s worth noting that this is something she could have done at any time. She has, as I said earlier, mad Indiana Jones skills with her hair, and here uses them to leave, not having to mess with this business of gathering silk for a rope and whatnot. Why she chose not to is anyone’s guess, but I have my own theories. Life was not entirely unpleasant with Mother Gothel, though thoroughly stifling. Gothel has had to cater to Rapunzel’s whims--aside from the whim of leaving the tower--because she needs Rapunzel’s happy and relatively content cooperation for the magic to work. And Rapunzel sees Gothel as a mother, though an overprotective one, and has found that in general, being nice and keeping her mother happy gets her what she wants. She could have escaped, but why do so if she had faith that enough sweetness would eventually have her mother capitulate to her request? It’s only when she realizes that Gothel is, truly, never going to let her out of the tower, that she escapes on her own. Her decision to do so is almost immediate, indicating that she always had this weapon in her arsenal, but chose only to use it as a last resort. In all likelihood, she would have escaped even without Flynn there, but decided that the wiser course of action would be to have a guide in a world with which she was entirely unfamiliar. And she’s very shrewd in her “negotiation” with Flynn. Like I said, for someone who’s been locked in a tower all her life, she’s very resourceful and very capable.
So, Rapunzel leaves the tower, setting bare, pigeon-toed feet on the ground for the very first time. The next sequence of scenes shows Rapunzel oscillating between the sheer ecstasy and joy of being outside her tower for the first time and the guilt she feels at having betrayed Gothel, who she still views as a mother figure, remember. After straightening up, she and Flynn sally forth. Meanwhile, Maximus is still sniffing around for Flynn, and eventually, he comes across Gothel who, somehow, draws the conclusion in seeing the horse without his rider that Rapunzel might be in trouble. How she comes to this conclusion, I’m not sure. I guess she’s concerned that the kingdom might find the tower, but that seems like a pretty big leap. Still, Gothel is paranoid about losing her magical hair healing factory, and isn’t about to take chances, so she starts heading back, discovering as she does that Rapunzel has, indeed, escaped. But she finds the tiara, puts two and two together, and decides to team up with the Stabbingtons and use the tiara to get Rapunzel back.
So, Flynn takes Rapunzel to the Snuggly Duckling, which is full of thugs, and what follows is probably the silliest and most entertaining scene in the whole movie. Rapunzel charms the thugs with her talk of dreams, and gets the thugs all singing about their own dreams. This, I think, is Disney making fun of itself, going to extreme lengths in showing off the sensitive human side of the thugs, and it’s SO much fun. But the guards come and break things up, and Flynn and Rapunzel are able to escape through a secret trap door. Another chase scene follows, with the two of them being chased by the palace guards, Maximus, and the Stabbingtons. They manage to escape them by basically destroying the world’s most unstable and dangerous dam, but they themselves get trapped in a flooding cave, where it takes Rapunzel an alarmingly long time to remember that her hair glows when she sings, and thus they can have light to find their way out. (Also, Flynn admits his name is Eugene Fitzherbert. Now, granted, the name Eugene does mean “prince,” which is a nice touch, but the Fitzherbert? Ouch.)
So they escape, Rapunzel shows Flynn her healing hair, and we see them start to connect, Stockholm Syndrome style. But Gothel finds them and gets Rapunzel alone with her. In her passive-aggressive way, she tries to convince Rapunzel that Flynn won’t stay true to her, and tells her to give him the tiara and see what happens when he no longer needs her.
The next day, Rapunzel manages to forge a reluctant alliance between Maximus and Flynn through sheer force of will and likability . . . and it works. You may have noticed that this seems to be Rapunzel’s major non-hair-related power. She can charm anyone, and I mean anyone. Thugs, thieves, bloodthirsty horses . . . anyone. I think this is Disney making fun of itself again. The other Disney princesses, especially the older ones, were absolutely charming. Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora all managed to befriend animals through sheer charm, Ariel manages to convince most everyone that she’s not completely self-absorbed, and the others are charming in their own ways. Again, Disney takes it to the practically ridiculous extreme with Rapunzel. And, not only is it amusing, but we can’t help but like Rapunzel that much more for it.
They enter the kingdom, and Rapunzel takes it all in and does the whole charm thing on a number of other people before she and Flynn take a boat out to the middle of the lake to watch the lanterns. Why the guards don’t notice ostensibly the most notorious criminal walking through the village can be explained in three simple words. Worst. Guards. Ever.
Now, what follows is one of the most beautiful sequences in Disney history. The king and queen--who, by the way, never speak during the whole movie, which I think is really cool--release their annual lantern, which is followed by the whole kingdom releasing their lanterns, while Rapunzel looks on in awe. And it’s little wonder why. The scene is absolutely breathtaking. The rest of the animation is just so-so. It’s computer animated, but not terribly detailed, and generally geared more for comedy than detailed accuracy. They’re drawing more inspiration from the Pixar or Dreamworks style of animation rather than any of their past work. This sequence, though, is gorgeous.
During all this, Rapunzel returns the tiara to Flynn, and Flynn, as expected, has had a change of heart. So, seeing the Stabbingtons, he decides to simply give them the tiara and beat a hasty retreat back to his lady love. But it doesn’t quite work out that way, as the Stabbingtons appear and show Rapunzel a very still and shadowy Flynn Rider sailing away from her, before attempting to kidnap her for her hair. But Gothel “rescues” her, and Rapunzel, traumatized, goes back to the tower with her. Flynn, meanwhile, is revealed to be unconscious and bound. (No, really?) He sails right into the hands of the palace guards, who arrest him and have him sentenced to death.
Rapunzel, back in her tower, is understandably distraught, but upon reflection of her experiences and her apparently sub-consciously inspired paintings--and by “reflection” I mean “bludgeoning over the head with the point, yes, thank you, we’ve got it, Disney”--realizes that she is the lost princess for whom the lanterns are being released. She finally stands up to Gothel and attempts to escape . . . which results in her being tied up, but we’ll be back here in a moment.
First, we have to see Flynn’s rescue by Flynn and the Snuggly Duckling thugs, who manage to outwit the palace guards . . . not hard, seeing as how they’re the WORST. GUARDS. EVER. . . . and get Flynn to Rapunzel’s tower . . . where he is promptly stabbed by Gothel. Rapunzel offers up her own freedom so that she can save Flynn’s life. (Ariel, are you paying attention? THIS is sacrifice.) Gothel agrees, and Rapunzel prepares to save Flynn . . . only Flynn won’t allow it. He won’t have Rapunzel be captive, so he cuts off all her hair, knowing it’s the only thing keeping Gothel alive. (Also a major sacrifice, as he will die without it. Seriously, Ariel, I hope you’re taking notes.) Gothel rapidly ages, falls out of the tower, and turns to dust.
(Oh, and Pascal, Rapunzel’s chameleon, makes his only contribution to the plot by tripping Gothel and causing her to fall out the window. Which, even then, is an ultimately futile gesture, given that A) the way she was flailing around, she probably would have fallen out all on her own, and B) she’s about to turn to dust, and the fall is basically just for dramatics. So his contribution is really no contribution at all. You may have even noticed that I hadn’t mentioned the chameleon up to this point, and that’s because he is an utterly useless character and a complete waste of animation. They included him, I think, because every Disney princess is contractually obligated to have an animal friend, regardless of whether or not they need one.)
Anyway, Gothel’s dead, but Flynn is dying from his stab wound, and Rapunzel no longer has her healing hair to save him. Now, anyone who has read the original story might be able to piece together what happens next. (Cassie was, much to the irritation of her friends.) Rapunzel begins to cry, and sings to him as he dies. Then, her tears begin to glow, and Flynn awakens, his wound completely healed. The power, which originally transferred from the flower to her hair, has now transferred to her tears, thus explaining why, in the original story, Rapunzel’s tears were able to restore the prince’s blindness.
And Rapunzel, now a pixie-haired brunette, is reunited with her parents, married to Flynn, and everyone lives happily ever after.
This is by no means a perfect adaptation of the story, but it is a strong one. It’s pretty clear that Disney wasn’t taking this one nearly as seriously, instead just trying to make a light-hearted, fun movie, and in that, they succeeded. Rapunzel is charming and likable, but also quite competent for a Disney princess. Flynn has the major character growth, having to become the prince that we like to see our Disney princesses end up with. And I like that, in the end, it’s not a matter of one rescuing the other . . . they rescue each other. Flynn saves Rapunzel from a lifetime of captivity under Gothel, and Rapunzel saves Flynn from . . . well, death. The backstory is exceptionally intriguing, the characters are fun, and it’s a nice, feel-good story.
But on to the checklist.
Explanation for the parents’ behavior? Check. The mother didn’t henpeck her husband into getting what she wanted, and the husband didn’t trade away his daughter for his life. Rapunzel was kidnapped, thus eliminating the problem.
Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood with Mother Gothel? Erm, no. Not really. It pretty much skips straight to her eighteenth birthday, and we don’t get a lot of depth in the little bit that we do see. Gothel is probably my major disappointment with the Disney film. I was really hoping that this time, they might have antagonist with some depth who WASN’T just pure evil. Now, granted, Gothel is a considerably more subtle evil than a lot of her predecessors, playing the part of the concerned mother and generally using passive-aggressive guilt trips to get what she wants. But I like to think that the mother in the Rapunzel story did actually care for Rapunzel a bit, and was just really overprotective and probably a little selfish and wanted to keep Rapunzel for herself, not for any reasons of needing healing, but because she honestly loved her. But Disney went the “she’s just evil” route with this character, as I unfortunately predicted they would. So, no check.
Explain the unexplained elements? Yes, indeed-y! This is what I really like about this movie. Why did Gothel want Rapunzel? Magical healing hair. Why was her hair special? See previous answer with added explanation of magical healing flower. Why was she locked in a tower? To hide her from the kingdom, who was searching for the lost princess. Why did her tears heal the prince? They were magical healing tears, using the power of the magical healing hair, which in turn took it from the magical healing flower. Simple, yes? (Also, the question of Rapunzel’s pregnancy is a non-issue, as Rapunzel doesn’t get pregnant.)
Wrap up the loose ends? Yeah, if there’s one thing Disney knows how to do, it’s wrap up loose ends. Gothel dies, we see a reunion with the parents, and in general, the characters who drop off the face of the earth in the original story find some sort of closure in the movie.
All in all, not one of Disney’s finest by a long way, but still a good movie and a good adaptation of the Rapunzel story. And honestly, I really do think that this is how Disney should have handled the Sleeping Beauty story, and on some level, I think they knew that. (I really don’t think it’s an accident that the king and queen look an awful lot like the king and queen from Sleeping Beauty, or that Rapunzel is the first blonde Disney princess since Aurora.) It’s what they tried to do--dig into the background and try to tell a new story--but they didn’t take it far enough and it didn’t succeed nearly as well. (Also, Aurora and Philip were about as boring as Disney characters get, while Rapunzel and Flynn? Decidedly not.)
 At any rate, don’t expect it to take itself too seriously, but the movie is definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Once upon a time, in a land you only think you know, lived a little girl and her mother . . . or the person she thought was her mother. Every day when the girl played in her grand villa and lush garden, she grew more curious about what lay on the other side of the ridiculously huge garden wall. Year after year, things just seemed weirder and weirder, until the day she finally managed to sneak over the top of the wall and was horrified to see what lay beyond . . .

Type of Adaptation: Retelling Expansion Combination in a graphic style

That is the most convoluted type of adaptation I have ever typed out ever. This is a graphic novel – Rapunzel meets Jack and the Beanstalk meets the Wild West. It is as brilliant as it sounds. And given that it’s a graphic novel, it reads pretty fast.

Basically, Rapunzel as a child grows up in this rich manor house surrounded by lush gardens and plenty of greenery. She wants for nothing, really, though her mother is a severe type of woman. The only thing is, there’s this wall. All the way around Rapunzel’s home. It’s far too tall for her to see over, and no one will tell her anything about it, and this, of course, makes her all the more eager to learn what lies on the other side.

So on her twelfth birthday, she decides to go see for herself. Using her climbing skills, she makes it to the top of the wall – and is astounded to see that beyond her home, all is gray and dusty and lacking any of the abundant life that defines the villa.

This is all brilliantly done in the illustrations – the stark contrast between the colorful gardens of the villa and the lifeless gray of the world outside. And Rapunzel is a far different girl than one might expect – no golden locks and big blue eyes here. Instead, she’s a fiery redhead with a determined look in her eye, and Mother Gothel looks as severe as she acts. I think the graphic style used for this adaptation is masterfully applied.

Anyway, Rapunzel drops down over the other side of the wall and finds Mason, one of her mother’s guards, who has always had a soft spot for Rapunzel, teaching her to lasso and use a rope – a skill that came in handy when she wanted to scale the wall. He tells her she has to get back to her mother before she’s discovered, but Rapunzel wants to know who the people she sees before her are – the bedraggled, worn out people she never knew existed.

They’re the mine workers, and they might as well be Mother Gothel’s slaves. Horrified, Rapunzel goes to them as they drink at the well, and she speaks to one worn out woman in particular. Rapunzel shares her name, and the woman reveals that her daughter’s name was Rapunzel, but she lost her some time ago. She was taken from her by Mother Gothel. And when she says that, suddenly, Rapunzel remembers this woman in front of her – her true mother. As she’s forced away by the guards, we get a really nice juxtaposition with flashback panels of when Rapunzel was taken away from her mother as a toddler.

Rapunzel, angry and defiant, is brought before Mother Gothel and demands answers. Mother Gothel is unrepentant, saying that Rapunzel’s parents were punished for thieving from her garden, and that after the incident, the wall was built so that Mother Gothel’s work would be entirely kept safe from those who would take it from her.

And here we get the explanation of why Mother Gothel lives in the paradise and why she holds all the power – she is a powerful sorceress, and her gift is growth magic. She can make plants grow in abundance – or she can cut off that growth. By controlling the plant life, she controls all of the world, essentially. And Rapunzel is to inherit her empire.

Rapunzel tries to stand up to her, though, because this is a kick ass heroine, as if the cover illustration of her in a cowboy’s get up using her long braided hair as whips didn’t give that away already. Unfortunately, at this point in the story, Rapunzel is only twelve and pretty weak, and so she is easily taken by Mother Gothel’s giant, Brute, to a massive tree in the middle of the wilderness with a hollowed room in the top – a prison made as only Mother Gothel can. And there Rapunzel will stay until she learns to be more agreeable.

Like that’s gonna happen.

Anyway, Mother Gothel shows up once a year, on Rapunzel’s birthday, for the next four years, to see if her imprisonment has made her more obedient. The answer each year is a resounding no. But the growth magic that surrounds the tree has an effect on Rapunzel – her hair and nails grow at an alarming rate. The nails she’s able to file down, but the hair, she can’t do anything about. Until she starts to get an idea.

On her sixteenth birthday, she finally tells Mother Gothel to go someplace not terribly nice, and Mother Gothel essentially gives up on her, leaving, cutting off the growth magic that grew food for Rapunzel, slowly closing the opening in the tree. Rapunzel knows she has to get out soon or she’ll be trapped forever, so using her long hair, she ropes a branch of her tree and swings not-to-gracefully to safety.

Or at least, to the forest floor. She soon learns that safety is still a ways away. On her way out of the forest, she encounters a passing adventurer, looking for a beautiful maiden he’s heard of who’s locked in a tower. He tells Rapunzel he intends to have some fun with the poor naive girl, but that he wouldn’t actually risk Mother Gothel’s wrath by rescuing her. So Rapunzel, getting some of her own back, directs him to the now-empty tree, telling him to just keep yelling – the girl’s a bit deaf.

And here we leave the Rapunzel tale behind us for the next two-thirds or so of the novel. Basically, Rapunzel is determined to get back to Gothel’s villa, free her real mother, and teach her fake mother a lesson or two. She’s not real sure how to do this, mind you, but that’s the plan. Along the way, she fells in with Jack of beanstalk fame, who is something of a ruffian, a thief, and a ne’er-do-well. (This is a Wild West set story; I can use words like that).

Nevertheless, her lot is fairy firmly tied in with his following their first encounter, and since he knows considerably more of the world than she does, she agrees to travel with him, as long as they quit stealing and he agrees not to call her Punzie. He keeps one of those promises.

I love these two – it’s banter and bickering and name-calling from the get-go, but at the same time, there’s that inherent trust that comes out of surviving life-threatening peril with another person.

Because believe me, there’s plenty of life-threatening peril. I’m not going to get into all of it, but suffice it to say, there are bandits, angry townspeople, wolves, monsters, and desperation, and Jack and Rapunzel manage to get on the bad side of all of it. But they also discover first hand just what living under Mother Gothel’s thumb is like, and Rapunzel is more determined than ever to bring her fake mother down and return the growth power to the land.

They meet, at one point, the old wizard who trained Mother Gothel, and he gives them important information about what they have to do to defeat her. They know now roughly how she’s been controlling the plants of the whole country, so all they have to do is stop her. And when the people they encounter in the towns they visit learn that that’s their ultimate goal, suddenly the help comes pouring in. They make it back to the area of Gothel’s villa just in time for the tribute feast, and manage to disguise themselves with a band of traveling players to gain entry. They split up – Jack goes to create a diversion while Rapunzel tries to find and free her real mother.

Jack’s diversion comes in the form of him sacrificing his lucky bean and growing a beanstalk – which, while infected with Gothel’s growth magic, grows an enormous amount in a very short period of time. Rapunzel is able to set her mother free, but then she and Jack are caught by Brute the giant and taken to Mother Gothel.

And here, we bring the adaptation back around to the Rapunzel story. Mother Gothel’s magnificent home has been lifted high above the ground below by the beanstalk. Gothel has discovered Rapunzel and her “prince,” and now it’s revenge time. Rapunzel uses her braid whips just once, and then Mother Gothel cuts them off and threatens to throw Jack from the tower. Brute gets so far as dangling him out the window, but Rapunzel begs him to spare Jack, pointing out to Brute how awful his life has been with Mother Gothel, how she used her magic to make him big, how she took him from his parents, just like she did with Rapunzel.

Once Brute is on Rapunzel’s side, Mother Gothel attacks in full force. But Brute has given Rapunzel the information she needs. She finds Mother Gothel’s totem, and using one of her gifts from the people who helped her, she breaks it, releasing the magic of the land back where it belongs, and taking Mother Gothel with it. The day is saved, Rapunzel gets her Prince (such as he is), and this Wild West telling gets its happy ending.

This is a brand new take on this story, and you know what? It totally works. Yes, it takes the story in a brand new direction, and it gives a backstory that takes us pretty far away from the original, but the thing is, it's still all contained within the original structure. No, Rapunzel isn't rescued from her tower, but her adventures in the Wild West? Fit very easily into that idea of Rapunzel wandering in the wilderness. Because we come back in the end to bring the story full circle. It's very cleverly done, to be honest, and the graphic style for this retelling suited it perfectly.

Let’s look at the checklist.

Explanation for the parents’ behavior? Yeah. It wasn’t just oh, look at that lettuce, it was a lot more than that. It was desperation for real food of any kind. And they didn’t agree to give up their child – she was forcibly taken.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood? To an extent, yes. We definitely get a sense of what it was like, but it’s not necessarily explored at length. However, this was shortened in this adaptation because Hale expanded the story, so she had to leave time for the exploits and adventures that came after the tower – the, being stranded in the desert, if you will. So I’m giving this one a pass, if not a full check.

Explain the unexplained? Magical hair – a side effect of Mother Gothel’s growth magic, and I like that it was her nails, too. How does it affect Rapunzel? Turns her into a cowgirl, y’all! Okay, seriously, it’s a source of frustration until she figures out how to use it to her advantage – and she uses it for everything. I love that Mother Gothel inadvertently gave her a real nice weapon. Magical tears? Not an issue in this adaptation.

Wrap up the loose ends? Very nicely. Mother Gothel is taken care of, Rapunzel’s mother is freed, the country is saved, and what isn’t tied up (Jack’s story) is left open because there’s a sequel! But don’t worry. We’ll get to that in a few months. :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

HIATUS Announcement

Hello. Do to some personal things going on in my life right now, Fairy Tale Reviews is on hiatus until further notice. Hopefully, that will mean within the week, but there will be no review posted today.

Thanks for understanding, and I hope to be back soon.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair by Wendy Mass

Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair by Wendy Mass

Target Audience: 9-12

Summary: Rapunzel is having the ultimate bad day. She’s been stolen by a witch, may have a ghost for a roommate, and doesn’t even have a decent brush for her hair. Prince Benjamin’s got it pretty bad, too. His father wants him to be more kingly, his mother wants him to never leave her sight, and his cousin wants to get him into as much trouble as possible (preferably with a troll). Both Rapunzel and Prince Benjamin are trapped – in very different ways. Once their paths cross, well, that’s when things REALLY get strange.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, I like Wendy Mass. She writes for the 9-12 audience, and she does so very well. She has I think three of these fairy tale novels, and while they’re not the most life-changing or deep adaptations I’ve ever read, she does manage to adapt the stories for a younger audience without dumbing them down at all, and she makes the characters very relatable to the target readers.

She chooses in this novel to alternate narratives between Rapunzel and Prince Benjamin, which I don’t hate. It’s not the best example of multiple narratives I’ve read, but it serves its purpose in the story. For purposes of clarity, though, as I summarize, I’m not going to alternate perspectives.

I’ll start with Rapunzel. The first thing we notice about Rapunzel is that she’s nearly twelve years old and still living with her parents, which, if you’ll recall, runs a bit counter to the typical Rapunzel story. See, in Mass’s version, Rapunzel wasn’t raised by the witch. She was raised by her parents, who are rampion farmers. They are renowned for being able to grow rampion better than any other farmer, but we soon learn that it wasn’t always this way.

On the morning of Rapunzel’s twelfth birthday, a witch shows up at her door, telling her parents that the time has come, and that she is here to collect Rapunzel. Her parents don’t take well to this – they try to argue, try to fight, but a deal’s a deal, and in the end they have no choice but to tell Rapunzel the truth and let the witch take her.

Rapunzel narrates this, and she is incredibly twelve. A modern-day twelve, I want to stress. This is an interesting choice, but it works. Because the story isn’t set in the modern day, it’s set in the vaguely medieval fairy tale time, but giving Rapunzel a modern voice makes her a bit more accessible to the readers. And while some might find her view on things a bit childish and therefore irritating, she actually amuses me. A lot. She’s so very melodramatic, but in a way that allows her to stand up to the witch as much as she’s able. She’s got spunk.

Anyway, the witch allows her to collect a few things and then takes her to a tower in the middle of nowhere. Rapunzel isn’t pleased at being the witch’s prisoner, and she makes her displeasure known. Not that there’s much she can do about it. But as time goes by, Rapunzel begins to suspect that something’s up. Her hair, which was already pretty long, has started growing about a foot a day, and she’s never awake to see the witch enter or leave the tower. She’s pretty sure there’s enchantments going on around her, and she’s not particularly pleased about it.

And she’s also conflicted in what to think of the witch because on the one hand, the witch treats her horribly. But on the other, whenever she’s fed, she’s given little gifts and things that really lift her spirits, and it isn’t until she gets clever one day that she learns it isn’t the witch at all who is feeding her and leaving her these gifts – it’s a strange little green man who lives in her ceiling.

His name is Steven, and he is trapped in the tower much like Rapunzel, except that he is there because of a debt he owes Mother Gothel. Some time before, his child was suddenly unable to breathe when he was alone with his father. Steven yelled for help, and the witch was there and saved his child’s life. And so now, Steven must repay the debt. But he feels sorry for Rapunzel, stolen from her parents and locked up in the tower. Rapunzel becomes determined to find a way for the two of them to escape.

She also figures out that the witch didn’t rescue Steven’s son by accident. Rather, she was the cause of his distress because she needed to trick Steven into his debt. Steven points out that the witch probably did the same thing to Rapunzel’s parents, who had never liked rampion before the witch moved in next door, and who weren’t the kind of people to trade their child away for a vegetable.

Armed with this knowledge and a new anger against the witch, Steven helps Rapunzel up through the trapdoor in her ceiling and down the stairs that lead to the bottom of the tower. But unfortunately, due to some very poor timing, they’re making their escape just as the witch shows up. Steven gets away, but Rapunzel is not that lucky.                                                                           

And now, she truly is a prisoner. No food, no companionship, just her alone in the tower, and the witch wrecks the things Rapunzel brought with her, so all she has to do is sit there day by day and wait for the witch to bring her food. And Rapunzel’s hair is now long enough for the witch to climb it, which seems to be what she was waiting for all along, though this raises some questions that don’t really get answered satisfactorily – like, why Rapunzel? And why, if the witch wanted a child, did she wait twelve years to pick her up? And why was she forcing Rapunzel’s hair to grow so long she could climb it before she knew that Rapunzel would try to escape and so need to be sealed off from the perfectly good set of stairs above the tower room?

But anyway, this is where we’ll leave Rapunzel to circle back and pick up the prince’s tale.

Prince Benjamin is torn between a mother who constantly babies him and a father who wants him to learn to be more kingly. So he really has no idea what’s actually expected of him. To top it all off, his cousin Elkin is staying with him, and they’ve never really gotten along. Elkin has a habit of getting Benjamin into trouble.

Well, one day, Benjamin is chasing a hare along the bank, when he falls and breaks his glasses. He’s quite blind without them (bonus points if you know already how an end element of this story is going to come into play), so this is a bit of a problem. Luckily, he runs into a boy about his age whose father can fix the glasses. At this boy’s house, Benjamin is dismayed to learn that there are about fifty boys in this village alone who are all named after him, because this kingdom has the somewhat silly tradition of forcing all boys born in the three years after the prince to share the prince’s name.

Well, it hits Benjamin at this point that he really hasn’t done anything worthy of being named after, and he should probably try to fix that. He also feels bad for this poor family and wants to find a way to help them. He confides all this to Andrew, a squire and one of Benjamin’s only friends, and like the twelve year old boys that they are, they concoct a ridiculously complicated scheme.

See, Andrew’s heard a rumor about a troll that lives in a cave in the forest jealously guarding treasure. He figures if Benjamin can find it and defeat it, he can then lead the other Benjamin to the cave by “accident,” co-discover the treasure, and let the Other Benjamin leave with half of it. Because, you know, having the Other Benjamin’s father just come to the palace to be the chief spectacle maker for the prince who goes through them like it’s his job is not convoluted or plot-advancing enough.

But you know what? I buy this. Because I work with twelve-year-old boys. And this is accurate.

Unfortunately, the have to let Elkin in on the plan, but surprisingly, he’s totally down for it. He’s even incredibly helpful. So adequately unprepared, the boys journey into the forest in search of a ferocious troll! But when they find the troll’s cave, they discover that, rather than a troll, its occupant is actually a hermit who created the legend to keep people away.

So that sucks. But the hermit is able to give the boys some good advice once they tell him their convoluted plan. Now, the advice is not “Why don’t you make the Other Benjamin’s father the palace spectacle maker,” but rather some generic fairy tale advice about learning to listen to the song in your heart, but since it’s that advice that leads Benjamin to Rapunzel, which is deliberate, I’ll let it slide.

See, when Steven escaped, he discovered the hermit, and they were just discussing how to free Rapunzel when Benjamin and Elkin showed up. So, knowing that Rapunzel likes to sing, the hermit and Steven concoct their own convoluted plan rather than go to the palace and say, hey, there’s a girl trapped in a tower by a witch, let’s go free her.

But anyway, as they’re heading home, Benjamin hears Rapunzel singing and follows the sound. He finds her tower, watches the witch climb the hair, and decides to try it himself. He gets to Rapunzel’s room at the top and is promptly hit in the head with a pewter bowl, which made me giggle. He starts to tell Rapunzel off, but she rightly points out that he just tricked her and climbed up her hair into her tower uninvited. Benjamin concedes the point.

Rapunzel tells him her story, and he resolves to help her in any way that he can. She comes up with the idea of bringing silk to make a ladder that she can climb down. He returns the next day with all he could find in the palace, but it’s not quite long enough, so he resolves to search some more.

At this point, Rapunzel is so desperate to escape, and so close to it, that she loses her temper with the witch the next day and accidently mentions the prince. Yeah, it’s kinda the Grimm cop-out, but not as bad because a) this Rapunzel isn’t a bimbo, b) it’s made clear that this was comment snapped in exhaustion and irritation, and c) Rapunzel realizes how dumb a mistake she just made almost immediately.

So yeah, Mother Gothel cuts her hair, tosses her from the tower, and traps her in a clearing surrounded by very tall brambles. Then she waits for Benjamin to appear, which he does. He climbs the tower, gets attacked by the witch, and loses his glasses (did you get the points?). Then the witch throws him from the tower, but his pony catches him before he can die (one arched eyebrow . . .). But, he manages to grab the braid of hair on his way back down, effectively trapping the witch in her own tower.

Realizing that she’s probably gotten Benjamin into trouble, Rapunzel starts singing for all she’s worth, and Benjamin, blind without his glasses, lets his pony lead him to the sound. They get Rapunzel out of the brambles, take her back to the palace, and tell everyone their story. The witch is dealt with, Benjamin finally feels worthy of having boys named after him, the Other Benjamin’s father is brought to the palace as the chief spectacle maker (why didn’t I think of that!!), and Rapunzel is reunited with her parents.

Know what doesn’t happen? Rapunzel and Benjamin don’t fall in love and get married. She goes home, he marries a princess, and they remain friends. I love it.

This is a fun little story. And yes, I know before I’ve used “fun little” in a derogatory sense, but I don’t mean that here. I mean, this isn’t anything that’s going to shake the foundations of the world, but it’s an amusing look at Rapunzel, and I enjoyed reading it. It’s ever-so-slightly tongue-in-cheek, and that’s appealing to me. But let’s see how it does with the checklist.

Explanation for the parents’ behavior? Yep, and it’s pretty straightforward – they were enchanted. Now, I’m not sure why Mother Gothel fixated on them in particular or why she let them raise their daughter for twelve years, but those points fall elsewhere on the list. This is just looking at an explanation, and check – it’s there.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood with Mother Gothel? Yep – she didn’t have one. She was raised by her parents, and what we see of her life is fun. She hates rampion with a passion, which amuses me. And then, in the tower, the way she relates to Mother Gothel is lovely, too. Rapunzel here really is a young girl who isn’t old enough to be afraid of her situation in the beginning. She deliberately antagonizes Mother Gothel because she’s pissed and it doesn’t occur to her that that might be a dangerous course of action. She learns soon enough, but that progression and growth was well done.

Explain the unexplained elements? Well, the hair was an enchantment (and Rapunzel was not happy about it!), and Rapunzel couldn’t feel the weight, also part of the enchantment. And there were no healing tears. Instead, Rapunzel had with her the spare pair of glasses Benjamin left in the tower after his first visit. And can I just say? I really enjoyed how Mass got around the blindness. That was legitimately clever, and entirely appropriate for the audience.

Wrap up the loose ends? Yeah, we did that fairly well. All of the questions the novel deliberately posed got answered. I can’t say the same for the questions that I think just occurred to me, but I’ll give the points.

So yeah, it’s not a perfect novel, and it’s not particularly deep. There are some plot holes, and the book as a whole is pretty fluffy. But I enjoyed reading it, and it made me laugh, so yeah. Give it a whirl if you have a couple hours.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Golden by Cameron Dokey

Golden by Cameron Dokey

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Before Rapunzel’s birth, her mother made a dangerous deal with the sorceress Melisande: if she could not love newborn Rapunzel just as she appeared, she would surrender the child to Melisande. When Rapunzel was born completely bald and without hope of ever growing hair, her horrified mother sent her away with the sorceress to an uncertain future. After sixteen years of raising Rapunzel as her own child, Melisande reveals that she has another daughter, Rue. She was cursed by a wizard years ago and needs Rapunzel’s help. Rue and Rapunzel have precisely “two nights and the day that falls between” to break the enchantment. But bitterness and envy will come between the girls, and if they fail to work together, Rue will remain cursed forever.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, I may have mentioned before that Cameron Dokey (with one notable exception which we’ll get to later in the year) can basically do no wrong in my book? Yeah, that’s because she’s brilliant, most of the time, and Golden is one of the books that proves that in my mind.

We start with a typical Dokey meta-commentary on some aspect of the nature of storytelling, in this instance dealing with the fact that it’s the middle of the story that’s most important, more than what starts or ends it. And also that stories live on, not people, and so a story cannot truly grant immortality the way many seem to want. The prologue also speaks to how love happens, whether it can be the work of a moment, or if it doesn’t more often require more than that. It’s a Dokey prologue, in other words, and I love it.

Rapunzel narrates her own tale, telling us of her parents and the vegetable that her mother so craved, and it’s the story we all know. The husband climbs the wall and gets caught by the sorceress, but this is where things start to diverge ever so slightly. Before naming her price for the theft, the sorceress declares she must first see the man’s wife, and only then will she make her deal.

In meeting Rapunzel’s mother, it’s made clear to us that she is an incredibly vain and selfish creature. So the sorceress makes a deal with her. If, when the child is born, the mother can love her entirely and immediately, then there will be no further discussion of price. But if she can’t, then the child will be given to the sorceress to raise. Rapunzel’s mother agrees, almost dismissively. Rapunzel’s father is much more upset. But as the sorceress points out to him, with true regret, no action can be without consequence, and his consequence is that this decision is not his to make.

But when Rapunzel is born, she is bald. And not normal-baby bald, no-peach-fuzz, no hair to speak of, no chance of ever growing any. Now wait, Cassie, I hear some of you say. Rapunzel? Rapunzel, famed for her impossibly-long golden hair? Bald? Yes, I answer the imaginary and snarky among you. Patience.

But Rapunzel’s vain mother takes one look at her child and blanches, calling the baby hideous and demanding that she be taken away. And so, the sorceress takes her, though she assures Rapunzel’s father that he will see his daughter again someday.

So Rapunzel grows up with the sorceress, whose name is Melisande. And Melisande is completely honest from the beginning that Rapunzel is not her daughter, and is never to call her “Mother.” Rapunzel wonders about her parents, of course, but she leads a mostly happy life with Melisande, away from the village where she was born.

But Melisande’s original prophecy – that Rapunzel would never grow hair – turns out to be true. And when it’s just the two of them, this doesn’t bother Rapunzel.

But one day when they have to venture into the village, she gets away from Melisande and starts playing a game of soccer with the local children. She’s fine as long as her head covering is on, but then, during the game, it gets pulled off. When her baldness is discovered, the villagers all stare and whisper, saying she must be cursed. When Melisande comes to get her, she works her power on the villagers to show each of them the hate and distrust in their hearts. None of them can meet her eyes, but Rapunzel can. So Melisande basically calls a whole town wusses and takes Rapunzel back home. It’s kinda awesome, not gonna lie.

So, after this episode, in enters the tinker. His name is Mr. Jones, and he and Rapunzel strike up a conversation as he’s passing their home one day, and when Melisande comes out to meet him, they have a very odd exchange. Though they talk as if they’re strangers, Rapunzel is pretty sure there’s more being said than what she knows. (Spoilers – the tinker is Rapunzel’s father. Rapunzel, of course, doesn’t find this out until the end of the novel, but it’s made pretty clear to the reader from the get-go). The tinker gives Rapunzel a kitten, a fact that I mention now because it becomes important later on.

The tinker has an assistant who Rapunzel catches in the barn one night trying to run away. She convinces him to stay with the tinker who, while not his father, has made a place for the boy in his heart, just as Melisande did for Rapunzel. The boy’s name is Harry, and he and Rapunzel strike up a friendship, though being being two twelve-year-olds, it’s about what one might expect – lots of teasing and name calling.

And three years pass. Harry and Mr. Jones stop by relatively often, and each time they come, Harry brings Rapunzel a new head scarf, more and more elaborate. The first he ever brought her, though, is her favorite, for it’s embroidered all over with black-eyed Susans, and it makes her look, from afar, as if she has a head of golden hair. Harry, it should be noted, doesn’t think of odd in the slightest that Rapunzel is bald.

But then, a drought hits the land, and for a while they get by, but when the drought goes on and on without end, the villagers start to remember that there’s a sorceress living close to them. Mr. Jones and Harry are able to warn Melisande and Rapunzel in time for them to slip away from home and avoid the oncoming mob. Harry splits off from the party to try and lead the mob in the wrong direction and give the others more time to escape, but of course before he goes, he kisses Rapunzel because there’s romance abrewin’.

When they stop for the night, Melisande decrees that “it’s time.” And so she sits Rapunzel down to tell her the things that have never been told before.

Mainly, that Melisande has a daughter. Her real name is never to be spoken, but Melisande calls her Rue, out of her regret. Some years before, before Rapunzel was born, Melisande acted thoughtlessly in the presence of a wizard. She failed to use her gift to see into the hearts of others, and so inadvertently caused pain to another. The wizard who observed this cursed Melisande to live without what she treasured most until the curse could be broken. But he made a mistake. Since he valued his power more than all else, he thought Melisande would, too. But instead, Melisande’s daughter was snatched away from her, imprisoned in a tower in an enchanted stasis until Melisande could find the key to opening Rue’s heart and freeing her.

When Rapunzel was born and her mother forsook her, Melisande looked into her heart, and saw a piece of her daughter there, and so became determined to raise Rapunzel in love. But also, she now admits, she hoped that Rapunzel might one day be the key to freeing Rue.

Rapunzel is not exactly thrilled to learn this. She feels as if she’s been lied to her whole life, and she is very angry with Melisande until Mr. Jones can talk her down from this anger. So, slightly more calmly, she asks what breaking the curse will entail, but Melisande doesn’t know. All she knows is that Rapunzel has to agree to do it, Rue has to agree to let Rapunzel help her, and they have only two nights and the day inbetween to figure it out.

Which is an awful lot of “if”s to be building off of, especially when Rapunzel and Melisande get to the tower, climb up Rue’s hair, and meet her. Because Rue and Rapunzel? Don’t exactly hit it off. As angry as Rapunzel was to hear that Melisande had a daughter she’d never been told about, Rue is just as angry to learn that she has apparently been replaced in her mother’s life. And it looks for a long time like everything’s just going to go merrily to hell and leave everyone unhappy, when Rue meets Rapunzel’s cat, the one I told you would be important later. She falls in love with the cat, and Rapunzel is able to use the act as an analogy for the two of them both being able to love Melisande and help each other out of this situation.

What Dokey has done here is wonderful – she has doubled the Rapunzel story. You have the bald girl named Rapunzel who’s the one whose parents gave her up in exchange for some vegetables, and then you have the girl with the magical golden hair stolen away from her mother and locked in a tower. Melisande becomes both the mother and the witch. Rue and Rapunzel each make up half of the fairy tale damsel. And it’s wonderful. There’s no big plot twist at the end of this story – it doesn’t need it. The twist is that there are two, and so instead of being shocked by the end of the story, we get to see how all these seemingly too many pieces come together in the end to be the story we all know.

Well, Rapunzel agrees to try and break the enchantment, and so Melisande and the tinker leave them to try and work it out. But then Harry shows up. And Harry isn’t happy. He thinks Rapunzel is acting rashly, and he thinks she should have waited, and he says all these things that make Rapunzel so exasperated that she calls Rue to come out to the balcony to prove a point, but no sooner has she actually convinced Rue over her very great fears to do this, than she figures it was probably a mistake. Because the minute he sees Rue, Harry is struck dumb with wonder and awe at her beauty. And Rapunzel? Is made forcefully aware of the fact that she loves him.

Harry stumbles away, and Rapunzel is miserable, and she takes it out on Rue, which sets them back a few dozen steps. See, Rue was terrified to leave her tower at all, even the few steps it would take to come out onto the balcony, especially if it involves meeting someone. Rue is afraid that because of the spell she was under, no one will ever be able to like or love her, and Rapunzel wanted to prove that wasn’t true. Rapunzel had to coax her out the whole way to meet Harry, and now she’s acting like it was a mistake, and Rue gets angry with her for it, understandably. So Harry storms away and Rue storms back inside, and Rapunzel is left out on the balcony unable to sleep.

In a lovely throwback to the original, Rapunzel starts talking to herself about the whole mess of a situation, and much to her surprise, a voice floats up from below, answering her rhetorical questions. She is startled, and thinks it’s Harry, but he soon proves that he isn’t. His name is Alexander, and he is a prince. He wants to know if she’s a damsel in distress, because if she is, he might be able to rescue her, and if he does that, he’ll be able to marry her and not the foreign princess his father wants. When Rapunzel points out that he doesn’t know her any better than he knows the foreign princess, he replies that this may be true, but at least he’d be making his own choice this way.

And that’s when Rapunzel gets her brilliant idea. Maybe, she reasons, the key to breaking the curse lies with convincing Rue that it’s all right to leave the tower. That she wants to leave the tower. And since Rue confessed earlier that she wished so often for a knight to come rescue her, this seems like the perfect solution, especially since Alex hasn’t seen Rapunzel – he’s only heard her (and engaged in some marvelous banter, I will point out). If she can get Rue to open her heart to Alex, she hopes that this will break the enchantment.

So she makes Alex promise to wait until nightfall the next day and come back. Her plan is to convince Rue to step into the role she created in their conversation, but unfortunately, it isn’t going to be that easy. For one thing, Harry didn’t disappear like Rapunzel thought. He’s been there hiding, listening to everything, and now he believes that Rapunzel is planning to run away with this prince and abandon her task. He’s angry and jealous because he thinks Rapunzel is in love with Alex, and Rapunzel is angry and jealous because she thinks Harry is upset over her potentially leaving Rue, and – guys, this is what happens when we don’t use our words.

But she convinces him in the end to look after Alex, who managed to trip in the dark and knock himself out, and make sure he comes back the next night. And her next challenge is convincing Rue to agree to the plan.

Rue is incredibly not happy with Rapunzel’s plan. Rapunzel tries to argue that Alex wants to marry her, and Rue comes back with, no, he wants to marry Rapunzel, but Rapunzel argues that she doesn’t have to be the Rapunzel he falls in love with. She says if she just talks to him the next night and shows him her face, she’ll be the one he attaches to, and he never needs to know there were two of them.

This scene is marvelous because it takes that classic “love at first sight” trope and turns it on its head. Rue and Rapunzel are very much alike when all is said and done, and the conversation he had the night before he truly might have had with either of them. This novel puts forth the idea that love is as much circumstance and desire as it is any kind of predestination, and while that may not be a popular romantic theory, it is one that I support whole-heartedly.

And it almost works. Rue goes to the balcony. She looks over the edge. He sees her and attaches his love to this face with its amazing hair – and then he calls her Rapunzel, and Rue freezes again. Rapunzel has to step in and keep the conversation going. Alex says he loves her, and Rapunzel asks how he can, since they just met. She asks if he truly believes love can happen in an instant. He answers with a tale from his land, about a king and queen whose marriage was arranged. The queen on their wedding day asked for one thing – a room that would always protect her, keep her warm and dry and safe, etc, etc. In the typical way of those sorts of stories, he took it as a literal room, but in the end, it was the space he made for her in his heart that she had asked for. This story convinces Rue to open her own heart to Alex. She uses the magical gift that Melisande possesses to look into the hearts of both Rue and Alex. And what she sees there isn’t full blown love, but rather the seed of love planted, a seed that can grow into true love given time and energy.

She tells Rue of this, and makes one last request before the enchantment is broken – that Rue go with him using her name, Rapunzel. For Rue was never Melisande’s daughter’s true name. It was a name born out of sorrow, and she should go forth in her new life with a new one. Besides, Rapunzel tells her, she would much rather that Rapunzel live on in people’s minds as a girl known for her magnificent hair, rather than a girl known for being bald. And she never much cared for the name, anyway.

Rue agrees, and once she agrees to marry Alex and go forth with an open heart, the enchantment is broken. And Alex and new-Rapunzel make a life together, just as Harry and old-Rapunzel do as well. And Melisande is reunited with both her daughters, and Rapunzel, now Susan, is reunited with her family, and it all wraps up very nicely.

The book is very well done, and no, it isn’t as sappy as I made it sound. The message isn’t heavy-handed; it’s very well delivered, and as I said, it’s one of my favorites from Cameron Dokey. But let’s look at the checklist, yeah?

Explanation for the parents’ behavior? Yep – Mom was a selfish bitch. Rapunzel learns from her father at the end that she died not long after Rapunzel was taken away, and personally, I think Dad’s better off. I love that he continued to be in the story. I love that he found a way to be near his daughter, and I love that Melisande let him. You got the sense that she really did feel sorry for this man, asked to pay an unfair price. But in the end, he got to watch his daughter grow, and got to tell her who she was, and the romantic in me totally ships Dad and Melisande.

Exploration of Rapunzel’s childhood? Yes, and I love it! I love the relationship we see built between Melisande and Rapunzel – that Melisande makes clear the fact that she is not Rapunzel’s mother, but that she loves Rapunzel all the same. From the sounds of it, Rapunzel had a perfectly lovely childhood, apart from the bald thing, and Melisande is one of my favorite characters in this story. She is so strong, and I love the way her magic works – she sees into people’s hearts, and can show them what lies there. Beautifully done.

Explain the unexplained? Magical hair? Part of the wizard’s enchantment. How does it affect Rue? She hates it – she’s constantly tripping over it, it makes getting dressed very difficult, it’s just a nightmare. Magical tears? Didn’t come into play in this adaptation.

Wrap up the loose ends? Yes, and very nicely too. We know what happened to both Rapunzel’s parents. We know what happens to Melisande and the prince and Rue, and far from being a huge secret, the prince coming to the tower was something consciously worked for and towards. In the end, very nicely done.

Cameron Dokey can weave a story, folks. Very well done, all around.