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. :)