Rapunzel, Maid of the Tower
The full traditional story,
with adaptations by Rick Evert, and an alternative ending
“Fairy tales give children their first exposure to bizarre behavior.”  George Carlin.

There were once a man and a woman who had long in vain wished for a child.  At length the woman hoped that God was about to grant her desire.  These people had a little window at the back of their house from which a splendid garden could be seen, which was full of the most beautiful flowers and herbs.  It was, however, surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared to go into it because it belonged to an enchantress, who had great power and was dreaded by all the world.
One day the woman was standing by this window and looking down into the garden, when she saw a bed, which was planted with the most beautiful rampion (rapunzel), and it looked so fresh and green that she longed for it, and had the greatest desire to eat some.  This desire increased every day, and as she knew that she could not get any of it, she quite pined away, and began to look pale and miserable.
 Then her husband was alarmed, and asked: “What ails you, dear wife?”
 “Ah,” she replied, “if I can't eat some of the rampion, which is in the garden behind our house, I shall die.”
The man, who loved her, thought: ‘Sooner than let your wife die, bring her some of the rampion yourself, let it cost what it will.’  At twilight, he clambered down over the wall into the garden of the enchantress, hastily clutched a handful of rampion, and took it to his wife.
Now what in the world is happening here?  The wife craves a particular vegetable, as women with child are wont to do.  So she cajoles and manipulates her poor husband with implied threats of self-starvation.  And then his brains leave him, and travel south for the winter.  Does he go to his neighbor and ask for some rampion, offer to buy some, or attempt to barter some for a chicken?  No, he does the right and reasonable thing; he climbs over the wall and steals some!  Great, thoughtless donkey!  And why hadn’t they planted their own garden?  In retrospect they might have saved themselves a lot of grief had they done just that.

She at once made herself a salad of it, and ate it greedily.  It tasted so good to her -- so very good, that the next day she longed for it three times as much as before.

More piteous and malicious manipulation.  For shame!

If he was to have any rest, her husband must once more descend into the garden.  In the gloom of evening, therefore, he let himself down again; but when he had clambered down the wall he was terribly afraid, for he saw the enchantress standing before him.

“How can you dare,” said she with angry look, “descend into my garden and steal my rampion like a thief? You shall suffer for it!”

“Ah,” answered he, “let mercy take the place of justice, I only made up my mind to do it out of necessity.  My wife saw your rampion from the window, and felt such a longing for it that she would have died if she had not got some to eat.”

He has committed a pernicious crime, and being a man of courage, dignity and honour, he again does the right and reasonable thing.  He blames it on his wife!

Then the enchantress allowed her anger to be softened, and said to him:

“If the case be as you say, I will allow you to take away with you as much rampion as you will, only I make one condition, you must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world; it shall be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother.”

The man in his terror consented to everything, and when the woman was brought to bed, the enchantress appeared at once, gave the child the name of Rapunzel, and took it away with her.

Then he weasels out.  He gives up the only daughter he may ever have to escape the just, but personal consequences of his theft.  He and his wife had hoped in vain for this child to come for many years.  And he capitulates completely.  Dame Gothel probably did Rapunzel a huge favor by taking her away from her inept, manipulative and morally bereft blood-parents.

Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child under the sun.

When she was twelve years old, the enchantress shut her into a tower, which lay in a forest, and had neither stairs nor door, but quite at the top was a little window.

What a cruel and unusual fate for a young girl, but perhaps old Dame Gothel had her reasons.  Rapunzel was much admired by the young men of the region for her great beauty and her astonishingly long and lovely tresses.  We shall soon see that young Rapunzel’s flirtatiousness soon matured into downright promiscuousness.  She would eagerly tumble with the first man who came along.

When the enchantress wanted to go in, she placed herself beneath it and cried:

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair to me.”

Rapunzel had magnificent long hair, and when she heard the voice of the enchantress she unfastened her braided tresses, wound them round one of the hooks of the window above, and then the hair fell twenty ells down, and the enchantress climbed up by it.

The English ell, being a measure of cloth of about forty-five inches in the units of our time would give Rapunzel the quite astronomical length of tresses of 900 inches; a length of some seventy-five feet.  Other Flemish or Russian measures of the ell vary in conversion length from about 20 to 27 inches (50 to 70 cm), the ell (elbow) being a measure of magnitude similar to the cubit.  As the tale of Rapunzel comes to us from Germanic sources, it seems reasonable to take an ell to be about 20 inches in length.  Being a maid of about thirteen to fourteen years at the time of this part of the narrative, our Rapunzel had clearly experienced a rate of hair growth quite astonishing of greater than 2 feet per year, culminating in a length of about thirty-four feet.  Thus the enchantress would have been able to imprison Rapunzel in a three-story tower, high enough to discourage thoughts of escape by jumping out the window.

After a year or two, it came to pass that the king's son rode through the forest and passed by the tower. Then he heard a song, which was so charming that he stood still and listened.  This was Rapunzel, who in her solitude passed her time in letting her sweet voice resound.  The king's son wanted to climb up to her, and looked for the door of the tower, but none was to be found.  He rode home, but the singing had so deeply touched his heart, that every day he went out into the forest and listened to it.

Is it not curious that a prince of the realm, doubtless having a certain education and sophistication in the ways of the world, did not wonder why there was a lone, doorless tower standing in the middle of the woods?

Once when he was thus standing behind a tree, he saw that an enchantress came there, and he heard how she cried:

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair.”

Then Rapunzel let down the braids of her hair, and the enchantress climbed up to her.

“If that is the ladder by which one mounts, I too will try my fortune,” said he.

He had not until this day realized that this beautiful maid with the voice of an angel had such incredible, lovely tresses that were long enough to reach from a garret window to the ground.  As he rode home, the massage of the saddle and his thoughts of the maid with the longest and most beautiful hair he had ever seen, or heard tell of, caused his manhood to tighten painfully in his breeches.

And the next day when it began to grow dark, he went to the tower and cried:

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,  Let down your hair.”

Now Rapunzel, having grown accustomed to the contralto voice of the enchantress, and now hearing the usual words spoken by a male baritone voice, thought simply that the Dame Gothel had taken a serious grippe since she had left the tower a couple of hours previous.  And not being a cautious girl, she simply tossed her ells of braided hair out the window, allowing them to uncoil down the tower wall, and tumble into the mud below.  To look out the window when the situation was different from that accustomed was obviously not a thing that Rapunzel might do.  Surely, what was she thinking?

Immediately the hair fell down and the king's son climbed up. At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man, such as her eyes had never yet beheld, came to her.  However, the king's son began to talk to her quite like a friend, and told her that his heart had been so stirred (Yes, he did say his heart!) that it had let him have no rest, and he had been forced to see her.

Then Rapunzel lost her fear, and when he asked her if she would take him for her husband, and she saw that he was young and handsome, she thought:

“He will love me more than old Dame Gothel does.”

Dame Gothel had raised Rapunzel from infancy, and was the only mother that she had ever known.  The enchantress Gothel had taken Rapunzel, doubtless because she wished to have a daughter of her own to raise and love, there being no suitor willing to approach the enchantress.  Did Rapunzel feel no motherly love for her?  Now Rapunzel had been imprisoned alone in a tower garret, which is certainly an unpleasant thing to do to a beloved child, but Dame Gothel may have had her reasons.  We shall see that our sweet Rapunzel was all too eager to lift her skirts for the first man that she encountered.

And she said yes, and laid her hand in his.

Whereupon the Prince declared that they were married; that he, as a prince was empowered to pronounce the sacred vows.  Poor Rapunzel knew no better; she had never before encountered a prince.  So the Prince then introduced her to the pleasures of the marital bed, bringing her to a passionate climax repeatedly every night.  Each time that he visited, he plunged into her with great heat and enthusiasm, until finally and inevitably she was with child.

It never occurred to our innocent maid, that a prince must surely have the wherewithal to find a means to free her from her tower prison.  Surely he could have approached the village aluminum-siding contractor and arranged to borrow a ladder.

"Say, my good fellow, could you help me out with a bit of a sticky problem?” the Prince might ask.

“Certainly my lord, what can I do you for?” the contractor chucked at his lame joke, as if he hadn’t used it a thousand times before. “I don’t suppose that yer lookin’ for a siding job to spruce up the old castle, are ye?  Perhaps a new stable?”

“I should like to borrow your ladder, to rescue a damsel in distress imprisoned in a tower,” declared the prince.

The tin man was somewhat startled by this request.  The Prince had quite a reputation as a skirt-chaser, and he had rarely any shortage of willing lasses in his retinue.  This must be a really special babe for him to go to this much trouble.

“Certainly my lord,” replied the contractor, “How long do ye need it?”

“Oh just for the afternoon should be fine.  It’s not too far.”

“No, no,” He bit his tongue as he almost added “ye daft slug” to his remark.  “How long does the ladder need ta be?”

“Oh, of course,” replied the prince, “About 20 ells should be fine.”

Or he could have presented his request to the Sergeant-Major of His Majesty’s Royal Regiment of Engineers and Sappers.

“Say, Sergeant-Major, could you help me out with a problem that I have?” the prince might ask.

“Yes sir, your Highness.” replied the Sergeant-Major, snapping smartly to attention and saluting crisply.  “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a bit longer.”

“I should like to rescue this damsel in distress kept prisoner in a tower-garret,” said the prince.

“How tall might this tower be?” inquired the Sergeant-Major.

“About 20 ells, replied the prince.

“That’s not a tower – this be a tower,” replied the Sergeant-Major with an expansive sweep of his arm, indicating the corner tower of the Royal Castle.  “This be 53 ells in height, with walls an ell and a half thick.  Yours be naught but a tall cottage.  What is the tower made of?”

“Stone and mortar,” replied the prince.

“And how is it defended?  Cannon, moat, infantry, cavalry, archers.....”

“Well, none of that, actually,” replied the prince.

The Sergeant-Major raised his eyebrow skeptically.  “Sir, the men of the Regiment could knock off a half-dozen wee towers like that in an afternoon.”  He consulted his wrist-sundial.  “As a matter of fact, there is a good 45 minutes before dinner parade.  We could work it in now if you wish.”

 It is rumored that the local home center even had a special sale on rope that week.  But we must suppose that princes do not pay much attention to sales, especially at home centers.  Ew!  Grubby stuff.

 But the Prince did not avail himself of any of these options.  Might it be that the Prince wished that no other suitor might court her, and that he greatly enjoyed his trysts with his imprisoned lover, not having to compete for her affections?  It was certainly convenient for him; in her situation she was certainly a cheap date!

Or perhaps lust had completely addled his thought processes, his oxygenated blood flow having abandoned his brain in favor of his nether regions.  He could only think of possessing her, but clearly had not the foggiest idea of how to win her freedom from the tower.

She said,  “I will willingly go away with you, but I do not know how to get down. Bring with you a skein of silk every time that you come, and I will weave a ladder with it, and when that is ready I will descend, and you will take me on your horse.”

By planning to weave a ladder, Rapunzel, naive and innocent in the ways of princedom and engineering as she was, at least displays a certain initiative and ingenuity in this matter.  At least more so than the esteemed but dim-witted prince.

'I shall require more than a horse,’ thought the prince, as he rode slowly back to the castle after his evening tryst, ‘at least a sizeable wagon will be needed to transport her and all her twenty ells of hair.’  And he had not the slightest intention of leaving behind so much as a milli-ell of her beautiful, red-gold tresses.  Is it not odd that he could concern himself with the means of transport of his illicit bride and her beautiful, long tresses, but could not think of a way to free her from her prison?

They agreed that until that time he should come to her every evening, for the old woman came by day.  The enchantress remarked nothing of this, until once Rapunzel said to her:

“Tell me, Dame Gothel, how it happens that you are so much heavier for me to draw up than the young king's son -- he is with me in a moment.” (‘Damn! Swill-for-brains,’ thought Rapunzel, chastising herself for her momentary lapse of reason.)

We must not be too critical of young Rapunzel’s gaffe.  We know that she possessed a greater capacity for cognitive thought than the dimwitted prince, but she had been confined to the tower for so long that her sophistication in the arts of social repartee was lacking; she spoke before she thought.

“Ah! you wicked child,” cried the enchantress. “What do I hear you say! I thought I had separated you from all the world, and yet you have deceived me!”

In her anger she clutched Rapunzel's beautiful tresses, wrapped them twice round her left hand, seized a pair of scissors with the right, and snip, snap, they were cut off, and the lovely braids lay on the ground.  And she was so pitiless that she took poor Rapunzel into a desert where she had to live in great grief and misery.

Gothel had a curious touch when it comes to disciplining a child.  And just how did the enchantress get out of the tower with Rapunzel and return later?  Up till now she had relied on the timely lowering of the silken ladder of hair by the tower prisoner.  Do enchantresses actually have flying brooms?

On the same day that she cast out Rapunzel, however, the enchantress fastened the braids of hair, which she had cut off, to the hook of the window, and when the king's son came and cried:

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair.”

She let the hair down. The king's son ascended, but instead of finding his dearest Rapunzel, he found the enchantress, who gazed at him with wicked and venomous looks.

“Aha!” she cried mockingly, “you would fetch your dearest, but the beautiful bird sits no longer singing in the nest; the cat has got it, and will scratch out your eyes as well.  Rapunzel is lost to you; you will never see her again.”

The king's son was beside himself with pain, and in his despair he leapt down from the tower.

Of course he did.  Could we have hoped for better?  The dummy was lucky he didn’t bust his nut.

He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell pierced his eyes.

These are the very same thorn bushes that Rapunzel did not deign to seek to avoid when lowering her lengthy braid-ladder from the garret window, the first time the Prince approached.

Then he wandered quite blind about the forest, ate nothing but roots and berries, and did naught but lament and weep over the loss of his dearest wife.

Did he manage to delude himself into believing that he was actually married to her?  Nasty sod!

We must hope that the prince had time to reflect on his actions.  It certainly had never occurred to him to approach Dame Gothel and ask for an introduction to the maid Rapunzel, or for the hand of the maiden in marriage.  She may have been as young as fourteen when he started poking her on a regular basis, the cad!  We hope that he realized that he might have acquitted himself better, in a more honorable manner.  He might not then be stumbling about blind, starving and miserable had he done so.  Perhaps the prince was just spoiled rotten, and had never been denied anything, so he felt perfectly justified in taking whatever he wished.

The crown prince of the realm of Yod,

Was a lecher, a scoundrel, a sod.

He climbed the tress-ladder,

Debauched her and had her,

So of course she was soon in the pod.

Of course the King and Queen from time to time wondered what had happened to their wayward and vacuous son.  He had left to go wenching one night and had not returned.  So did the King scour the land with his legions to find his lost heir, seeking news from all his subjects?  Did he post a reward for news of his son?  Or did he simply say ‘Good riddance to the lecherous beast.’  Alas we shall never know.  But it is evident that the King and Queen would not find out what had happened until several years had passed.

Thus he roamed about in misery for some years, and at length came to the desert where Rapunzel, with the twins to which she had given birth, a boy and a girl, lived in wretchedness.

For poor Rapunzel had been regarded as a woman of low repute, having been with child without being in a state of Holy matrimony, and there was no reputable manner offered to her to for her to earn a living for her little children.  However, we shall see that when the Prince appeared on the scene, all was forgiven, for a prince may fornicate hither and yon, father dozens of children, and no subject may speak ill of it, for power and position excuse all manner of despicable behavior.  This has held true since the beginnings of time, and, regrettably, still holds true even in our day.

He heard a voice, and it seemed so familiar to him that he went towards it, and when he approached, Rapunzel knew him and fell on his neck and wept.  Two of her tears wetted his eyes and they grew clear again, and he could see with them as before.  He led her to his kingdom where he was joyfully received, and they lived for a long time afterwards, happy and contented.

The King and Queen evidently accepted the return of the wayward prince without reserve, despite being accompanied by a tavern-doxy and two squalling illegitimate urchins.  She was rather comely, however, with her very long and beautiful russet hair, and she really did clean up nicely.

The King had bellowed “Where in holy hell have you been, boy?  Could you not have sent word to your poor mother at some point in the last four years, just to tell her that you weren’t dead?  And tell us now, how can it be that you can stumble about blind, and find your wench in the desert, but can’t find your way home?  Ye daft bugger!”

Rapunzel had been obliged, during her period of exile in the desert, to keep her hair shorn to a length that she considered quite short; it most certainly was for her.  She could grow it only to her ankles, as she had to work as a scullery-maid in an alehouse to make ends meet.  She sold her hair to a wigmaker whenever it got long enough to drag on the ground.  Because of its length, fine color and abundance she was able to receive a good price for it, and the money greatly helped her little family.  Because her hair grew so quickly, it had been possible for her to cut and sell it twice during the period of her desert exile.  You’re wondering about the presence of an alehouse in the desert.  Well, of course, what better place to slake the thirst of weary and thirsty travelers?

The reconciliation with the prince occurred about four years after the sorceress had shorn the beautiful tresses of our poor Rapunzel.  But considering her remarkable ability for growing very thick, lustrous and long hair, she soon required the services of three maids and six pages to tend to her massive tresses, which again trailed several ells behind her.  The prince would have nothing to do with her requests to cut her abundantly lengthy tresses.  He loved her long hair, and savored nothing more than enjoying the conjugal pleasures, with the masses of her hair covering the bed, cascading over the edges to flow along the floor, entwining them both in a luxurious blanket of silken, sensual beauty.

Rapunzel now had access to the teachers, scholars and priests of the King’s court, and she used the wisdom and resources of these people to learn more of her blood-parents.  She learned of their lust for rampion, their theft, their lack of moral fiber and how they had given her up for adoption even though she was the only child that they could have.  She learned of her parents-in-law, the King and Queen, who had made no effort to find their son the prince when he had gone missing for four years.  She learned of the Prince’s reputation as a womanizer, and she soon recognized that his dearth of intellectual power had doubtless prevented him from being able to figure out a way to rescue a single woman from a tower garret.  His duplicity became known to her, for she had not in fact been married when the Prince put her with child.  She realized too his lack of responsibility and respect for his parents, by neglecting to send word to them while he wandered about in a blind grief-tantrum.  Excrement happens, but one really does have to get on with one’s life.

And she realized that when she had been on her own, she had managed just fine.  She had possessed the wit and wisdom to take care of her own small family.  And she came to understand that of all the people in her life, there was only one who had proven to have a sense of honor and morality.  There was only one to have loved her as a daughter, and there was only one who seemed to possess something of greater substance than tapioca pudding between her ears, and that was the enchantress Dame Gothel.

Rapunzel came to the conclusion that she must take charge of her life.  She cut her hair very short, to only knee-length so that she might walk or ride with ease, and left the castle of the King, Queen and Prince forever.  (Obviously Rapunzel's concept of long and short hair was somewhat different from that of most people.)  She took her two children and went to visit with Dame Gothel, who was both astonished and delighted to see them, though her gruff demeanor restrained her from readily revealing it.

Rapunzel declared “Gothel, you are my mother, a title you deserve because you have truly earned it.  I am angered that you imprisoned me in that tower, it was a horrible thing to do, and it was cruel of you to leave me in the desert like that, but now I want to make peace with you, and to introduce you to my children by the Prince, Annabel and Anakin.  I love you, Mother.”

“Do you not fear my wrath?” asked Gothel, a tear brimming in her eye.

“No,” replied Rapunzel.  “You have always been firm, sometimes a bit TOO firm, but fair.  You are powerful but not wicked.”

‘You too have behaved badly, and are not worthy of my mercy.” chastised Gothel.

“Yes, I know, Mother,” wept Rapunzel.  “Please forgive me.”

“Yes.  I do.  Enter my home then, and be welcome.  We all have sins to repent.  You are forever welcome,” wept Gothel, embracing Rapunzel, Annabel, and Anakin.  “What beautiful children you have.”

“And what beautiful grandchildren you have,” replied Rapunzel.

The Prince did not come in pursuit of his wayward “bride”.  Gothel was much feared in the land for her powers of enchantment, and that fear served as a mantle of protection for Rapunzel and her children.  The Prince certainly did not want to cross Gothel a second time, once had been more than enough.  He was glad that she had only caused his eyes to be scratched out.

Gothel built them a fine, comfortable cottage in the forest, with the very tower of Rapunzel’s imprisonment as part of it.  The tower now had a door, and many windows at many levels, and served as a magical castle for the children’s play.

The healing of the prince’s eyesight by the anointment of her tears led Rapunzel to understand that she had some special powers of her own, so she embarked on the study of the arts of enchantment, becoming acolyte to her stepmother, Gothel.  The two made quite a striking pair, Gothel, all dark, and foreboding, seeming to be the epitome of power and doom, and Rapunzel, radiantly beautiful, cheerful of temperament, and friendly to all.  They seemed as different as a mother and daughter could possibly be, but they were united by their deep love of family, and their study of the mysteries of enchantment.

Rapunzel married, this time with the blessings of a priest.  Algernon, a carpenter from the town, was a man who had sufficient self-confidence and savvy not to fear a powerful woman, an enchantress.  She lived well and happy with him for many years, and they had three children together, making a family of eight, if we include Granny Gothel.  Rapunzel’s hair grew as rapidly as ever, and she always wore it long, but never again did she allow her hair to grow to such an extreme length as when she was a prisoner of the tower or of the King’s castle.  She rarely wore it up, as it was fully as thick and abundant as it was long, and very heavy and uncomfortable worn in that manner.  Usually she preferred to wear her hair in thick braids that swung within a finger’s breadth of the ground.  Only in the comfort of her home did she brush out her hair to its wondrous full length and fullness, then allowing the ends of her tresses to trail behind her by half of an ell.

Gothel had saved the cut-off plaits of hair, and they were hung inside the tower, as a memento, to remind all of past follies, and they truly reached from the window ledge at the top of the tower all the way down to the ground.

The greatest wisdom of all was learned by the enchantress Gothel.  Love cannot be fostered through imprisonment and coercion.  Only through freedom can love and wisdom grow.  By driving Rapunzel away, she had caused her to consider the people in her life, and to learn self-sufficiency.  By breaking the family then, she had caused the bonds of love to flourish unencumbered that the family might be stronger in the end.

And yes, of course the family grew in their garden, rampion, or rapunzo, the vegetable that had given Rapunzel her name.

The End

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