Rapunzel, Rapunzel

On a bright, warm day I visited the castle in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

I didn’t have time to go into that monstrosity of regal pomp, nor barely enough time to see a portion of the gardens. Fortunately, my goal was to stroll through the greenery and blossoms. A good portion of that stroll space was devoted to the Märchen or fairy tales and thus appealed essentially to parents with children. It’s been years since I’ve given much thought to the Märchen, but the day, the setting, the abundance of people — some quite active and noisy — kept interrupting my attempts to walk in a meditative state. Nevertheless, I came away with some profound thoughts, ones that led and will lead me to follow other paths once I’m far from the Ludwigsburg gardens.

One thing I plan to give further thought to is how the tales are set in very active spaces. I.e., there are houses, huts, stages, or similar, where figures not of an earthly sort move wildly, gesture, even beckon to the spectators. Children are fascinated by these examples of captivity, although I tend to be somewhat unnerved by them. All of us were drawn to the fictional figures, but I suspect I was a more unwilling seductee. Perhaps fairy tales are too real for adults to experience?

One of the spots where I wanted to stand and watch was the tower of Rapunzel. Do children still read and repeat the well-worn lines “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”? Rapunzel, Rapunzel, lass dein Haar herunter.

When I looked up some of the story again after seeing the huge flaxen braid hanging from the tower in the castle gardens, it — the tale, the words and the things they refer to — began to trap me in its own woven structure. No lover of heights, I turned to the words and the name of the girl trapped in a lonely tower by a cruel sorceress. Rapunzel can be associated with so many things. It is a plant, perhaps rampion or ramps, or perhaps with other types of vegetation, tempting to some, and maybe dangerous. After a couple of hours of searching, I came to the conclusion that the rapunzel is a double-edged sword and that anybody who tries to climb up a very long rope made of human hair is just asking for trouble. The braid also seems to symbolize a noose, a vein through which blood has ceased to flow, or another grotesque yet organic item. In the story, many high prices are paid and there is no definite way to assess who is guilty of acting in an improper way. Most of the characters can be redeemed or condemned: Rapunzel, her parents, her witch-like captor, the young prince, the herbs that grow in the wild and tempt us.

Either way, it is not clear to me why the story of a girl imprisoned in a tower, courted by a stranger, and forced to throw down her infinite braid so he can ascend it in what must be a painful event for her, could attract young children. I also wished they hadn’t used an artificial braid in the park, because that seemed to break the spell of the tale.

It was also not clear to me why it is dangerous for a woman to have cravings like Rapunzel’s mother had, cravings so strong her husband would forage in the wrong places in order to placate them. Was this all about testing one’s strength, paying for excess, und so weiter? Or was it about the leap to freedom that had to take place via different means than a girl’s braid?