The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower

Written by Kate Forsyth
Review by Ray Thompson

In this study of the fairy tale ‘Rapunzel’, Australian author and poet Kate Forsyth collects her doctoral thesis; ‘Persinette’, La Force’s seminal version of the tale (1697); and several of her own previously published essays.

Adopting the structural theories of folklorist Alan Dundes, she identifies it as a variant of the Maiden in the Tower tale, speculates on pre-literate origins in matriarchal mythology, and examines major versions, including those of the Brothers Grimm, to identify essential motifs and to trace its ‘cultural evolution… from ancient tales of three-faced goddesses right through to Disney’s Tangled.’ This offers useful insights into not only how traditional material evolves, but how its ancient mythic structures and symbols ‘work at an unconscious level to give the tale a deep psychological resonance.’ No passive maiden awaiting rescue, Rapunzel was an active agent in events, an empowering figure, though later versions increasingly drain the tale of its subversive power.

Forsyth’s argument is convincing, her prose clear, and the insights into the tale’s influence on her own work, especially Bitter Greens, fascinating. Definitely recommended.