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One of the most original and gifted of children's book illustrators has once again brought forth a unique vision for an age-old tale. Zelinsky's retelling of "Rapunzel" captures the possessiveness, confinement, and separation of a late 17th-century French tale by Mlle. la Force, where a mother powerfully resists her child's inevitable growth. Full color.
- ISBN-13: 9780525456070
- ISBN-10: 0525456074
- Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
- Publish Date: October 1997
- Dimensions: 12.38 x 9.32 x 0.39 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.06 pounds
- Page Count: 48
- Reading Level: Ages 5-8
Once heard, what child ever forgets the fairy tale refrain "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair"? It sticks there, even if the image itself, of people scrambling up a tower on a girl's golden tresses, can only be dimly imagined. The story has all the classic fairy tale ingredients: an evil witch, a terrible injustice, an imprisoned beauty, a charming prince - even a happy ending. And, it has enough dark symbolism to have inspired a poem, an opera and various psychoanalytic interpretations.
Three-time-Caldecott-Honor-artist Paul O. Zelinsky has revived Rapunzel, reaching back beyond the Grimm Brothers' version to a late seventeenth-century French tale, which in turn is based on a Neapolitan story entitled "Petrosinella." Zelinsky's research indicated that the Grimms radically changed the story to suit their idea of suitable (and perhaps salable) literature of the period. His elegant illustrations, inspired by the Renaissance painters of fifteenth-century Italy, endow the story with a suitable air of seriousness and mystery.
As in the Grimms' version, Rapunzel is taken from her parents at birth, because her father has stolen from a witch's garden the herbs his pregnant wife craved. But in Zelinsky's version, the tower to which the 12-year-old Rapunzel is banished is no grim prison, but a lovely, fanciful structure that, despite its narrow exterior dimensions, is magically spacious and luxurious within. Her isolation then, has a pleasant aspect (she communes with the birds, sings, and, of course, combs her hair), and readers are encouraged to view the witch as perhaps more over-protective than wickedly oppressive.
Also new is the means by which the sorceress discovers that Rapunzel has secretly been receiving nighttime visits from the prince: her ill-fitting dress betrays her pregnancy.
Rapunzel is shorn of her locks (which may be the most traumatic moment in the story for young female readers) and cast out into the wilderness. The prince is blinded in a fall from the tower, and wanders tragically through the countryside until he stumbles on his love, whose tears restore his sight. The couple, and their twins, ride off to the castle to live happily ever after.
Zelinsky's richly colored illustrations have a magical air of reverence and stillness of early Renaissance painting, much as he demonstrated in "Rumpelstiltskin" (1986) and "Hansel and Gretel" (1984). But those who look closely will also see some of the same whimsical touches that make his "Wheels on the Bus" such a delight. For example the Zelinsky family's cat appears slyly hidden on the cover and in about half the illustrations. And, for those readers who could never quite picture how a girl's hair could actually be climbed without pulling it out, he provides a plausible image, in which the braids are wound around a hook on the window sill.
Reviewed by John Zeaman.