It’s a funny thing with me that I don’t actually like Rapunzel (I mean, I don’t dislike it, it’s just not my favorite fairy tale), but I love reading the variants. There’s so much there, from Parsilette, a fairy tale where the heroine makes up with her stepmother at the end and ditches the prince, to Prunella, an Italian version which is probably my favorite. It’s kind of a nice thing about folktales, that if you aren’t exactly thrilled about one version of a story, there are probably a bunch of other variants that you might like better.
And I LOVE Andrew Lang. I freaking love him. I spent my early teen years thumbing (clicking, actually, I was online) through all the Andrew Lang books, and I want you, too, to experience the joy that is Andrew Lang. So, without further ado, an Andrew Lang story.
A wild plum tree grows in an orchard en route to Prunella’s school, and each day on the way to school, Prunella picks a plum and eats it. Because she’s seven, she doesn’t consider it to be stealing. The witch who owns the orchard does, and one day she catches Prunella doing it. She jumps out from behind the hedge and grabs Prunella’s wrist. “You little thief!” she says. “I have caught you at last. Now you will have to pay for your misdeeds.” ‘Paying for her misdeeds’ is apparently code for ‘take her away from her friends and family and keep her locked in your house, because that’s not disproportionate retribution at all.’ Prunella begs and pleads, telling her that she didn’t know it was wrong and that she won’t do it again, but the witch drags her away to her house ’till the time should come when she could have her revenge.’ Ominous. And also completely overboard for the situation.
It is an interesting thing in Rapunzel stories that the thievery that Rapunzel is punished for is never Rapunzel’s fault. In most versions, the parents do it before Rapunzel is even born, but Rapunzel is the one dragged away from her family and locked in a tower. In this version, she is SEVEN. It’s not her fault at all, she doesn’t even know what she did is wrong. But again. She’s still punished for it.
Anyway, the years pass, and Prunella grows up to be beautiful. Of course. At least she’s not described as being the most beautiful woman in the land or anything like that, but she is beautiful enough to make the witch jealous, which only serves to make the witch hate her more. Also of course. Things come to a head one day when the witch hands her a basket and tells her to go to the well and bring the basket back filled with water, and that if she doesn’t, the witch will kill her. I have questions, number one being, why do witches make life so complicated for themselves? Just grab a knife and stab her or something! Although honestly, this isn’t just witches, it’s also every fairy tale dad you’ll ever come across too. Like, there are other ways of getting rid of your daughter’s unwanted suitor than making him level a forest with a glass axe? But I digress.
Prunella goes to the well and tries to fill the basket with water, but each time she draws up the basket, the water streams out. She finally gives it up and breaks down crying, which is understandable, but isn’t doing much to help the situation.
“Prunella,” a voice at her side asks. “Prunella, why are you crying?” She turns to see a handsome (of course) man about her age, looking kindly at her, which is probably more than people have done in a while. She asks warily how he knows her name, and who exactly he is.
He tells her that his name is Bensiabel, and he is the son of the witch. (Another question, how has the witch managed to keep them so separated that they never met until this moment even though they’ve been living in the same house?) He offers to fill her basket, on the condition that she give him a kiss. Ahem. YOU CANNOT JUST BLACKMAIL A GIRL INTO KISSING YOU. LEARN ABOUT CONSENT.
Prunella gives him a flat no. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she replies. YES BOUNDARIES. YOU GO GIRL. Also, I totally imagine her flipping her hair as she says that and I don’t know why.
Okay, wild theorizing time, but could the reason the witch suddenly decides to kill Prunella is because she notices Bensiabel falling in love with her? A lot of abusive parents view their child falling in love as them losing control, and that’s a major theme in Rapunzel already, and…Shoot. SHOOT. I am making myself want to get back to that (awful) retelling I did of this when I was fourteen. No. I will not abandon my current story to go chasing after a theme I like.
Who knows, maybe Ben will get the reworking he desperately needs. My plans for what I’ll do after I finish my current story are definitely up in the air.
Anyway, Ben agrees and still fills up the basket, which is the only reason why I am okay with him. Mostly. I will admit he was way cuter to me before I met actual real life guys who didn’t understand consent at all.
Prunella takes the basket back to the witch, who turns white with rage. “Bensiabel must have helped you,” she says. Prunella says nothing and lets her form her own conclusions. “Well,” she finishes, “we shall see who wins in the end.”
The next day, she gives Prunella a sack of wheat and tells her that she is going out, and that if Prunella hasn’t made the wheat into bread by the time she is back, she’ll kill her. It isn’t possible for Prunella to grind the wheat, prepare the dough, and bake the bread in the time the witch will be away. She tries, at first, but not being a magician, she doesn’t get very far, and she gives up and, again, breaks down crying. Bensiabel appears again, tells her that he’ll save her if she agrees to kiss him, and gets rejected again with equal force. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she says. Just like yesterday, he saves her anyway, and when the witch comes home, all the bread is done. Honestly, magical cooking skills sound great. You’d never have to wait for dinner again.
The next day, she calls Prunella and asks her to go and bring back a casket from the witch’s sister in the mountains. Apparently her sister is a crueler person than herself, and she is counting on her sister to imprison her and starve her to death. I find it kind of hilarious that her sister is so predictable she doesn’t even have to send a message or anything. It’s just what her sister does. Also, what is with this lady’s Wile E. Coyote schemes to kill Prunella? Do you want to kill her or do you not?
Prunella sets off, not knowing anything about the sister’s reputation and probably just happy to get out of the house. Bensiabel meets her on the way and asks her where she’s going, though I assume he already knows if he’s meeting her totally prepared. Which he is. She tells him that she is going to get a casket from the witch’s sister. “You are being sent straight to your death,” he says. “But give me a kiss and I will save you.” He’s about as persistent as his mother, and about as ineffective, too.
“I will not kiss the son of a witch,” Prunella says. He proceeds to give her the things she needs anyway: a flagon of oil, a loaf of bread, a piece of rope, and a broom. I do love how seemingly random that is, and I like imagining Prunella’s face as he hands it to her. But Ben knows what he’s on about (in everything except the proper way to relate to your crush), and she uses the oil to polish the hinges of the door, she throws the bread to the mastiff who runs to meet her, she gives the rope to a woman trying to lower a bucket into the well with her plaited hair, and the broom to a woman trying to clean the hearth with her tongue. Um. No comment on the last one. She takes the casket from a shelf and leaves, but the witch hears her as the door shuts. “Kill the that thief, I tell you!” the witch says to the woman at the hearth.
“I will not kill her,” she says, “for she has given me a broom, whereas you forced me to clean the hearth with my tongue.”
This goes on with the other people, animals, and objects Prunella has helped, and Prunella gets away. I do like this element in fairy tales. Abusing your animals and servants comes back to bite you. Don’t do it. Unless you’re, you know, the hero or something.
Prunella comes back to her house, and the witch’s mood is not improved by seeing her alive. “Did you meet Bensiabel?” she asks. Prunella doesn’t say anything. “There are three cocks in the henhouse,” she continues. “One is yellow, one black, and the third is white. If they crow during the night, you must tell me which one it is. Woe to you if you make a mistake. I will gobble you up in a mouthful.”
She makes kind of a big tactical error here, because apparently Ben’s room is right next to Prunella’s, even though this was never mentioned before and she didn’t even know who he was at the start of this fairy tale, and…Whatever, forget logic. Ben is able to give her the answers–after asking for a kiss and getting rejected, of course–but finally Ben falls silent. “Bensiabel, save me!” Prunella says. “The witch is coming, she is close to me, I hear the gnashing of her teeth!”
Bensiabel, for once, does not try to bargain for a kiss. He throws the door open–because there was a door from his room into hers, did you miss that, I did too–and shoves his mother back, and she falls down the stairs. It could have been an accident. It could not have been. Either way, his mother is dead.
And then Prunella finally decides that, you know, maybe he isn’t that bad. They fall in love, presumably because of traumatic bonding, and live happily ever after.
And yes, I did a retelling of this when I was fourteen that I didn’t finish. I don’t finish most of my stories, but this wasn’t one where I just lost interest. I think I grew up. There are characters I could relate to when I was little, and now when I try to write them again, they’re just…I find it harder to relate to them. I have a lot of trouble seeing Ben through a not-problematic light, and it’s weird, because I write sort of problematic characters all the time? I love writing stories where the magical fairy forces the heroine into marriage and maybe she escapes and finds her way back home or maybe she falls in love with him. Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite story to retell. But…maybe a forced kiss is a little too mundane and just throws it into the real world too much? I know it sounds weird. It’s possible if I went back to this story I’d find my qualms gone, and I do love this fairy tale and its themes and its down-home earthy feel to it. And Prunella. Goodness I love Prunella. You go and enforce those boundaries, girl.
But there’s also the problem that, um…I’ve kind of accidentally stolen Ben’s face. Twice. Apparently I have trouble imagining more than three different types of male faces, and…Well, let’s just say I have given the same face to Ben, Ignatius the cute shadow-demon, and Mordred. Heh. Of course, that’s just a matter of character redesign, but it would still feel kind of weird. Maybe.
But I might get back to this story one day. Who knows?