Rapunzel and the Bible

11Jan11

Great comment by Deborah Netanel on my last Rapunzel post. She took me to task for glibly making a brief allusion to the fact that the tower could also represent the Garden of Eden and then going on with just an “oops,” and not exploring that further. Certainly, those who told western european fairy tales over the past six or seven hundred years were steeped in biblical metaphors, and if you listen beneath the surface of many tales you can find biblical resonance. Also, both the Bible and fairy tales (I feel like I should have capitalized “fairy tales”) are metaphors for central and important transitions and events in our own lives, and for ways of coping with our worlds.

So, what about Rapunzel and the Bible? I am by no means a bible expert and in the interest of transparency should note that I’m an atheist . . . but I have read the Torah and the Christian Bible and I’m willing to mention a few things that jump out at me.

First, Rapunzel’s tower and the Garden of Eden are both symbolic of childhood and protected innocence, of a womb from which Rapunzel, Adam and Eve are all expelled into a world in which they must struggle to make their own lives, into which children are born in pain and in which mature love is possible. And they were expelled for the same reason; they ate the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Gustav Dore-Jacob Wrestling The Angel, 1855

Second, I don’t think the prince blinded himself, nor did the witch blind him. The blindness in the story was a consequence of the prince’s leap from the tower, a leap he took of his own volition. But it was either the fall or the thorns below that blinded him. He isn’t doing this to himself as a penance, he is being punished. The blindness is the witch’s expressed vengeful desire being carried out on him. Then, like the Children of Israel who had to wander in the desert for forty years because they had been slaves and weren’t worthy to enter Canaan, the prince wanders for years in the wilderness. He could not face the witch as an adult and he was not worthy to be Rapunzel’s husband. The blindness represents divine retribution and punishment, as Deborah said, but the penance was the years in the wilderness. The healing by tears, I think, is a fairly explicit casting of Rapunzel as Christ, which casts the now-mature love between Rapunzel and the prince as Christian.

There’s more here–but I’m probably not the one to mine it. The only twins I can think of offhand in the Bible are Jacob and Esau, and I can’t see an immediate connection between Rapunzel and Rebekah, and only the most superficial connections between Isaac and the prince.

All sorts of wonderful book world news today, with the Printz Award, Newbery and Caldecott Medals all released. I’ll list those tomorrow.

I haven’t read any of them!?! I’ll correct that soon.

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6 Responses to “Rapunzel and the Bible”

  1. 1 pastorjeffcma

    This is my first time to your blog. I read this post first and then went back and read the series on the subject and I amazed at a series of levels. I will say that I have enjoyed reading all of them. You pointed out that you were not a Bible expert and in the interest of transparency you were an Atheist. So I should likewise point out that although I love to read quality literature I am certainly no critic and my knowledge of Psychology would be slim indeed (although my daughter majors in it)–while I would be unwilling to call myself an expert regarding the Bible (or in anything else for that matter), having been a Pastor for 22 years that would certainly be my main area of focus and study. Enough on the intro.

    I am surmising that the biblical connections you are attempting to make are somewhat random without leading to any cohesiveness to the story–a bit “hit and miss” if you will.
    For example, you refer to the Garden of Eden as symbolic of “childhood and protected innocence.” Innocence? Yes. Protected? If so, it wasn’t protected very well. Childhood? Only in the sense that Jesus will use that same metaphor in His teaching when He will refer to things like “the faith of a child.”

    And even this may seem a bit “nit-picking,” I sense it is important. The tree Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Which of course speaks to the issue of the destruction of their innocence.

    Next, the children of Israel did not wander in the desert for forty years because they had been slaves and unworthy to enter Canaan, they wandered in the desert for forty years because they would not trust God to do what He said He would do when they got to Kadesh-Barnea.

    You will have to help me understand how the “healing by tears” is a “fairly explicit” casting of Rapunzel as Christ.

    Just some thoughts. Once again I really enjoyed reading. I imagine I will be back.

  2. Twenty-two years of Bible as the main focus of your study makes you far more knowledgeable than me.

    I was indeed not trying to make a cohesive narrative of biblical associations. I was only trying to bring in a few random associations to what little biblical knowledge I’ve managed to retain from my readings. I will stand by my feeling that Rapunzel’s healing of the prince is Christ-like in that she heals with the power of her love and her humanity.

    I think you’re right about the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve were not protected, nor was innocence. It is a place that seems to invite womb metaphors, but if something is protected it is not the children. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is, I think, at the center of what is protected and at least on some level must represent what is hidden from children.

    You are correct, too, about the forty years in the desert. My only (weak) defense is that had that generation not been slaves perhaps they would have trusted God at Kadesh-Barnea.

    Thank you so much for your comments and for correcting me.

    • I hope I’m not being presumptuous in adding to the conversation yet again…but what I find fascinating is that depending on your theological perspective or background, you will arrive at differing associations and meanings that may be attributed or read into a given narrative. My knowledge of “Christian” symbolism and allusion comes from an acquired literary perspective without the theological background; and on the other hand, I am familiar with many differing opinions within Jewish scholarship regarding some of the ideas mentioned above, and I have the additional information, if you can call it that, of a personal theological perspective. For me, a character in a story stumbling around blindly for a significant period of time, going through some form of transformation, is reminiscent of the concept of the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years and finally becoming worthy and “ready” to enter the Land. Whether or not the author intended for me to feel that way or whether the author views the wandering that way might even be irrelevant. A person’s reaction or interaction to a work of art exists independent of the creator’s intentions.

      • Deborah, my background seems to be similar to yours. My formal theological knowledge comes from a Jewish perspective and any Christian understanding I’ve picked up is from a study of literature and from the perspective of an interested outsider. I agree, the wandering lost prince brought the 40 years of wandering in the desert jumping to my mind, though a theologian might disagree with us as to why . . . but I think you’re on the right track about the time in the desert being a time of transformation.
        It’s interesting that the prince wanders in the desert after Rapunzel is impregnated and before the children are born. But I think, still, his inability to face the witch-mother meant he requires some sort of transition before he can be an adult and a father.

        Joel

  3. Interesting posting first of all! and great comments by those who read it such as the pastor. I’d like to add my grain of help (if it would be considered this)…
    I don’t know the Bible much, I am not scholar in any faith so I am not sure I’d link the story to the Bible but…. ( there is always a but) there is something I believe the Bible doesn’t quite state that COULD be related to the story.

    I had to read some pretty, pretty strange books, mostly considered ‘fiction’, to see a relationship so here is my theory.
    Book # 1 – Carlos Castañeda
    “Human beings are on a journey of awareness, which has momentarily been INTERRUPTED by EXTRANEOUS forces (extraneous means something from outside, not essential).”
    so… what is this extrenous thing?
    The Active Side of Infinity chapter called ‘Mud Shadows’ (read mud as Man) hints:
    We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners. The predator is our lord and master. It has rendered us docile, helpless. If we want to protest, it suppresses our protest. If we want to act independently, it demands that we don’t do so.

    Shamans believe that the predators have given us our systems of beliefs, our ideas of good and evil and our social mores. They are the ones who set up our hopes and expectations and dreams of success or failure. They have given us covetousness, greed and cowardice. It is the predators who make us complacent, routinary and egomaniacal.

    Book # 2
    The Ringing Cedars of Russia. Anastasia
    Interesting little book where Anastasia, just like Rapunzel, is blond and has magical powers in the Russia of post-communism (read 90s!)!
    She is COMPLETELY connected to nature and warns her lover/father of her child that at one point in human history, an extraneous intelligence came out and CONQUERED the natives of this planet (read: innocent human beings at large). they conquered most but not ALL.

    Book # 3
    “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
    “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’? they responded to Jesus”
    You are doing the works of your father (read the devil or the thought impression from the dark forces)!”
    John 8:31-43
    “For our fight is not against flesh and blood (read humans), but against the rulers, authorities and powers of this dark world…”
    Ephessian 6:12

    CONCLUSION:
    Raspunzel represents HUMANITY trapped by an evil force (the witch).
    The high tower with a room and one window represents that we are not truly connected to the earth/universe since we are away from the ‘ground’ / nature and we only have ONE VISION/window of existence, this life.
    The prince that comes to her rescue could be a Prince of Peace (a Messiah, Jesus or someone like Jesus), but this prince is no ordinary human being, it must be a very clever being so he can free Rapunzel from the ‘illusion of entrapment’ (a Buddhist concept).

    • Interesting comment. It’s been a long while since I’ve read Castaneda, but I agree . . . the story is a metaphor that works on a lot of levels.
      Joel


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