This book is not your usual reference work, but a complex and engaging exploration of the subject matter, written with Forsyth’s distinctive flair.
I’ve read and loved Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, though I still need to get onto reading her last novel The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. When The Rebirth of Rapunzel arrived in my inbox I was really excited, since it was the non-fiction component to Forsyth’s MFA of which Bitter Greens was the fiction part. I love learning about the development of stories throughout the ages and The Rebirth of Rapunzel delivered exactly that for the story of the maiden in the tower.
The Rebirth of Rapunzel consists of three sections. The first is the titular exegesis, the second is a translation of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force’s Persinette by Jack Zipes, and the last section is a collection of articles published between 2006 and 2015, all touching upon the Rapunzel tale and on the power of storytelling. The translation of De La Force’s original is wonderful to read and will be familiar to anyone who has read Bitter Greens and the third section illustrated the role Rapunzel’s tale has played in Forsyth’s life from her early childhood to the present.
My favourite part however was the exegesis. It not only reveals the way Forsyth developed her novel and what influenced her, it also gives a comprehensive overview of the development of the fairytale from its earliest roots in early matriarchal mythology to its most well-known incarnation in the Grimm’s collection of tales, to its more recent iterations, such as Disney’s Tangled. What I found fascinating about tracing the tale through the ages is the way that each re-interpretation says as much about the teller of this version of the tale and the age they lived as it does about the tale itself. However, Forsyth’s analysis shows over the course of the centuries, the story has returned to its strong, feminist roots, in which the maiden in the tower gains her own agency and saves her own life and love. The patriarchy can’t keep a woman down!
Forsyth expresses a strong dislike for Tangled, since it strips so much of the original story away. Living in a house with two little girls who have decided that they are going to be Rapunzel when they grow up, I’ve seen the film dozens of times and I actually enjoy it a lot—there’s worse things to have to watch on endless repeat. Dora the Explorer, anyone? Yet Forsyth’s objections to the film and its interpretation of the original story are valid and made me consider the narrative in a different light. In addition to Tangled, Forsyth talks about a number of other modern retellings, which has given me a handy reading list for future reference.
The Rebirth of Rapunzel is a quick and fascinating read, which can be read on its own. However, I think its true power comes as a companion to Bitter Greens. I loved the insights Rebirth provided into Bitter Greens, its influences and the narrative choices Forsyth made in its writing. Whether you’re a fan of fairytales or of Kate Forsyth, The Rebirth of Rapunzel will offer something of interest to you.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.