Liberty – A Rapunzel Story, by Sonya Writes
[Note: This book has been provided free of charge by the author in exchange for an honest review.]
This book is the third novella of the author’s “Fairy Tales Retold” story, but the first one I have gotten around to writing a book review about. As its story makes clear, it is a retelling of the fairy tale Rapunzel, in a way that plays down the romantic interests for Rapunzel and plays up larger political concerns. The story itself makes effective use of magic and prophecy in order to portray a situation of eucatastrophe, in which an apparent disaster becomes the means by which great blessings are provided to a suffering land under the rule of some pretty terrible rulers.
This particular volume manages to tread a delicate balance between the essentially optimistic nature of Disney versions of fairy tales on the one hand and the grim and dark tales as they were originally told by worldly wise peasants with a deep mistrust of those around them and a desire to provide scary stories for children as a way of providing them an education in the fear that was necessary to survive and endure. Rapunzel is a story (like Shakespeare’s Hamlet) about the terrible danger that royal children are under in the face of a brutal coup d’etat. Even in biblical times, for example, such young people were often killed in order to prevent the survival of an alternate figure around which opposition to a royal regime could coalesce. Being kidnapped and put in a tower (like the young York princes) was almost a best-case scenario, as death and degradation were frequent alternatives chosen to insecure and illegitimate monarchs.
Here the story is driven by a small set of motivations on the part of a small group of characters. Prince Garrick, the younger brother of the nameless king who happens to be Rapunzel’s cruel and corrupt father (his wife, the queen, is equally corrupt) overthrows the monarch because the birth of Rapunzel had put an end to his own claims, yet his womanizing ways prevent him from siring a legitimate heir for almost two decades after he has taken the throne. An illegitimate son, Marshall, is the only one to know of the existence of Rapunzel and her nanny Gisele, who is pledged to service as a result of the machinations of her mom (who had placed a curse on anyone who would harm the young princess, in order to help a prophecy about Rapunzel serving to liberate her people come true). Both the princess and her nanny are first locked in a dungeon and then in a remote tower in a valley where no one is to know their existence. Yet Gisele’s younger brother, who volunteers to help Marshall, is able to liberate the two ladies and put into place a desperate scheme to entrap the king into harming himself by seeking to harm the now freed (and short-haired) princess without knowing who she is. The king, of course, obliges in a particularly ironic way in order to achieve the obligatory happy ending.
There are at least two aspects of this particular story that I find very notable. For one, it bears a lot of similarities to another story I have read (written by a young author who I knew when she was an adorable three year old) about a dangerous uncle . This story is much less of an adventure story, being far more confined in a tower, but the two stories are part of a larger set of works about the dangers of evil relatives and wicked monarchical regimes, dangers I am perhaps more sensitive to than most. The other element is something I find deeply sad and poignant as a result of my own life, and that is the feeling one of the main characters (a lovely thirty-something lady, Gisele) has of being too old for romance at the advanced age of twenty-five. This feeling of isolation and loneliness, and longing, is something I can relate to all too well.
Structurally speaking, this novella (it ranks as a long short-story, perhaps, at about 75 pages) is part of a growing series of works that offer thoughtful retellings of familiar fairy tales. This particular story has in mind high politics, namely the politics of monarchies, where concerns with legitimacy and the presence (or absence) of heirs made a huge difference in life, a world that is largely unfamiliar to the modern world outside of Thailand and Arab sheikhdoms and African tribal states like Swaziland. Perhaps in time the various fairy tales retold will be combined into a much larger book for those who have an interest in such literature, and are willing to reflect on the surprising depth that fairy tales can provide .
 See, for example: