Paul O. Zelinsky's version of Rapunzel
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A story with hairy implications!
I've never been a huge fan of the Rapunzel fairy tale. (Click to a full text Brothers Grimm translation.) Its elevation of romantic love over parental strikes me as extreme even for a princess-obsessed culture, hardly a message I'm in a hurry to convey to five year olds.
Which isn't to say that Paul O. Zelinsky doesn't give it the best treatment possible.
We're talking, after all, about a story where a woman's pregnancy cravings lead her doting husband to thievery. Believing his over-dramatic wife's insistences that if she doesn't get the proper salad ingredients she'll die, when caught red-handed he agrees to hand over his not-yet-born daughter to his victim, the sorceress next door.
The wife doesn't seem to have a problem with this. Romantic love over parental, remember?
So Rapunzel (named after the salad ingredient) goes to live with the sorceress, who practices her own form of twisted, possessive love, which consists of locking the child in a tower once she (presumably) begins menstruating.
Of course "true love" finds her (and of course it's in the form of a prince). Then true love is literally blinded by jealous love, then true love's vision is restored by true love, followed by true love living happily ever after...and God help the children that result.
Now, Paul O. Zelinsky's version of Rapunzel
In a note to readers at the end of the book, Zelinsky shares Rapunzel's "rich and surprising history." The story long predates the Brothers Grimm version, and was printed in a number of European countries well prior to the Grimm version.
Zelinsky acquainted himself with them all and gave himself permission to mix and match.
I have tried to combine the most moving aspects of the story with the most satisfying structure, and to bring out its mysterious internal echoes.
While having to operate within the story's textual limitations, Zelinsky had free reign when it came to the illustrations, and he succeeded marvelously, winning the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his efforts. He chose to emulate the Italian Renaissance painters with his work, and the results are stunning, though the artist himself would have you believe otherwise:
I have been humbled by my own attempts to achieve effects that any Renaissance painter's apprentice could have tossed off as though it were nothing: billowing drapery or the glint from a fingernail or light falling on tree leaves.
I'm going to trust the Caldecott committee that Zelinsky got it right. In other words, if your child's princess obsession requires a dose of Rapunzel, you could hardly do better than Paul O. Zelinsky's version.
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