“Rapunzel—A Re-Winding” by Joan Stewart
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
Fairytales—this is a subject truly near and dear to my heart. Growing up, I devoured them. And not just those wonderfully dark Brothers Grimm classics which were sadly turned into great sickening sugar lumps during the Victorian era, only to be cannibalized and capitalized by Disney a century later. I sought out stories from around the globe, filling my bookshelves with them. When I entered college, it was in part the fairytale that made me pursue Anthropology and Archaeology as my major.
These fantastical tales, rife with magic and morals, monsters and heroes, say so much about ourselves: what we fear, what we love, and what we believe. The story featured in August 2018’s Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores is no different.
“Rapunzel—A Re-Winding” by Joan Stewart takes the tale of Rapunzel and the old witch and gives it new life, allowing us to see things from a very different point of view and turning our expectation on its head. Readers will find the story’s basic elements intact. They won’t, however, find a lonely girl imprisoned by a cruel old witch. In her place, Stewart has woven a tale of love, magic, and misconceptions.
Stewart’s take on the “Rapunzel” story has all the trappings of the fairytale style. She maintained the same mystical dream-like quality that one often finds in these stories, only Stewart’s feels even more so. This is in part because the language she uses flows gently, like gossamer caught up on an autumn breeze.
Readers familiar with the usual evil witch trope will be surprised by this interpretation. Although the beginning of the story hints at a darker side to Old Mother and the world she inhabits, she proves herself a loving guardian and an adept teacher. Rapunzel is not left to rot in a tower out of covetous jealousy but is led there out of a desire to teach the girl and pass on ancient knowledge, to preserve the “old ways.”
In keeping with fairytales in general, there is much symbolism to be found here. For example, in centuries past, wisemen and women would retreat to places of solitude in search of inner wisdom. Rapunzel’s tower is just such a place. When Old Mother gives Rapunzel the key to her tower with permission to explore, she gives her the key to her own inner world, her “way of knowing.”
Stewart’s ending closely mirrors the original tale, but here too she deviates enough to show us something new—forgiveness and a chance to examine our own preconceived notions and misconceptions. To say more would risk giving away the conclusion and I don’t want to take that away from anyone. Instead, I urge you to read this gem for yourselves.