A tangled Story.
Rapunzel is on our minds this month, given Disney’s release of “Tangled”. Let me push beyond the mandatory cry of “They changed it!” and answer, “Of course they did.”
Here is one of the surprising features of fairy tales; they change. They always have. As they move through time and space they fit themselves into the surroundings they occupy.
Example: In the Grimm version of “Queen of the Tinkers” the princess, who refuses to marry the suitors her father suggests, is obliged to marry the King of the Tinkers, and does not get to be married to a real king until she relents in her haughty ways. To bend to social norms was the proper role for early 19th century women in the Austrian Empire.
In the contemporary Irish version, the princess doesn’t get to be married to a real king until she refuses to give up her Tinker King. In both cases the Tinker King is a real king, the reveal not coming until the end after the princess’s rightful nature is established. The story fits itself into its surroundings by adapting to that culture’s norms.
Let’s review Rapunzel as she travels through time and space from the 19th century Austrian Empire to the 21st century
Disney’s Rapunzel is trapped, but seizes an opportunity when it presents itself, and exercises much more control than her historic counterpart. Try to imagine Grimm’s Rapunzel clunking her uninvited guest on the head with a frying pan (the ‘frying pan’ motif also a modern add-on to the story). In short, she is a plucky female. Our Disney’s Rapunzel is a more acceptable role model for current audiences than Grimm’s, despite her bent toward violence.
“Hold on.” You should say. “Disney is a big strong corporation, but does that give them the right to screw up a story?” The simple answer is “Yep.” In Grimm’s time it was the Roman Catholic Church that got to put a Christian gloss on this story (the earlier French version was much bawdier). In our time it’s a corporation that gets to tweak it.
Here’s my theory. The entity that gets to call the shots is the entity than can come to a consensus within itself.
In Grimm’s time that was the Roman Catholic Church. They had the coherent message. In our time there are many churches, with many messages, and despite the National Council of Churches (have you heard of them?) they do not have one voice. Our national government—well, the word coherent does not apply. However, a corporation, or more correctly the corporate mind set, has the capacity to come to a consensus, assemble a message, and the wherewithal to get it out. I believe they call it branding.
My personal turmoil with the above theory is that my right brain wants to rip out my tongue for having said it. What do you think?