Rapunzel The ur-Story Of Young Female Sexuality

Rapunzel Michael Foreman

THE HISTORY OF RAPUNZEL

Girls locked inside towers, women locked in attics; missing girls, dead mothers. The life of a fictional woman hasn’t changed all that much over the years.  Rapunzel is not the only girl who was locked up — take the Irish myth of Ethlinn, for instance. Ethlinn was a moon goddess whose father imprisoned her in a tower so that she could not produce the son prophesied to kill him. Kind of like a cross between Oedipus and Rapunzel, don’t you think?

It seems so obvious it’s not even worth mentioning: The girl locked in a tower thing is a metaphor for how family members would gather around to protect a young woman’s virginity. The fertile woman’s body has historically (and into the present) never been considered her own.

Patrisonella — ‘Neopolitan Rapunzel’ by Giambattista Basile (1630s)

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Mother’s Day Courage The Cowardly Dog

mother's day courage the cowardly dog

“Mother’s Day” is an episode from season one of Courage The Cowardly Dog. This is where we get some of Eustace’s back story. Until this point in the series, Eustace Bagge has been a singularly unpleasant character. We haven’t see what made him the way he is. In this episode, for the first time, we learn his ‘psychological wound’, or the backstory that explains why he treats others so badly. In stories, as in real life, this is simplistically attributed to deficiencies in the mother.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “MOTHER’S DAY”

WEAKNESS/NEED

As usual we have an opening shot in which Courage looks momentarily at peace.

courage-at-peace

Of course this does not last long because of the two people he lives with. Because he is a child (in the body of a dog) he will have to just go along with them, trying to appease them.

DESIRE

Eustace doesn’t want to go see his own mother for mother’s day but he wants to get Muriel off his back.

go-and-see-your-mother

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Loveykins by Quentin Blake Picture Book

 

The ideology behind Loveykins: Wild creatures, while sometimes requiring some human nurturing if abandoned by their mother as babies, must eventually be returned to the wild.

There is also a message against ‘over-mothering’ in this story. Let wild creatures be wild creatures is a close cousin to ‘let kids be kids’. Another picture book with the same ideology is Lauren Child’s Who Wants To Be A Poodle I Don’t.

You’ll find flying kids and creatures right throughout children’s literature. In this story flight symbolises the most basic of its metaphorical meanings: Freedom. For other symbolic uses for flight, see The Symbolism of Flight in Children’s Literature.

STORY STRUCTURE OF LOVEYKINS

WEAKNESS/NEED

‘My goodness,’ said Angela. ‘It’s a baby bird blown out of his nest. He needs someone to look after him.’

Anglea Bowling seems to be on the look out for someone to look after. When this happens in a picture book, we tend to assume the weakness in the main character is loneliness. (In real life, there’s no correlation between ‘caring for others’ and a deep seated loneliness.)

DESIRE

Angela Bowning is just out for a walk, but desire kicks in when she comes across the bird fallen from its nest.

When we see how Angela looks after the bird, we see that she has no idea what birds really need. She treats the bird like a pretty ornament rather than like a wild creature.

OPPONENT

Angela is the bird’s opponent as well as his carer. We can tell from the look on his face that he does not want to be wrapped up in a cardy and placed in a basket.

Misery Kathy Bates bbq indoors

PLAN

She feeds the bird delicious food, names him Augustus (which reminds me a lot of Roald Dahl’s over-mothered Augustus Gloop),  puts him in a pram and generally treats him as a toddler. She obviously plans to keep this bird as a child stand-in for herself.

This story has a basic mythic structure — Angela leaves the house and encounters a variety of different characters. They end up back home for the battle…

BATTLE

…which arrives in the form of a storm. Another storm, in fact, reminiscent of the earlier one which happened just before the story opened, the one that initially knocked the bird out of his nest. This storm blows the garden shed to bits and has the unintended consequence of setting the bird free.

Loveykins storm

SELF-REVELATION

Angela faints ‘clean away’ when she sees the shed has been flattened. The bird takes this opportunity to fly off. So the self-revelation is had by the bird.

Loveykins flies away_700x939

Angela comes to eventually and has we see she has realised cacti make more reliable ‘pets’. Angela has filled a new shed with these.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

The bird lives like a bird should in the wild and occasionally brings Angela presents in the form of dead mice or beetles. “She never eats them.”

In other words, Angela gave the bird what he needed, but when it was grown he flew off, into the wild, to live as a wild creature should.


COMPARE AND CONTRAST

THE TOYMAKER AND THE BIRD BY PAMELA ALLEN (2009)

The Toymaker And The Bird

In a little house in a dark forest, a toymaker lives all alone.

The Toymaker learns that although he and the little brown bird make enchanting music together, he must let her follow her natural migration patterns and leave him.