When a man steals the herb rapunzel from a sorceress's garden to satisfy his pregnant wife's cravings, he must pledge his firstborn child to the sorceress. At twelve years of age, the girl, named Rapunzel, is locked away in a tower. Unable to go into the outside world, she spends her days singing and letting the sorceress in and out via her long golden hair. But one day a kind and handsome prince hears the beautiful voice of Rapunzel and sets his heart on meeting her.
This classic story is retold by Paul Zelinsky, using sources from the Brothers Grimm and French and Italian versions. Due to the source material, Zelinsky chose to illustrate it in the style of the old Italian Renaissance masters. The paintings are rich and dramatic, using full page spreads to give weight to particular emotional points in the story. Zelinksy's ability to convey emotion and use of the Renaissance style won him the 1998 Caldecott medal.
About these illustrations Paul Zelinsky said, "As an interloper in the august tradition of Italian Renaissance painting, 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." For an 'interloper' Zelinsky certainly manages to achieve the Renaissance look. This is a uniquely mature look for a children's picture book, and its serious nature works with the more mature version of the story he tells.
This retelling is not quite as dark as the original Grimm story although it stays fairly close. This version has the prince, upon encountering Rapunzel, propose to marry her on the spot, holding a ceremony in the tower (although, like the original, presumably without any witnesses.) The witch discovers the prince's visits when Rapunzel innocently mentions that her dress has "grown too tight around the waist." The prince is blinded but not by the thorns of some versions.
Zelinsky has a good afterword on the origins of the Rapunzel story through the ages and the influences he drew on. He took what he believed to be the most moving parts of each version for his retelling. The result is a fairy tale and a picture book that takes itself and its readers seriously, and does so with grace and poignancy.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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